14 votes

Please tell me what you think about this idea for a text editor/Linux Distribution combo

I know there are similar products I could buy in the US that would give me this experience, but I'm not in the US and I don't have much money.

In the old days, my father had some kind of machine that was not a proper laptop and not a proper typewriter. It opened instantly to a text editor. As far as I remember, there was no noticeable boot time. It had a keyboard and an entry for a floppy disk. You typed your stuff, saved it to the floppy disk, probably to send via email or to print in another machine. I loved that machine.

I love these little gadgets that do one thing and one thing only. And, as someone with severe ADHD, they're often a necessity. If my Kindle had Youtube I would never read a book. If my PS4 had Emacs I would never play a game. The list goes on, but the principle is this: a lot of things are useful to me precisely because of what they cannot do.

And that is why I wanna recreate my father's crazy computer-typewriter.

Because I know how to use the command line, it really needs to be in total lockdown: I open it up, it shows a very simple text editor (with a few handy features that make it works even more like a typewriter) that I cannot configure, tinker or alter in any way. It's focused on writing (not editing) literature because that's what I need and other kinds of writing require an internet connection.

It would save and back up automatically (like a typewriter) to one or more drives at your choice.

There would need to be a few options because of different screen sizes, the number of screens etc, with an interface to make it easier.

So the idea is an ultra-minimal, kiosk-mode Linux distribution that can either go on a flash drive or be installed on an old laptop. No package management, no internet connection, no access to the command line, no configuration files, no distractions whatsoever. I wanna forget I'm even using Linux. I wanna recreate my father's typewriter/computer that he never let me touch.

How do I do this?

31 comments

  1. [3]
    clone1
    Link
    This isn't quite what you want, as he specifically mentions full shell access as a pro, but your idea and reasoning reminded me of it, and it's cool so I thought i'd share anyway....

    This isn't quite what you want, as he specifically mentions full shell access as a pro, but your idea and reasoning reminded me of it, and it's cool so I thought i'd share anyway. https://alternativebit.fr/posts/ultimate-writer/

    6 votes
    1. moocow1452
      Link Parent
      That is so cool and I want it in a laptop for screenwriting.

      That is so cool and I want it in a laptop for screenwriting.

      1 vote
    2. Grand0rbiter
      Link Parent
      Wow that's beautiful. Imagine using cool new keycaps for that keyboard and this could be the cool new hispter steampunk typewriter! It would get expensive just because of the keycaps.

      Wow that's beautiful. Imagine using cool new keycaps for that keyboard and this could be the cool new hispter steampunk typewriter!

      It would get expensive just because of the keycaps.

  2. [8]
    tomf
    Link
    Are you thinking of something like the freewrite?

    Are you thinking of something like the freewrite?

    5 votes
    1. [4]
      pseudolobster
      Link Parent
      The e-ink display on that reminds me of a kindle. Since OP said kindles aren't too distracting, and I happen to know they can be jailbroken, it stands to reason one could be used for this. So I...

      The e-ink display on that reminds me of a kindle. Since OP said kindles aren't too distracting, and I happen to know they can be jailbroken, it stands to reason one could be used for this.

      So I looked into it, and sure enough, it's possible, albeit in a fairly janky and very kludgy way. It seems like the main drawback is that the kindle will not power the keyboard, so you need to hack together a battery powered USB hub. Anyway, Kindle PaperWhites can be found for under $50 pretty easily. Certain models can be jailbroken. From there you can enable USB OTG support, and install a text editor. Actually getting the text files off the device is left as an exercise to the reader, but at the very least you could use SSH/SFTP to transfer stuff off of it.

      Some of the upsides would be that it lasts an extremely long time on battery, and is daylight visible. If you get a folding keyboard with a stand for the kindle, it'd be far smaller and lighter than a laptop.

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        tesseractcat
        Link Parent
        It would probably be better to get an Android e-reader, like one of the Onyx e-readers, since you could install more feature rich text editors on them (along with out of the box usb and bluetooth...

        It would probably be better to get an Android e-reader, like one of the Onyx e-readers, since you could install more feature rich text editors on them (along with out of the box usb and bluetooth support) without needing to jailbreak, and because many of the newer Kindle software revisions are unjailbreakable.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          pseudolobster
          Link Parent
          I'd imagine the temptation to use apps and a full-fledged web browser might be too great. The great thing about a paperwhite would be how useless it is for anything other than reading books. I'll...

          I'd imagine the temptation to use apps and a full-fledged web browser might be too great. The great thing about a paperwhite would be how useless it is for anything other than reading books.

          I'll admit it's not a great option, but OP was saying they're looking to write simple unformatted plaintext, so if that's the case it might not be so bad.

          1 vote
          1. tesseractcat
            Link Parent
            You'd be surprised, trying to do anything other than reading or other simple text based tasks can be a chore on e-ink screens, even with full fledged Android support. But a Kindle would be good,...

            You'd be surprised, trying to do anything other than reading or other simple text based tasks can be a chore on e-ink screens, even with full fledged Android support. But a Kindle would be good, it's just kind of a gamble whether or not you get one with a jailbreakable software revision, and it's a relatively technical process to get everything setup even if you do.

            Kindle's have a web browser too, however, and it would probably be possible to create a basic Android app that acted as an intermediary between a keyboard and the Kindle's web browser by hosting a local webpage, so you could connect your Kindle to your phone's network, and then open a page in the web browser and use that to do your writing, without needing to jailbreak it. Developing an app like that would also require a relatively significant amount of technical expertise.

            1 vote
    2. [3]
      welly
      Link Parent
      Wow. That's expensive. Who would carry one of those around with them instead (or in addition to) a laptop? That is a very, very niche product. And it doesn't have cursor keys - what if you make a...

      Wow. That's expensive. Who would carry one of those around with them instead (or in addition to) a laptop? That is a very, very niche product. And it doesn't have cursor keys - what if you make a spelling mistake and don't notice it until you've typed in another 3 paragraphs? Are you supposed to leave it until you get onto an actual word processor? Far, far too expensive for how limited it is.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        mrbig
        Link Parent
        I'd love to buy one of these, but once you convert to Brazilian Real and add shipping (if it ships at all), it becomes a luxury item. After seeing products like this I had the idea of creating my...

        I'd love to buy one of these, but once you convert to Brazilian Real and add shipping (if it ships at all), it becomes a luxury item.

        After seeing products like this I had the idea of creating my own third-world alternative ;)

        2 votes
        1. tomf
          Link Parent
          so far as I know its only an eink screen (not sure which one, but a tri-color one would be great), a raspberry pi, and a simple text editor. I think freewrite uses something like nano, but...

          so far as I know its only an eink screen (not sure which one, but a tri-color one would be great), a raspberry pi, and a simple text editor. I think freewrite uses something like nano, but wordgrinder, emacs, or whatever would be great.

          2 votes
  3. [10]
    Grand0rbiter
    Link
    If you can make, install and configure a kiosk Linux distribution, you can do the other way. It won't work. If you can lockdown, you can reverse it. It's like those browser extensions that limit...

    If you can make, install and configure a kiosk Linux distribution, you can do the other way.

    It won't work. If you can lockdown, you can reverse it. It's like those browser extensions that limit your time in some websites. You can just remove it.

    It's better to focus on your issues instead of trying to fool it. Even if you have the Kindle equivalent of a text writer machine, you still have a smartphone in your pocket.

    2 votes
    1. [5]
      bme
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Eh, I dig what this guy is trying to do. Often a barrier is enough. Do you still lock your door? You can make it pretty annoying to escape the jail if you fancy it: Install the stuff, get the...

      Eh, I dig what this guy is trying to do. Often a barrier is enough. Do you still lock your door? You can make it pretty annoying to escape the jail if you fancy it: Install the stuff, get the chain all working for some locked down user then run a shell that changes the root password to some unknown random 20 char string and reboots the computer. Congrats, you've made it reasonably challenging for yourself, which is often enough to get yourself into the flow of things.

      @mrbig: If I were you i'd look at customizing something like bspwm to basically launch the editor of your choice and simply don't launch anything else, have root own the config and make it read only. change the login shell to something suitable neutered. I guess you'd also need to kill all the ttys. Change root password to something else and that's a low-effort lock down that should be good enough for what you are trying to do. For extra fun: consider pairing a rock64 or pi with waveshare epaper display or something like that.

      5 votes
      1. [4]
        mrbig
        Link Parent
        I’m actually thinking in something more extreme like Gentoo, LFS or Yocto. Not that I have the knowledge yet. But eventually I’ll have.

        I’m actually thinking in something more extreme like Gentoo, LFS or Yocto. Not that I have the knowledge yet. But eventually I’ll have.

        1. [3]
          Grand0rbiter
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          No need for something like LFS. Any distro will do. Use a lightweight one like Void or Alpine. All you need is to install the distro, your terminal text editor, bring it down to only one tty,...

          No need for something like LFS. Any distro will do. Use a lightweight one like Void or Alpine.

          All you need is to install the distro, your terminal text editor, bring it down to only one tty, install udevil and run devmon as a daemon to mount and umount usb drives as a regular user, change the root password to something you can't remember, put bubble gum on the ethernet port and it's done. 20 minutes tops.

          You could use a raspberry pi for this.

          5 votes
          1. [2]
            bme
            Link Parent
            Completely agree with void / alpine recommendations. I haven't run alpine but void basically leaves you with nothing, it's trivial to manage the ttys.

            Completely agree with void / alpine recommendations. I haven't run alpine but void basically leaves you with nothing, it's trivial to manage the ttys.

            2 votes
            1. Grand0rbiter
              Link Parent
              I was going to mention only Void, but i don't want to be seen as a fanboy. Void is so simple and BSD like that it's perfect for this. Just remove the symlinks to the tty services and you are down...

              I was going to mention only Void, but i don't want to be seen as a fanboy.

              Void is so simple and BSD like that it's perfect for this. Just remove the symlinks to the tty services and you are down to 1 tty pretty fast.

              1 vote
    2. mrbig
      Link Parent
      Of course I focus on my issues. One way of doing that is looking for tools to help me deal with them :) They’re not meant to solve my life. It’s just a little push.

      Of course I focus on my issues. One way of doing that is looking for tools to help me deal with them :) They’re not meant to solve my life. It’s just a little push.

      2 votes
    3. [2]
      sudoreboot
      Link Parent
      You can use hardware which only can feasibly support limited functionality. No graphics hardware, just a text-based interface. If it's a code editor or administration terminal it could have a...

      You can use hardware which only can feasibly support limited functionality. No graphics hardware, just a text-based interface. If it's a code editor or administration terminal it could have a powerful multi-core CPU for compilation and running. If it's an electronic typewriter it could come with very limited processing capacity and storage, with more focus on storage redundancy/backups.

      1. Grand0rbiter
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Maybe an old netbook with any BSD would work. Since with BSD you won't be playing any games or watching Netflix.

        Maybe an old netbook with any BSD would work. Since with BSD you won't be playing any games or watching Netflix.

        1 vote
    4. mrbig
      Link Parent
      I shouldn’t have used the word kiosk because I don’t mean making a restricted system with a backdoor but one that either doesn’t cave any other stuff or doesn’t provide, after install, any means...

      I shouldn’t have used the word kiosk because I don’t mean making a restricted system with a backdoor but one that either doesn’t cave any other stuff or doesn’t provide, after install, any means whatsoever to access any kind of tools other than text editing, admin or not. It’s not a kiosk mode, it’s a truly single purpose device.

  4. [2]
    papasquat
    Link
    The device you are talking about is referred to as a word processor. They were somewhat popular in the late 70s an early 80s. The easiest thing would probably be to go to ebay and search for "word...

    The device you are talking about is referred to as a word processor. They were somewhat popular in the late 70s an early 80s. The easiest thing would probably be to go to ebay and search for "word processor". A quick look shows that some of those devices are still around, and apparently someone makes newer models as well.

    2 votes
    1. Akir
      Link Parent
      IIRC they were actually made all the way into the mid-90s. The last of them, to my knowledge, were made by Smith-Corona.

      IIRC they were actually made all the way into the mid-90s. The last of them, to my knowledge, were made by Smith-Corona.

      2 votes
  5. [4]
    frostycakes
    (edited )
    Link
    It's a lot simpler, but I remember back in elementary school (late 90s-early 00s), we had these things called AlphaSmarts that were just a full size QWERTY keyboard with a greyscale LCD on it to...

    It's a lot simpler, but I remember back in elementary school (late 90s-early 00s), we had these things called AlphaSmarts that were just a full size QWERTY keyboard with a greyscale LCD on it to display what you were writing. It had a USB port as well, so all you had to do to transfer it to a computer was hook it up, open a text editor/word processor on the computer itself, and press a button and it transferred over the text. I imagine it just presented as a standard USB keyboard to the host, so even old models should still work. I have zero idea if they're still made, but I would guess that used ones would be around on eBay still.

    EDIT: Looks like the models we had (the 3000) were discontinued in 2006, and the later ones were more like Palm Pilots, apparently.

    2 votes
    1. Akir
      Link Parent
      This is honestly probably ideal for @mrbig. The last version was the Neo 2, which was only discontinued in 2013. You can buy them on ebay for $20, so even with all of the expenses to import to...

      This is honestly probably ideal for @mrbig. The last version was the Neo 2, which was only discontinued in 2013. You can buy them on ebay for $20, so even with all of the expenses to import to Brazil, it should still be affordable.

      The Palm model you are talking about is the Dana, which is a little bit of a different beast. It's not exactly what I would recommend for OP either. It's a fun gadget, but it's not very good at being a Palm, IMHO. It really needs more RAM.

      I believe that the USB functionality for the Neo 2 should still work today. I don't own one of these, but I have been told they just pretend to be a USB keyboard, and pressing the "send" button just sends your document out as if you were typing it out live.

      3 votes
    2. [2]
      Silbern
      Link Parent
      Woooooow, I haven't seen an AlphaSmart in 15 years, but elementary school memories just came rushing back. I remember we used these from 1st to 4th grade, and how you'd have to put your text into...

      Woooooow, I haven't seen an AlphaSmart in 15 years, but elementary school memories just came rushing back. I remember we used these from 1st to 4th grade, and how you'd have to put your text into a Word 2000 document, watching it type at superhuman speed was awesome. Thanks dude, I'd nearly completely forgotten about these.

      2 votes
      1. frostycakes
        Link Parent
        That was the most satisfying part tbh. Now I'm tempted to try and buy myself an old one and go to town. Similarly to @mrbig, trying to get any writing done in front of a computer for me is a...

        That was the most satisfying part tbh.

        Now I'm tempted to try and buy myself an old one and go to town. Similarly to @mrbig, trying to get any writing done in front of a computer for me is a difficult task-- I've had to literally write a paper while riding random bus routes to take me in a circuitous route around town so that I wasn't tempted to fuck around on the internet (this was before being able to use your phone as a mobile hotspot was a common thing) or play games. I might actually do some more of it if I had one of these.

        That, or it'll gather dust in a closet. But eh, for about $30 I may as well give it a shot. Worst case scenario, I can amuse myself yeeting text at ultrafast speeds into a word processor and have a backup keyboard.

  6. 9000
    (edited )
    Link
    Recently I have been reading about Guix, and in particular for your case, I ran into a tutorial that includes a section on setting up a read-only kiosk image. While the whole tutorial is a bit...

    Recently I have been reading about Guix, and in particular for your case, I ran into a tutorial that includes a section on setting up a read-only kiosk image.

    While the whole tutorial is a bit long so that you can learn the Guix philosophy and the Guile language, the final product might be pretty attractive. Specifically, a really short file that declaratively defines your OS, such that you can remove absolutely everything that's not necessary (including networking[1]) and force it to boot straight into a text editor (I'd probably choose neovim, but it looks like you might want something even simpler). This way, you couldn't do anything except write and save files on the machine without reflashing it, which is about as high-friction as you can get with a hobby machine.

    Additionally, since you can remove everything but the bare essentials, it will run really fast, and probably even work on the lowest-spec hardware.

    This may be a bit of an involved set up, and there is a learning curve, but once it works, you should be entirely locked out, but you can still reflash it to update it or fix configuration bugs.


    [1]: Technically, Guix runs on the Linux-libre kernel, which means that a lot of hardware requiring proprietary drivers may not work (read: Nvidia GPUs, some Intel networking, etc.), but since you explicitly don't want a lot of that, it may not be a problem. If it is, you can check out Nonguix to set it up with the mainline kernel.

    EDIT: forgot word

    2 votes
  7. yellow
    Link
    I just found this tutorial on restricted shell. It could prevent a user from using any command. Maybe use that to setup an account that can only write files and move them on and off storage. Once...

    I just found this tutorial on restricted shell. It could prevent a user from using any command. Maybe use that to setup an account that can only write files and move them on and off storage. Once you've finished setup you could set the admin password to some random string. I'm not sure of how to best go about disabling to ability to boot it from a usb, but it may be good enough.

  8. moocow1452
    Link
    Could use something like that Open Reader project mentioned earlier. Hack it, and since it only has an e-ink screen, it would be limited to word processing over conventional web browsing and video...

    Could use something like that Open Reader project mentioned earlier. Hack it, and since it only has an e-ink screen, it would be limited to word processing over conventional web browsing and video consumption.

    https://tild.es/icd

    On a similar vein is the Alphasmart Neo.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T0ZG06O/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_18hODbJTMF97F

    Provided you can get your hands on one, it is a dedicated word processing device, but you would need to have a Windows or Mac PC to get any text out of it. If you wanted to DIY, I would have something based on this, maybe with a Raspberry Pi that could connect as a keyboard to another computer, and do a command to dump an entire document with formatting onto the host computer as if it was a document sized macro.

  9. ubergeek
    Link
    You could pick up a tandy model 100 or 200? Basically what you're looking for, minus the floppy drive. You can use serial to xfer stuff, though.

    You could pick up a tandy model 100 or 200? Basically what you're looking for, minus the floppy drive. You can use serial to xfer stuff, though.