Mac To Do List Managers

Mac To Do List Managers

Choosing a Mac To Do List Manager is tricky, simply because there are so darned many Mac OS and iOS apps to choose from.

Background: When I began the ‘university-phase’ of my life, I was ill prepared for the academic world. I was one of those fortunate/unfortunate kids who found high-school easy; the result was that I focused on sports and I never learned to study. In Pre-Med my concept of getting ready for exams was to redo my multi-coloured study plans, over and over again, as there were fewer and fewer hours remaining to study. Surprisingly, quite a few months passed before I discovered that a little less time spent planning and more time invested doing, was the key to success. I consider myself fortunate to have uncovered the essence of studying, before I reached the relatively unforgiving Med-School environment.

Does my university experience relate to choosing and using a Mac To DO List Manager? Yes, it does, I’ve used OmniFocus, Things and TaskPaper, but my task management style, or lack thereof, is best suited to TaskPaper, let me explain…

TaskPaper icon

I’ve always been a fan of OmniGraffle Pro and OmniOutliner Pro, so, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that my Mac To Do List Manager quest began with OmniFocus. OmniFocus can be as simple as you want it to be, but it also has considerable depth for folks who need it. I was lured away from OmniFocus by Things which is prettier than OmniFocus and quite elegant. Although Things is very impressive, when I first tested TaskPaper, I was hooked. Here’s why:

Less Time Spent Planning And More Time Invested Doing
Is The Key To Success

  • it’s really easy to plan
  • the focus is on doing/accomplishing, not on planning and GTD systems
  • documents resemble plain text

TaskPaper screenshot

  • blissfully straightforward shortcuts:
    • end a word/sentence with a colon to create a project
    • start a sentence with a dash and a space and it’s a task
    • everything not recognized as a task or a project is a note
    • place @ before a word to create a tag/keyword

Are you old enough to remember Dave Winer’s brilliant outliner ThinkTank™? TaskPaper reminds me a little of ThinkTank, but of course, in today’s world, there’s an iOS version of TaskPaper that syncs with Dropbox.

TaskPaper is a Mac To Do List Manager done right. One minute and you’re a TaskPaper expert, the next, you’re getting stuff done.

My recommendation is that you begin your search for a Mac To Do List Manager by checking out @jessegrosjean’s TaskPaper.

MailMate Markdown

MailMate Markdown

If you’re a Mac OS user, a fan of plain text and Markdown this post may be of interest to you. Compose your email messages with Markdown without leaving your email client.

MailMate icon

MailMate a popular, alternative, email client for Mac OS is testing Markdown in a new beta release.

If you’ve enabled Markdown in MailMate’s ‘Composer’ preferences, MailMate email messages will have two alternative body parts:

  1. a plain text body part and
  2. an HTML body part which is automatically generated from your Markdown within MailMate.

>> Download MailMate here

The beta can then be downloaded by holding down ⌥ (option) while selecting the “MailMate ▸ Software Update ▸ Check Now…” menu item.

HTML5 Markdown

HTML5 Markdown

Fans of HTML5 and Markdown might enjoy Dillinger. It’s a free, online option for markdown composition and preview.

>> check out Dillinger

Note: Not Mac OS specific, if you have an HTML5 capable browser, you’re good to go.

Adventures With Mac Markdown

Adventures with Mac Markdown: So many applications, round and round in circles I go…

Warning: Comparing Markdown app features has been known to boggle the brain.

My Mac OS Markdown adventure began gently with the MultiMarkdown bundle for TextMate and the Made of Code theme. Life was good.

My dizziness (round and round in circles reference) began when I discovered an excellent HTML preview app called Marked"Markdown preview for any text editor". I blame Brett Terpstra, the developer of the Marked app, for making it really easy for me to test a variety of Markdown/MultiMarkdown composers. :)

Mac Markdown apps I’ve played with:

  • BBEdit without Marked
  • Byword with and without Marked
  • iA Writer + Marked
  • MarkdownNote
  • MarkMyWords
  • Mou
  • MultiMarkdown Composer + Marked
  • Sublime Text + Marked

Lesson Learned

Q: What did you learn?
A: John Gruber nailed it with Markdown:

"… write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML)."

"The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions."

MultiMarkdown, created by Dr. Fletcher Penney, is a ‘superset’ of Markdown’s syntax. My gut feeling is that MultiMarkdown messes with the "easy," not-marked-up paradigm that defines Markdown.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler."
— Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

These days, I write almost exclusively for the web and I very rarely have a need for tables, footnotes and citations. Likewise, I don’t require LaTeX, OPML or OpenDocument. Wouldn’t folks who use these features all the time be best served by an app like Ulysses?

My conclusion is that Markdown is a good fit for what I do; I rarely, if ever, need MultiMarkdown.

Preferred Mac Markdown App

Q: So, after testing quite a few Mac apps, do you have a favourite?
A: I have two and another app I’m watching closely.

Byword app icon

Mac Markdown Favourite #1: Byword + the Marked preview app with ‘Markdown Compatibility Mode’ checked in preferences. I wish the Byword app had a Markdown only mode. Otherwise, it does exactly what I need it to do.

Mou app icon

Mac Markdown Favourite #2: I’d love to use Mou all the time. Mou is an elegant, single window, Markdown-only app with a split screen; one pane for composition and the other for live HTML preview. It’s very easy to use. Chen Luo, the developer, is crafting a terrific Mac app. His beta:

  • is a modern, 64 bit, Cocoa app that’s fun to use
  • has very impressive syntax highlighting in the editor/composer pane
  • features keyboard actions that make Markdown really easy
  • is donation-ware (people who donate while the app is in beta will receive the final release for free).

I enjoy writing with the preview pane hidden most of the time. I use Shift + Command + I to toggle the preview window and I use Moom to reposition and resize Mou’s window quickly.

So, what is the Mou app missing, why isn’t it my #1? The big things are:

  • auto formatting of list entries after pressing ‘enter’ while inside a list (added Mou 0.7.1)
  • something similar to Byword’s list-shortcuts (added Mou 0.7)
  • custom CSS for the HTML preview pane (added Mou 0.7).

Update: Mou has very quickly become a full-featured markdown composition/preview app that’s great fun to use. Check out what I had to say when I wrote ‘Markdown Theme.’

Mac Markdown app worth watching: MultiMarkdown Composer with ‘Enable MultiMarkdown syntax and features’ unchecked in preferences + the Marked preview app

>> Byword app

>> Marked app

>> Mou app

>> MultiMarkdown Composer app

MultiMarkdown Composer

MultiMarkdown Composer icon

MultiMarkdown Composer is now available in the Mac App Store. When I wrote Markdown Shakedown, I suggested that the arrival of MultiMarkdown Composer would herald the beginning of a shift away from the Markdown standard toward a new MultiMarkdown era and that many people would choose Composer rather than purchase a full-featured text editor, like BBEdit, Sublime Text or TextMate. Was my postulation nothing more than bold hyperbole or could it actually happen?

Q: Is Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown Composer likely to gain traction in an already crowded Markdown/MultiMarkdown application marketplace?
A: It might, but only if Doctor Penney is as determined as his competitors.

What I liked most:

  • no one understands MultiMarkdown better than Fletcher Penney
  • Composer is a modern 64 bit app
  • selecting some text => pasting a URL => watching link syntax appear
  • QuickCursor support via the ODB Editor protocol
  • export and print options
  • integration with Marked app preview.

See the full list of features here.

MultiMarkdown Composer and Marked app

Interestingly, the ‘Syntax Highlighting as You Type’ would have seemed like a breakthrough feature had I not seen Mou‘s implementation three weeks earlier.

FYI, my favourite composers are:

My ‘go to’ app combo has been Byword and the Marked app, but it’s very likely that I’ll be using MultiMarkdown Composer with Marked more and more as the days pass.

Update: I’ve had an opportunity to play with MultiMarkdown Composer today and I’ve discovered that I really miss a couple of Byword’s keyboard shortcuts:

  • Bulleted List: Select text, Cmd + L
  • Numeric List: Select text, Cmd + Option + L

Example: Let’s assume I have just pasted the following text into a document

BBEdit
Byword
iA Writer
Macchiato
MarkMyWords
MarkdownNote
Markdown Pro
Mou
MultiMarkdown Composer
Sublime Text
TextMate

Step 1. Select text from BBEdit up to and including TextMate
Step 2. Use shortcut ‘Command + L’

The result would be

* BEdit
* Byword
* iA Writer
* Macchiato
* MarkMyWords
* MarkdownNote
* Markdown Pro
* Mou
* MultiMarkdown Composer
* Sublime Text
* TextMate

and, similarly, shortcut ‘Command + Option + L’ would create

1. BEdit
2. Byword
3. iA Writer
4. Macchiato
5. MarkMyWords
6. MarkdownNote
7. Markdown Pro
8. Mou
9. MultiMarkdown Composer
10. Sublime Text
11. TextMate

I wasn’t able to uncover similar keyboard actions in Composer; it’s possible they’re there but I haven’t found them. I’ve sent an email to Fletcher Penney asking if they exist and, if not, requesting they be added to Composer’s Format menu.

Update: Dr. Penney replied, “… this is not a bad feature. I’ll look into adding it.”

Ends up, I also prefer Byword’s subdued syntax highlighting. If I get my keyboard shortcuts, I suppose I could always create a custom style sheet for Composer.

Markdown: Why Byword App?

Byword icon

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of John Gruber’s Markdown.

Byword is, “Markdown… with as little friction as possible.”

In my quest to discover my ideal Markdown composer I’ve purchased:

  • BBEdit
  • Byword
  • iA Writer
  • MarkdownNote
  • Mou
  • MultiMarkdown Composer (added to list 20111022)
  • TextMate

and I’ve also had a look at:

  • Macchiato
  • MarkMyWords and
  • Sublime Text.

BBEdit and TextMate are still mired in the 32 bit realm, while the rest are modern, 64 bit Mac OS X apps. My favourite 64 bit Markdown composition apps are Byword, Mou and Sublime Text. Each one of my favourites features Markdown syntax highlighting, but I prefer Bywords subdued approach (Markdown syntax is a light grey and my content is black so that it’s easy to read).

Byword app syntax highlighting

Byword app’s website subtitle is "A writing app that gives you just the tools you need to write Markdown and rich text with as little friction as possible."

Markdown syntax is simple, but Byword’s keyboard shortcuts make composing Markdown an almost magical experience. Overstated? No, not really, the shortcuts are great fun to use.

Handy Byword Keyboard Shortcuts for Markdown:

  • strong/bold: select text, command + b
  • emphasize/italic: select text, command + i
  • link: select text, command + k
  • image: select text, command + option + i
  • bulleted list: select text, command + l
  • numeric list: select text, command + option + l
  • block quote: select text, command + ‘
  • text selection (a space, a word, a sentence, a paragraph or the entire document) command + option + up arrow (repeat up arrow as necessary to extend your selection) and reduce your selection with command + option + down arrow
  • reorder selection with control + command + up arrow or control + command + down arrow
  • indent selection with control + command + right arrow and outdent with control + command + left arrow

Light and dark themes, large text (I use Menlo Regular 18 pt), typewriter scrolling and a full-screen focus mode make writing as easy as is possible. I actually prefer using Byword in a window, not full-screen mode, so I can easily use PTHPasteboard, TextSoap and other apps. Byword remembers a default window position and size, so it’s easy to position the window alongside the Marked app for sophisticated HTML preview. Be sure to test Byword.css with Marked (a custom stylesheet that gives Marked.app Byword’s Preview styles). And yes, of course, Byword has all the latest Mac OS X Lion goodies plus the dictionary, spelling/grammar, smart quotes, smart dashes and hyphenation. Oh, and if you happen to love QuickCursor, you’re covered.

Update (20120314): Byword app is now available for iOS (iPhone and iPad). The iOS version:

  • is universal (runs on both iPhone and iPad)
  • features all sorts of fun markdown automation (smart editing including list continuations and auto-wrapping of asterisks, brackets, parenthesis and quotes).

Create An ‘Open in Marked’ Service for Byword

Follow these steps to create an ‘Open in Marked’ service for Byword. Marked is a terrific HTML preview app that works with any text editor.

Instructions:

Step One: Create an Automator Service that will run the following AppleScript snippet:

tell application "Byword"
    set theDocument to file of document of window 1
end tell
tell application "Marked"
    open theDocument
end tell
  1. Open Automator.app
  2. Create a new service
  3. In the ‘Choose a type your document’ panel, select Service
  4. In the Library column, select Utilities, then double-click Run AppleScript
  5. Delete default text
  6. Copy the AppleScript snippet above and paste on the right
  7. At the top make it so ‘Service receives no input in Byword.app’
  8. Save and call the service ‘Open in Marked’.

Check your work by launching Byword.app, then in your menu under Byword click Services and you should see ‘Open in Marked’.

Step Two: Add a keyboard shortcut for your new Service.

  1. Open Byword
  2. In your menu under Byword select Services
  3. Select the ‘System Preferences’ menu item
  4. Search for your ‘Open in Marked’ entry
  5. Click in the rightmost column
  6. Create your preferred shortcut (I created control + option + command + p for ‘Preview’).

Byword’s developers, Jorge Pedroso and Rúben Cabaço, have done a superb job, Byword is exactly what a Mac Markdown app should feel like.

I’ve added Byword to my list of Best Lion Apps.

If you haven’t done so already

>> click here to learn more about Byword

Related post: Choosing Markdown Software

Mou App Evolving

Mou app icon

Mou app evolving rapidly: When I first wrote about Mou appthe missing Markdown editor for web developers, I was impressed by its "syntax highlighting, live preview and an impressive list of keyboard actions." That’s still the case, but Mou is evolving rapidly:

  • four new keyboard actions: Link, Image, Shift Line Left and Shift Line Right
  • new commands in View menu, "Left:Right = 2:1" and "Left:Right = 1:2"
  • Mou can now remember the scroll position in Live Preview
  • arbitrary extension support (Mou can now open Markdown documents with any extension and if no extension is provided, Mou will use ".md" by default when saving)
  • a new icon (pictured above).

Mou app window

Mou app:

  • is a Mac OS X application
  • currently supports Markdown, but not MultiMarkdown
  • does not remember window size and position (I work around this limitation by using Moom)
  • is donation-ware while in beta (people who donate during the beta will receive a free license when Mou 1.0 released)
  • is supported by a very responsive developer @chenluois

I’ve added Mou to my list of Best Lion Apps.

Update 20111022 – Additions:

  • word counter
  • remembers last opened window size and position
  • displays HTML source in live preview

This blog post was composed as a text file with Markdown syntax using Byword app and the Marked app.

Markdown Shakedown Counterpoint

When I was writing ‘Markdown Shakedown‘ I kept thinking, "Will the added complexity of MultiMarkdown discourage a lot of people?"

From my vantage:

  • MultiMarkdown is for people who write for both the web and for print.
  • Markdown is for folks who write primarily for the Internet.

If your goals are to blog and to avoid learning HTML, choose Markdown; it’s easy and there’s a terrific all-in-one Mac OS X program that’s very likely to meet your needs.

>> Mou (pronounced ‘more’)

If, on the other hand, you want to cover almost all your text composition bases, choose MultiMarkdown. Program recommendations:

  1. Nerds will like Sublime Text plus Marked or MMD Composer plus Marked
  2. Users who enjoy Mac elegance and focused writing will be attracted to Byword plus Marked.

Markdown Shakedown

Notice that I wrote Markdown Shakedown, not Markdown Smack-down; this isn’t a Markdown app comparison.

Shakedown – a radical change or restructuring…

I’m suggesting that we’re about to witness a very significant shift in the plain text creation world:

  1. MultiMarkdown, rather than Markdown, usage will become the norm
  2. many people will purchase a MultiMarkdown editor rather than a standard text editor (Sublime Text, TextMate and BBEdit).

Q: What’s going to cause this shift?

A better question is…

Q: Who is about to change the Markdown world?
A: Fletcher Penney

I don’t know Fletcher, but I do know that he has been sweating MultiMarkdown details for a long time and that he is now nearly ready to release his first Mac OS app MultiMarkdown Composer. As Fletcher writes:

Finally… A Text Editor That Speaks MultiMarkdown!

MultiMarkdown Composer is a text editor for Mac OS X that is designed from the ground up around the MultiMarkdown Syntax. It is designed to make writing in MultiMarkdown even easier than it already is, with automatic syntax highlighting, built in previews, easy export to any format that is supported by MultiMarkdown, and more!

By using an editor built around MultiMarkdown, you can focus on the actual writing, rather than worrying about formatting and styles. Let the computer deal with that when you’re ready to export your document to another format.

Many people enjoy creating and manipulating text, but haven’t a clue about things like scopes and writing code. The reality is that most people never come close to utilizing the powerful features built into Sublime Text, TextMate and BBEdit.

I’m anticipating there will be a bunch of clever people who will jump on the MMD Composer bandwagon.

>> Learn about MultiMarkdown Composer

>> Discover MultiMarkdown Composer’s best friend the Marked app

Markdown Apps

Mou icon

Recently, new Mac OS X Markdown apps arrive weekly, if not more often. Today’s most notable arrival is called Mou, the missing Markdown editor for web developers. Mou’s author lives in China, so I’m guessing that Mou isn’t short for Memorandum of Understanding. Perhaps Chen Luo @chenluois, the author, or someone else, will let me know if Mou actually sounds like a word in Cantonese or Mandarin; or at least, where the inspiration for the app’s name came from. Update: Chen Luo commented, “‘Mou’ in Chinese Pinyin pronunciation sounds ‘More’ in English. :)”

After downloading Mou, I was immediately impressed by the syntax highlighting, live preview and an impressive list of keyboard actions.

Mou keyboard actions

Interestingly, I wrote Chen Luo, shortly after midnight his time, to let him know that I find Byword app’s Cmd + K keyboard action very handy.

  1. Cmd + K
  2. inserts the currently selected text as the ‘label text’
  3. places cursor between the ‘destination link’ brackets

Fifteen minutes later, he replied, “That’s easy to implement. :)” and less than a day later he implemented both the new ‘Make Link’ (control + shift + L) and ‘Make Image’ (control + shift + I) actions. Very impressive!

Mou’s Press Kit says,

Mou is different: It’s for web developers.

Features:

  • Syntax highlighting
  • Live preview
  • Fullscreen mode
  • Auto save
  • Powerful actions
  • Auto pair
  • Live find
  • Custom themes
  • HTML export
  • Enhanced CJK character support

Mou app's live preview

I’m guessing that, in the very near future, when Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown Composer is released, many power users will opt for the combination of MMDComposer and the Marked App. Folks whose “focus needs more focus” will opt for a combination of Byword and Marked. Others, particularly bloggers and web developers, will opt for Mou because it’s fast, fun, easy and significantly because it’s donation ware, at least until it’s out of beta.

>> click here to visit the Mou website