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Today’s Mac Gem is for the writers out there. But not just professional writers—anyone who, for whatever reason, need to keep track of how much they’re writing.

As a writer, much of what I write has word limitations: 800 words, 1200 words, 2000 words. Sometimes I use a word processor to text editor that has a built-in word count feature (for example, BBEdit or Microsoft Word—although the latter’s word count feature sometimes requires ancient rituals to get it to appear) but oftentimes I don’t (for example, TextEdit). If an application is Services-aware, I can select all of the text in the current document and then choose the Statistics Service, but that’s a bit of a pain.

On top of that, even when an application does have a word count feature, I can never be sure what it’s actually counting. Is it counting every word or does it leave out “a,” “I,” and “the"? What about hyphenated words—are they one or two? The fact that the same chunk of text will result in a different word count in every application illustrates how “fuzzy” this feature is.

So I’ve been looking for a good, well, word counter. Although I’ve yet to find the perfect solution, I recently discovered SuperMagnus Software’s free (donations accepted) Word Counter 1.7 (   ), and I’ve been fairly pleased with it. Rather than being integrated into any particular application, Word Counter provides its own text window. You can copy text from another program and then paste it into the window, drag and drop the text to be counted, or, in the case of a plain text or RTF document, drag the file itself into the window. Clicking the Count Words button does what you’d expect: It provides you with a word count of the text. It also provides you with a character count.

Word Counter screenshot

What I’ve described so far isn’t anything special; there are several other “word count” utilities for Mac OS X that will do the same thing. The reasons I like Word Counter better than the others are its TextEdit counter and its preference options. If you tend to use TextEdit frequently—and I know a lot of people who use it to write most of their text—clicking the TextEdit button in Word Counter opens a small pallette to for use with TextEdit. This pallette remains visible while using TextEdit and lets you do a word/character count without the need to copy/paste; it simply counts the text in the active TextEdit window.

The only drawback to this feature is that each time you click the Count Words button, Word Counter becomes the active application, but then doesn’t switch back to TextEdit when the count is complete. To get around this, you need to enable Word Counter’s auto-update preference. This option forces Word Counter to update its count—of the text in the main Word Counter window or, if the TextEdit counter is active, in the active TextEdit window—at an interval you choose (5 seconds, 30 seconds, 5 minutes). In other words, it provides a live word count.

Other handy options provided by Word Counter include the ability to decide how long a word should be to be counted as a word—if you don’t want “I” or “or” counted, you can tell Word Counter to only count words with more than 2 letters. You can also choose whether hyphenated words count as a single word or as the number of words they contain. Finally, you can choose whether or not the character count considers spaces to be characters.

Word Counter preferences screenshot

Overall, Word Counter is a bit klunky, and requires too much switching back and forth between itself and the application in which you’re typing (even when using the TextEdit counter). But it’s a useful tool that does what it does well and with options not available in many applications—and it’s free. I’ve been using it quite a bit lately; if you work with text limits, it’s worth a try.

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