Appropriately for software designed for writers, there's a great backstory to Scrivener. Imagine a writer who hunted around for Mac text editors to help him do his work. Then imagine that he couldn't find anything that did all the things the way he liked, so he decided to make one himself...
Scrivener is a labour of love by Keith Blount. It's not a page layout tool, it's purely a space for capturing copy, research and ideas and cobbling together drafts as you go along. It can be turned to producing novels, scripts, journalism, or any type of professional writing.
Blount has been highly diligent at providing updates and bug fixes for the application through his beta testing and initial release, and has built up a very respectable following in the process. Check out www.literatureandlatte.com/forum to see this in action.
The application that we can think of that's closest to Scrivener in terms of feature set and feel is PaperTools Pro, or, to a lesser degree, MacJournal. Both competitors enable you to record thoughts on-the-fly, and PaperTools lets you note research and load references as footnotes, but neither comes close to Scrivener in terms of flexibility when you import, compile or export the body of work.
For example, you can import whole web pages into Scrivener together with their dynamic links and save them as new folders in the left-hand menu bar. You can even store video content embedded inside PDFs, among other formats.
The layout is pure Apple with all the familiar OS level text support and Cocoa coding, such as the Inspector tool. But beyond using familiar building blocks, Blount has been clever at setting how navigation is managed, too. Presumably his career as a writer has brought a creative sense to bear that some other coders can only guess at.
The left-hand panel is a tree of fall-down menu tabs. The main top-to-bottom central panel displays text or a mixture of research and draft copy as you like. The right-hand panel is loaded with opportunities to add metadata to the elements, while the header bar gives you a simple palette of tools, ranging from a highlighter to different display options.
It's a mercifully simple interface, but all you need is here. Plus there are excellent presentation tools, such as the ability to flip background layouts to a corkboard for attaching virtual notes, or the wonderful Full-screen mode, which was a real winner with us; here, the screen moves to an Aperture-like setting with controls that look much like OS X's Core Image controls at the foot of the page.
The text page can be left, centre or right, while the background can fade to black or have a sliding scale of opacity for displaying research materials. This mode gives you a really focused workspace with no annoying background distractions and, correspondingly, the copy just flows.
Scrivener has a very useful Snapshot feature to help protect you from yourself. This is a device that saves Scrivener's status at any given point, so you can return to that state should you fluff it when attempting a major pruning session. Just take a snapshot before you get the clippers out and if all goes belly-up you have a safety net in place.
The final area to touch on is exporting. Blount is clearly a man who has written copy for multiple clients at a time, each with their own demands on how the copy arrives. When you export a draft you enter a very detailed window with lots of quick options about how to preen the copy.
For instance, you can reorganise spacing, font styles, enter subbing markers and much more besides. Export presets can be saved for later reuse, sure to keep your bosses happy.
Scrivener is packed with understated ability and more features than we can do justice to here. The hearty among you can go to Blount's forum and download the beta version of 1.1 for free, or try version 1.055b from this issue's DVD. Alternatively, the application is inexpensive enough that you could just dive in and buy it.