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JIM ANDREWS: Sea of Po – animisms and a ‘different sort of poetry & magazine’

How to introduce legendary Canadian Jim Andrews – a leading figure in the world of visual poetics / interactive literature / kinetic text and founder of Vispo https://vispo.com.  On eliterature.org the Vancouver-based polymath is described as ‘attempting to create writing that is a synthesis of various arts and media: words, code, sound, images and interactivity’. He also describes himself as: poet-programmer, visual and audio artist, theorist, front end developer, tech writer and mathematician.

In the words of Tom Konyves’ Poets with a Video Camera exhibition catalogue – New Art EmergingTwo or Three Things One Should Know About Videopoetry  (2022), he has created ‘some of the most well-regarded interactive poems of the last 25 years. He is one of a few Director/Lingo artists of the late 90s and 00s to make the transition from Flash/Director multimedia to HTML5 work that’s even more multimedial and strongly interactive. His recent piece Enigma n2022 https://enigman.vispo.com is a wildly innovative work of interactive granular synthesis, colour, music and digital poetry.’ Jim studied literature, maths and computer science at university, and subsequently produced a literary radio show called Fine Lines before finding a true home on the Internet and the World Wide Web.

JA: ‘I started vispo.com in 1995 or 1996. At the very beginning, it was a publicity site for the weekly reading series I organized and hosted from 1993 to 1997 in Victoria called Mocambopo. I also used it to attract writers to read at Mocambopo. But, even so, it seemed like the perfect medium for me, as an artist. All sorts of international interesting stuff was happening. Charles Bernstein, one of the forces in so-called language poetry,  had a fascinating project going on with Loss Glazier called the Electronic Poetry Center, which was drawing poets from all over the English-speaking world. New publications were starting up all over the web, and all sorts of attempts at new types of work. I’d print out interesting essays and whatnot from the web and leave them in Mocambo Coffee.

During my radio days (84–90), I’d been in touch with Helen Thorington, who produced New American Radio in the 80s and early 90s. She commissioned radio art. But she’d moved to the web, producing turbulence.org, starting around 96 or 97, which was commissioning net art. Eventually, she commissioned Nio, a big interactive music/poetry work of mine, in 2000. She wasn’t the only one moving from electronic to digital media. That was around the time I got in touch with Ted Warnell, who’s been publishing his site warnell.com as long or longer than I’ve been publishing mine. There were several terrific listservs going on. Such as the poetics list from Bernstein’s project, plus rhizome, and empyre, which I co-moderated for a while. I started one called webartery. Listservs were the main ‘social media’ of the early web. Heather Haley’s Edgewise ElectroLit Centre in Vancouver was another interesting node, and TrAce in the UK… The browser was interesting to me in that not only was it a world-wide, international thing, but a multi-media thing. Text, image, video, sound, telephony – and interactivity. I’d studied literature, math and computer science at university. And, subsequently, produced a literary radio show. The web looked like a medium where I could combine all my interests in art, programming, literature, the international avant garde, sound art, etc. Also, as a poet, I was dissatisfied with the little magazines. The web seemed to pose a whole new way to publish a whole new type of poetry. My life, since then, has mainly focused on exploring those possibilities.’

Jim publishes new thinking on ‘experimental visual poetry, literary programming, and essays on new media’ and the term vispo also cohabits with the term Langu(im)age to illustrate the fusing and fluxing of language verbal and visual and the constant questions that arise in this debate. This extraordinary website has continued to survive and grow and replenish since it was first launched – how many independently run, creative online sites are coming up for their 30-year anniversary?

Some Context

Between 2005 and around 2014  I attended quite a few digital media / electronic literature conferences presenting  theoretical research investigations with text-on-screen through minimal, looping, often koan-like, paradoxical videopoems. I related my experiments with repetitive motion to traditional poetic page-based verse rhythms – metronomic and cyclical – but as visual prosody. This was unlike everyone else I met, who were vastly geeky, inhabiting code worlds and glad to be free of the page and traditional, verse-based poetic structures. In the first decade of the millennium, poetry seemed to divide into groups with different working methods and goals. The media, net, interactive, live installation, electronic literature and digital poets (before we even move on to commercial applications  such as VR, gaming and immersive reality), seemed to be at the forefront of experimental poetry. They were like magicians showing others what could be done with new ideas literally by creating new esoteric systems for making or defining ‘writing’ and ‘language’ via code or developer software like Flash. At the same time the rise of the subjective lyric poet, still using pen on paper as ‘technique’ but also collaborating through digital poetry film (and linear narrative form) was also in the air.

When I wrote The Poetics of Poetry Film (which took over five years and began around 2012) I listed the main types of short film related to poetry film and the traditional differences between them. I knew then that I had to include a rider that stated how the differences were fast disappearing (particularly between media poetry and poetry film). This was particularly evident in the hands of motion graphics designers working with poetry or poets.

I was very lucky to meet Jim at Tom Konyves’ seminal exhibition Poets with a Video Camera : 1980–2020 at Surrey Art Gallery (Vancouver), November 2022 where I was key speaker and we were both exhibitors. Later, Jim brought up the topic of media poetry in my book, and noted that I had said, traditionally ‘the media poem is technically high achieving, intellectually rich and emotionally dry, and valued for its unique coding, expanding transhuman connections. The author is dead and system is king, often exploiting random found material or recombinatorial spectacle.’ Jim was keen to point out that whilst he agreed with what I said for some practitioners, he hoped his own work which he described as animisms [the term meaning where objects are believed or perceived to have agency or a soul / spirit] wouldn’t be defined in the same way.

Tom had selected Jim’s first programmed poem Seattle Drift (1997) for the exhibition, and by coincidence it is also an example of Jim’s animism series. As someone who has researched text-on-screen (particularly in relation to women artists and the theoretical concept of dissolving or dematerializing text) I was really bowled over to see this work in the flesh, see https://vispo.com/animisms/SeattleDriftEnglish.html. It clearly plays an important position in relation to the history of kinetic text and media poetry. Its simplicity and playfulness reminded me of, but moves on from bpNichol’s First Screening (1984) series (with delightful sections such as ‘hoe’) where Nichol was one of the first poets to create computer animated poems. And also the later Kinetic Writings (1989) – minimal Amiga computer poems (character generated and recorded onto video) – of prolific American writer, poet and media poet Richard Kostelanetz.

Seattle Drift

I’m a bad text.

I used to be a poem

but drifted from the scene.

Do me.

I just want you to do me.

In the interactive Seattle Drift  the viewer begins with a neatly laid out, ironically penned poem on the left-hand side of the screen where the viewer is told to ‘Do the text’ ‘Stop the text’ or ‘Discipline the text’. As you Do the text the words unravel across the screen and you can freeze them at any point, choosing your own preferred layout / visual image; or ‘Discipline the text’ by returning it to neat, short lines.

This work establishes the concept of an ‘original poem’ a thought, from which an event happens. The artist himself includes playful humour in his directions, and reflexively eradicates any sense of the ‘inspired mind of the poet’, to focus on the voice of the poem itself. We are here as consumers receiving utilitarian instructions from a no-nonsense, absent controller – like a recorded message.

Jim told Nigerian poet Yohanna Joseph Waliya in https://vispo.com/writings/essays/Animisms.pdf ‘The motion is a drifting of words off the page. Which is also a drifting from the scene of poetry. There’s also a sexual element of dissolution in the poem losing itself.’ For me, I feel that there is a sense of liberation by the individual; and liberation from a final, single work of art, created by an artist. The viewer pauses where they feel an exciting group of words might appear. Go on, it is yours to create.

Coming back to Jim’s thinking behind his animisms, you can see that whilst Seattle Drift is an example of kinetic text, a subjectivity is being voiced, whether concerned with the human issues of dissolution or liberation. Like a lyric page poem, Seattle Drift operates like a stand-in for the author, (even if it appears to be the poem itself who is speaking) where the ‘I’ of the poem blurs with the human authorial ‘I’.  And, after all, the title does suggest a reflection on a personal journey. This makes it different from many other types of historical e-literature etc. which abjured authorship at all. Equally, as it suggests two psychological states, an unravelling and playful creation, it also presents two poetic states: composed verse in classic form and  programmed, interactive, animated poem.

Jim is fascinated by the random in art;  in https://vispo.com/writings/essays/RandomInArt.pdf  he says, from cut-ups to his current work that ‘We have arrived at a position where we view chance/the random more or less as a literary device, like metaphor and simile are literary devices.’ And in relation to animism in digital poetry (see previous animism link) and emotion, he notes that whilst maths and programming produce motion, that ‘The motion can contribute to the production of emotion, if the meaning of the words can be made to work with motion… It isn’t motion that produces emotion. It’s human sympathy.’ Here a successful work combines affecting  words (indicating a state of mind and state of place) with an appropriate type of motion, producing visual metaphor; the poet programmer produces moving metaphor.

He told me: ‘the term ‘animisms’ is apt for the sort of animated work I create. Animisms as kinetic poetry with soul. Kinetic poetry as poetry that moves. Moves with a kind of life, or at least with the liveliness of art.’ Today, an interactive kinetic poetry animism project that is both comparable to and extends Seattle Drift is Jim’s latest brainchild – Sea of Po – and I can’t overstate how lucky I was to be invited to be part of it, alongside 51 other poets, all from a variety of technical and lyric backgrounds.

Touching in the Wake of the Virus, Adeena Karasick and Jim Andrews

Sea of Po 

Jim introducing poets to the multimedia project

JA: ‘Sea of Po https://seaofpo.vispo.com  is a one-issue online app-mag that features the work of 52 poets in a generative, visual, kinetic, interactive, never-exactly-the-same-twice app of multiple languages. It’s a new sort of experience of poetry and a poetry magazine. It will display your texts too. Unicode is what makes the multi-language dimension possible in Sea of Po  as well as special characters not usually associated with language. It is also in pdf form https://vispo.com/writings/essays/Sea_of_Po2.pdf  as a type of Manifesto/Manual/Magazine and at some point, may also be published as a book, with another pdf but the same URL.’

Being invited to take part in this project meant diving deep into endless possibilities.  It always felt open, experimental, friendly, inviting. I could do anything. For me, that meant I was able to be completely creative in response to a visually exciting screen, one I couldn’t create on my own. I feel certain a lot of the participants felt the same.

ST: What inspired you to make Sea of Po?

JA: Sea of Po started out as Sea of 9 ( https://taper.badquar.to/9/sea_of_9.html ). This was for issue 9 of Taper mag from MIT, which only publishes ‘computational poetry’ that’s 2kb or smaller. The theme of issue 9 was the number 9. When Adeena Karasick saw it, she felt it would be a good way to show a poem of hers called ‘Touching in the Wake of the Virus (see previous image).  Rather than display just ‘9’, it would display her poem word by word or line by line. So, I expanded the piece and the code so it could do that. But I felt there was still a lot of unexplored territory in the idea. Hence Sea of Po.

I could also say that what inspired Sea of Po was to create a different sort of poetry magazine. One that is an app as well as a mag. And a tool as well – you can create and save your own texts/poems. It’s a different experience of poetry and a poetry magazine. The experience of poetry involves the black window and the animation window. You experience poetry in a cubistic, multi-perspective way. Much of my work is an attempt to explore the app possibilities of poetry, the digital possibilities of poetry.’

Windows that Like to Be Read Together

The Sea of Po project extends Seattle Drift in that both the lyric, ‘still’ poem in conventional linear verse format, and the animated visual poem are visible at one and the same time, with two windows to view this process. This clearly shows how Jim has created an inclusive space for originally two separate forms,  confirming his own definition of his animisms in his work. Here, the lyric and generative processes (creative coding or writing programmes – giving instructions – to generate an artwork) co-exist.

I think you can get a very good idea of his thinking through the way he has phrased the following points. I would also suggest that you open the Sea of Po link   https://seaofpo.vispo.com to follow his description.

JA: ‘Reading Sea of Po as a poetry publication, as a mag-app, is an interesting new way of reading – but is it really new? We are getting used to reading different windows more or less at once… Two windows, the Black Window and Animation Window, are joined at the hip and present the textuality of poetry in two constantly-present texts: a familiar, traditional look, in the Black Window, and an animation of rotating words, phrases, and lines of poetry in the Animation Window. Each kinetic text is, in fact, following a circular path. It’s all about words touching at many points, being scrambled and recombined at the level of the word, the phrase, and the line – or the ideogram, in the case of Japanese. Meaning is recombinant and visually both flowing and disjunctive. Even while unreadable, it’s nonetheless visually engaging as a swirling Sea of Po, and made to be clicked till funk is firing on all cylinders… Another dimension of the project is a poet may use Sea of Po as a performance instrument. They can play it themselves, while reading their poem, or they can have someone else play it. Like a musician can sing and play a guitar–or have someone else play the guitar while they sing. Or just sing. Or just play the guitar.’

Here is Jim’s description of his own poems at Sea of Po  taken from the pdf magazine.

Go to to this link https://seaofpo.vispo.com?p=ja. and click on the poem on the left-hand side and scroll down for the symbol of your choice. A very pleasing, if not sublime extension of climate change-related moving concrete poetry awaits. The image below is the beautiful Punctuation.

Another interesting aspect of this project was discovering who else was taking part, which happened gradually, so it was good to keep checking back and catching up, and often finding extraordinarily elevated company: Kedrick James, Charles Bernstein, Alan Bigelow, Chris Joseph to name but a few … alongside names I know more personally such as Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas, Natasha Boškić and leading Canadian poet Penn Kemp.

Some of the poets handed over their poems and let Jim design the visual aspect himself, but as I am a visual artist as well, I wanted to be able to try it myself. I had questions regarding what was possible, or how much you could write to a predictable (repeating or programmed) visual aspect. Here is a question I asked:

ST: ‘I would really like to see the lines of poetry first before they break up and the words intermingle. I have short lines of max 5 words. I also wondered if it could go line by line. So, you see a line as it is, then it breaks up, then say 10 seconds later you see the next one and so on. Or maybe better, you see a whole stanza and then it breaks up and then maybe goes back to its original form after 15 seconds or thereabouts. I just really like the idea of the breaking away from something you have seen in a conventional line.’

JA: ‘Use the ^ word concatenator described at the bottom of the black window. The ^ concatenator is how you get multiple words to display on one line. For instance, if your text is “Poetry^is^the^sun”, then the animation will animate the line “Poetry is the sun” as one line. Whereas if your text is “Poetry is the sun” then the text will be animated as four independent words, all of which move in circles. If your text is “Poetry^is the sun” then “Poetry is” will be animated on one line together, and the other words will be animated separately in their own circles of motion.’

Whilst you can predetermine font size and speed of rotation, ultimately, the central point about Sea of Po is that the animated part continuously changes and is of course, random.  For example, I couldn’t determine colour placing: to have pink and turquoise in one area as a one-off or repeatable effect, as a way of supporting linguistic meaning, but this was part of the joy of the programme. You become mesmerised by the constantly changing visual, temporal letters, where sometimes colours are blazingly seductive or by chance muted or dark.

Style and Subject Matter

The poets have arrived at many approaches to producing their original ‘poems’: some centre on postmodernist computer languages whether abstract or generative poems (from a limited database of words), others solely rely on human ‘felt’ language and the lyric self, and a few a combination of the two. It also seems as if some are code poems, where ‘regular’ text is combined with code that has to be deciphered and translated (like any language).

As mentioned previously, Jim himself has created his own Unicode symbolic works for the project, whilst Charles Bernstein (see featured image) has taken words used five times from his ironic, multiple context and mood, philosophical and yet pertinently political poetry book Girly Man (2006). Many have used symbols, or ‘stanzas’  with symbols and language (see Chris Joseph above), jumbled strings of language, or moving concrete poems focusing on single letters. Don Duchene has written short prose as a letter to Jim, whilst Fred Wah has set out two texts side by side in is a door. Some are  translated such as Angela Chang’s, written in both English and Cantonese, whilst Reham Hosny’s is in Arabic and English.

Subjects range from bacterial infection and touch – Roberto Ncar and Adeena Karasick Touching in the Wake of the Virus (also a video with Jim Andrews) to curse – Natash Boškić, to money and financial facts – David Williams’ (bilingual, Portuguese and English) poem centering on Christiano Ronaldo and David Beckham’s salaries. Some of my favourites have fairly strong visually metaphoric links to the text. In Vacuum Cleaner Poem by Canadian Kedrick James, the text rotates quickly, shifting randomly from sense (individual words catching the eye) to letters piled together, as if clouds of ‘dust bunnies’ or accumulated dust rising in the air. Canadian Bonnie Nish’s Under Water (about drowning) works so well in its animated form with arching (wave-breaking-like) words in black and white, with a slow, strong sense of memorial about it. The animation, in its speed and delivery consummately respects and expands on the subject matter. This poem is beautifully enhanced by being visualised through Sea of Po.

Quite a few reflect on time, being and death. These include works by legendary Canadian poet Penn Kemp (a deeply moving work about her husband’s passing, and much shared on Jim’s Facebook page) and leading poets and videopoets Valerie Le Blanc and Daniel H. Dugas (see on).

Penn Kemp http://pennkemp.weebly.com/

Canadian Poet, performer, playwright and activist Penn Kemp is a poetry phenomenon. As her website proclaims she has been writing and publishing for more than 50 years with over 30 books of poetry, prose and drama; seven plays and ten CDs as well as award-winning videopoems. Alongside this incomparable career, she tirelessly gives readings and workshops, spreading the word in the community and worldwide.

Lethologica, Penn Kemp

‘Jim Andrews from Vancouver included my poem “Lethologica” in his wondrous See of Po series: https://seaofpo.vispo.com?p=pk. And on Andrews’s manifesto, manual, and magazine, https://vispo.com/writings/essays/Sea_of_Po2.pdf: p. 61.
For Sea of Po, I wanted to write a language poem that would lend itself to animation, to movement, to be read in swirls, side to side, and yet form couplets. Hence, Lethologica, so that the word is not lost in Lethe’s forgetful current, but is re-imagined as image, as colour. I am delighted that Lethologica is ensconced among so many lovely contributions by old friends like Lionel Kearns and new, like Sarah Tremlett.

The poem itself is an indirect lament for my husband, Gavin Stairs, who died two years ago. What is the role of language in such a confrontation with death? The piece is an uncertain contemplation on mortality, on what is lost and what can be conjured by diving between the worlds. It is an exploration of what can still be gained through poetry and the medium of animation. The blues express the spaciousness between dimensions in the Bardo. The visuals present that amorphous thinning of veils very well: a sea change of heart, when the tongue is tied in knots and nots of regret when words fail to express the overwhelm of loss, the enormity of lines of thought crisscrossing. What remains in memory after a life is completed? What can be said, and how? What can a name summon? Had we better not call a spirit back, even if we could?’

Penn’s poem given a secondary adaptation by Jim, as a still with both versions showing.

Valerie LeBlanc  https://val.basicbruegel.com/

I have known Canadians Valerie LeBlanc and her collaborator and partner Daniel H. Dugas for some years now and been privileged to write in more detail about their pioneering, extensive videopoetry series both in The Poetics of Poetry Film and Videopoetry / Vidéopoésie (bilingual overview of their work from 1980 to 2018). As her website says: Valerie’s creations travel between poetry, performance, visual and written theory. Working separately and in collaboration with Daniel, the subject of time features in both their work. Valerie LeBlanc’sBecoming Time (see below) draws the reader to the present moment and her spare use of language holds you there, as the title sublimely suggests. Daniel H. Dugas’Daniel: https://dan.basicbruegel.com/ arresting poem in French and English centres on the brevity of life; of having one hour, and repeating different choices you might make, to treasure in one hour.

One Hour, Une Heure, Daniel H. Dugas

Valerie LeBlanc

‘Basically, I wrote Becoming Time in 2013 when I was starting my Doctorate at the Sydney College of Arts, University of Sydney. I wrote several pieces at that time with a plan to use them with my larger project: The Raft. The project revolved around a raft as a small island and with the idea of what would be the essentials to carry along as part of the head space.’

Becoming Time

Now is a noun.

Moving forward from it,

is inevitable,

if there is a desire to keep moving at all.

Looking back is often,

not a decision,

but a happening,

an event,


The pop of a flash bulb,

on a now outdated camera,

a connection in the neuron net,

that insists.

The orchestration,

of being

once again

in that moment,


that set of circumstances,

has led you

to whom,

you are becoming,


It is,


in all time.


Sarah Tremlett           https://seaofpo.vispo.com?p=st

 Stimming Spell to Ward Off Neurotypical Banter

This poem is about autism and ‘stimming’, (where, if anxious, you continuously  twine hair through your fingers) and also find the feel of an animal’s fur or hair (especially horses) reassuring. I had wanted to write a poem on this subject for some time and the capabilities of Sea of Po meant I had the opportunity to create a perfect visual metaphor from the visual cyclical strand-like ‘trails’, in relation to the stimming motion. I divided the poem into stanzas which each had a repeating, chant-like pattern, with single word first lines as declarative or command-like utterances. If spoken, they would be emphasised. These provided interesting, enforcing patterns when floating on the screen.

As mentioned in relation to Penn Kemp, Jim has also been inspired to work further with a number of the poems and develop them in different ways. He took mine and made a ‘still version’ where the original poem overlays a sample of the animated text (see below). He also has some really interesting things to say about the process.

JA:  ‘I enjoyed reading your poem “Stimming Spell to Ward off Neurotypical Banter” in a way I hadn’t before. I find that I read nothing more deeply than work that I publish – eventually. Creating this version allowed me to read the poem line by line and really soak it up. It’s quite mad. In a good way. You claim it’s a “stimming spell”, a witchy stimulant to awaken the deep feathered mind from the (unconscious?) trance. And so it is! Quite successfully, I would add.

The image I’ve created of the poem includes the poem’s text in white. The background of each white line is a different screenshot from Sea of Po of the animation associated with that particular line. So, for instance, if you look at the line “Drum!”, you see lots of blue and green texts of the sentence “Drum!” in the same horizontal space as the white word “Drum!”. Same with the line that says “Awaken”; the word “Awaken” is repeated horizontally there.  Every line of the poem has its own background screenshot.

The idea being that this kind of amplifies each line, turns each line into a thing we not only read but examine as a visual that we also read. But there’s also the gestalt of the whole thing, a single image of the whole thing. Also, I think it participates in the madness of the poem in its colour like the centaur’s kite tails etc. Sea of Po is itself a kind of wake-me-up, or so I fantasize. Your work contributes really poetically to this poetry project–thank you very much.’

Dual Viewing Mode

It is fascinating to see how different approaches to the original poems become transformed through animation in this way. On the one hand, the interactive viewer can pick and choose poet and poem, and also might also make decisions based on play value. The experimental fusing with the entertaining is really what is happening here. And something very do-able on mobile screens. What I really like about this dual viewing mode, is  you actually have the chance to stop the animation and compare to the original verse. This also happens in the book Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow (Poem Film Editions) which I recently published with Poem Film Editions co-director Csilla Toldy.  It’s an ekphrastic and bilingual poetry book, with a QR link to poetry films from the poems. But of course, here in Sea of Po the poems crucially share the same space. It is like seeing someone as they were and as they are at one and the same time. The viewer intervenes, but the original will always remain the same, watching its own reformation and revisioning through colour, form and motion.

How Has Visual Poetry Changed

Since there is clearly a convergence of poetry film, video poetry, kinetic text and visual text or visual poetry today, I asked Jim how he felt that visual poetry had changed since the 90s.

JA:The first book about the history of digital poetry (Chris Funkhouser’s Prehistoric Digital Poetry) looks at work from 1959 to 1995–so, basically, pre-web stuff. Digital possibilities, especially those posed by the web, have probably had the strongest influence on visual poetry since the 1990s. Tools like Flash and Director–now obsolete–and then HTML5 have opened up the possibility of creating interesting interactive, multimedia works for international, internet audiences. Such work is a synthesis of different arts and media. And the development of broadband has allowed the development of youtube, so that the videopoem has become much more widely seen. Also, publication of visual poetry has thrived on the web in domains dedicated to it, or blogs. There’s still lots of print publications, but it has expanded into the digital in a big way.’

In The Poetics of Poetry Film I quoted Christopher Funkhouser who noted in 2008 that the videopoem alongside computerized poetry, and interactive sound poetry despite their differences are all ultimately forms of digital poetry. I commented that whilst this might be true in its broadest sense, the particular aims, outputs and practitioner groupings (and ways of viewing) are often very different. Looking at Sea of Po  it is clear that it represents not only a cross-section of poetry and poets –  but also a dual viewing experience that, though still pushed by an interactive finger, conjoins once widely separate genres.  Divisions between the poetry scenes are fast   narrowing, and one central pioneer in this field, through his innovative, experimental and yet also entertaining animism project Sea of Po, is Jim Andrews.


Note: When the app is in the stores, it will be available for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and the web version will work unrestrictedly on Linux.