Meet Darren Devitt, Creator of PageFour

12 08 2007

I am a word processor junkie. I don’t know why. I’ve downloaded and tried just about every free word processor that you can find with a good Google search. I have a copy of Open Office which, much to my disappointment, is just as bulky and intimidating as MS Word. I think at one time I had as many as eight different word processors on my hard drive, not including MS Notepad or MS Write. All of them had features that I liked, none of them worked precisely the way that I wanted them to.

I found Darren Devitt’s PageFour during one of my aforementioned Google searches, shortly after The Great Laptop Crash of 2006. I was using an early 90’s DOS word processor called EasyWrite, written by John Turnbull–and happily so–but, for whatever reason, it would not load or operate on my new computer. I wasn’t about to use Word (see my many other rants on that topic), so I needed to find a word processor that was simple, useful, and not loaded down with a bunch of features that I would never need or use.

Someone at the Absolute Write message board pointed me to PageFour, and I downloaded the “trial” program. I think the thing that impressed me initially about Darren Devitt, the creator of PageFour, was that–at least at that time–he gave you a fully functional, fully loaded copy of the word processor for free, without annoying pop-ups reminding you to pay for a fully registered version, or features that stop working after a certain amount of time. The “catch,” if it could be called that, was that you could only create a limited number of “notebooks.” I’m always inclined to do business with people who do good business, and I was immediately in love with the PageFour interface, so after a bit of waffling back and forth about the issue, I sent the man his $30 and got my registration key. I haven’t looked back since.

For me, it is a matter of finding a writing environment where I can work creatively. PageFour allows me to set things up the way that I want. I don’t have to conform to the word processor, the word processor conforms to me. That is huge. I still move over to Word when it is time to wrestle a manuscript into its final, submission-ready format. Word works for that sort of thing. But I can’t write in Word. Since I moved to PageFour, my creative output has risen, and frankly, I enjoy the writing process again.

Naturally curious as I am, I wanted to learn a little more about the man who created this word processor. He very graciously agreed to answer a few interview questions via email.

1. Tell us a little bit about you. How did you get involved in software development? Is it what you always wanted to do? What sort of training and education have you in the field?

I’ve actually had no formal training in software development, and this very lack of training has benefited me down the years. It’s far easier to sit in a meeting with a team of software developers and ask ‘why?’, when you don’t have 4 years of university training telling you the question has already been answered.

I studied history at university, and moved into software development about 8 years ago. I’m honest enough to admit that my reasons were pretty much financial – a long stint backpacking after university left me 26 years old, and with no career. Programming was a lucrative field where you could move from a small to a comparatively large salary very quickly, and this was a great attraction.

What little training I did receive was very much ‘on the job’. I’ve workedfor a number of small software companies in the UK. Each company was small enough that I was involved in critical projects, and experienced little of the corporate life style common in much larger companies.

Having said all that, I enjoy designing software very much, and what started out as a quest for a well paying job has turned into a career I’ve grown to love.

2. Why did you create PageFour? What was it about all the other word processors available that frustrated you to the point that you felt the need to sit down and begin mapping out a new one?

I began working on an early version of PageFour about a year before version 1 was completed. My feeling at the time was that much of the software used by ‘normal’ users – and by normal, I mean non-technical people, not in the IT industry – was far too complex, and required an understanding of computers that should not have been necessary. Computer hardware had grown so much over the previous 10 years that old rules and models no longer applied when it came to software development, but the software industry as a whole failed to act on this. I found the Windows file system in particular to have little relevance to normal users. In order to use everyday software such as MS Word effectively, the user needed to understand what files were, what saving a file meant, how the Operating System stored those files, and so much more. And I could come up with no reason why this was necessary.

I built the PageFour ‘Notebook, Folder, and Page’ structure to hide all this from the user. My intention was to present the user with ‘files’, and an entire file/folder structure without them ever realising that that was what they were looking at.

My Luddite brother uses PageFour for note taking as part of his business, and he still doesn’t know what a file is.

3. What was the first word processor that you ever wrote with? Do you have any fond favorites among the word processors available from, say, the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s?

I was a student in the early 90s, and at the time was as technically illiterate as the next man. My writing technology of choice was a Panasonic electronic typewriter that boasted a single line LCD display. I wrote my final dissertation on this machine, and was far more careful with my typing and spelling than I am today. If anything, word processors have spoiled us a little, making it so much easier to correct and change our work. Not that I ever complain.

4. Part–perhaps most–of PageFour’s “charm,” is it’s simplicity, and its “writer-friendly” interface. Can you expand your market-base for this product without loading the program down with “bells and whistles?” Is there a point at which you stop tweaking, and that’s it?

Now that’s a very interesting question. I regularly receive emails from people saying PageFour would be just right for them if only it had one or two more features. The problem is, for each of these people, the one or two features they want are different, and satisfying them all would turn PageFour into just another bloated word processor. There will come a point when I’ll stop adding new features, but I believe that’s some time away yet. For example, the last major release introduced two ‘large’ features – a global search, and a page merger – that probably added value for most users. The difficulty is in choosing which new features to add.

I’m firmly of the opinion that attempting to move beyond the ‘niche’ market of creative writers would damage the product as a whole, so have no intention of adding features simply to broaden its appeal.

5 After PageFour, what’s next for Darren Devitt, writing-wise and software-wise?

I have a number of software projects on the go at the moment, none of them in the creative writing field. I’m working on polishing off some small applications that I designed for my own use over the years, with the aim of making them either commercially viable, or at the very least, usable freeware. In terms of paying the mortgage, I’m busy working on an application targeting eBay sellers. Over the past year, I’ve helped out with the techie side of my brother’s eBay business, and noticed some serious deficiencies in the software currently available.

And of course, PageFour is still under development. The user base is growing significantly larger each month, as word of mouth plays its part, and I’ve become a little more aware of the marketing and selling side of the business.

If you would like to learn more about PageFour, maybe even take it for a test drive, check it out here. And thank you to Darren for taking the time to stop by and tell us a little bit about himself, and the PageFour word processor.

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