Essential Sierra Apps

MacOS Sierra icon

Every year, with the arrival of a new version of MacOS (OS X), I’m asked questions similar to the following: Q: “Has your list of Essential Sierra Apps changed from last year’s list of Essential applications for El Capitan? A: “Of course my list has changed, I find new MacOS apps and new versions of familiar apps irresistible.”

Here’s my app list for 2016–2017:

Essential Sierra Apps from Identified Developers

Essential Sierra Apps from the Mac App Store

and here are my

Most Frequently Used Essential Sierra Apps:

Most frequently used essential Sierra apps
Most frequently used essential Sierra apps

Note: Applications are still being optimized for MacOS Sierra.

Mailmate app
Update (20160916): Well, that didn’t take long! Mailmate app has replaced Apple Mail as one of my top 10 ‘Essential Sierra Apps’.

Comments:

For the last couple of years I’ve boasted, “All of my MacOS apps are 64-bit”. Not anymore, I’ve reinstalled an old friend that remains, stubbornly, 32-bit. I’ve tested a number of 64-bit plain text editors, including Atom Editor, Sublime Text, TextMate, Smultron, Textastic and even Chocolat. Unfortunately, not one meets all of my criteria. BBEdit, my trustworthy, 32-bit buddy, has the correct mix of dependable MacOS-focused development, speedy friendly support, expert community and powerful features. Bluntly, BBEdit is a damned impressive, programable, plain text editor. In my opinion, it’s absolutely worth enjoying it today and waiting until Bare Bones (Rich, Jim, Steve, Patrick et al.) decides their 64-bit version of BBEdit is ready for release.

BBEdit, my trustworthy, 32-bit buddy, has the correct mix of dependable MacOS-focused development, speedy friendly support, expert community and powerful features. Bluntly, it’s a damned impressive, programable, plain text editor.

I’ve also made a u-turn with my markdown editor. BBEdit is nearly perfect for markdown, but, I’m lazy, I love Byword app’s shortcuts. My workflow is:

  1. compose everything with BBEdit
  2. edit markdown documents with Byword
  3. preview markdown with Marked 2 app
  4. copy HTML source from Marked
  5. edit HTML with BBEdit Scratchpad
  6. post HTML to WordPress.

Too many steps? Six steps may seem unnecessarily convoluted, but I’ve tested single-app composing/publishing solutions like Blogo, Desk and MarsEdit and found them lacking. I find the combination of BBEdit, Byword and Marked is far more versatile.

Do you suppose there’s any chance Bare Bones would add a markdown mode or even markdown shortcuts to BBEdit’s ‘Markup’ menu? I’m guessing my laziness and saving a step in my workflow will not make a compelling feature request. 🙂 That said, an ever increasing number of content creators are choosing markdown to format their documents. I wonder if BBEdit’s developers might be intrigued by how much money some markdown apps are earning? There’s not a dedicated markdown app on the market that has BBEdit’s power, but I do love those shortcuts.

I’ve started using Alfred’s clipboard and snippets features. Result: Two dedicated applications eliminated.

I’ve switched out my fairly-sophisticated ‘To Do’ app for TaskPaper. TaskPaper helps me create delightfully simple, plain text, to-do lists that I actually use.

I’m now using PDF Expert.

Texts App Review

Texts app icon

Texts App Introduction

Do you write with a markdown application? If not, does your reticence have anything to do with learning markdown syntax? What if you could instantly enjoy all the benefits of markdown without having to learn anything new? If you’ve followed my flighty journey with OS X markdown apps, you know that I’ve, mostly, been a Byword guy. That’s no longer the case, I’ve recently switched from Byword to Texts. This won’t be a Texts app review, in the traditional sense, it’s a feature overview.

All The Benefits Of Markdown
Without Having To Learn Anything New

My Texts app window is tack-sharp on my retina display. Unfortunately, my resized screen capture (below) doesn’t do the app justice. When you test the demo for yourself, you’ll dig the clean display.

Texts app window

Texts App Features Overview

Texts app:

  • displays rich text while you’re writing, but automatically stores your document as markdown-formatted, plain text
  • displays bold & italicized text, headings, bulleted lists, ordered lists, quotations, images, links, tables, code, math formulae, footnotes, bibliography and citations, as rich text
  • dynamically zooms in and zooms out for easy reading on any screen
  • has multiple display themes you can customize
  • seems to work nicely with PopClip, TextExpander and Moom
  • has a spell checking option
  • moves paragraphs, up, down and sideways with ease
  • makes it very easy to create tables
  • has an option to display word or character counts
  • easily copies selected text as HTML or plain text
  • separates your content from its formatting
  • makes it easy to create well-structured documents
  • automatically saves documents as plain text with an .md file extension, or whichever extension you prefer
  • uses Pandoc, not MultiMarkdown for document conversion
  • exports clean HTML5, ePub, PDF or Word (DOCX)
  • has sophisticated file export templates
  • saves to local mac folders or iCloud drive
  • doesn’t attempt to be a file management application
  • doesn’t attempt to be a one-stop blog editor/publisher
  • has a tiny footprint (3.8 MB, not including Pandoc)
  • has a very responsive developer

Using Texts app is effortless, there’s no syntax to remember and when you save, your document is automatically stored in a plain text, file format that will be accessible, anytime, even many years from now, no matter which text editor your using at that time. Background: It wasn’t too long ago that I experienced a mini-nightmare trying to access some very old WordPerfect files. That’s one reason I love plain text.

My Texts App Configuration

I’ve configured Texts to:

  • disable hard wrapping of lines within paragraphs (save documents without line breaks inside paragraphs)
  • use ATX style headings (#, ##, ###, ####)
  • use a .txt extension instead of the default .md extension.

I almost always use the ‘Dark’ theme.

Blogging with Texts App

As you, probably, know Markdown-formatted plain text is often used to create blog posts, like this one. Blogo, Desk, MarsEdit and other apps attempt to do-it-all (writing and online publishing). My web host blocks access to xmlrpc.php for security reasons. Even though it’s easy to override that xmlrpc.php security option with a short .htaccess entry, I’ve chosen not to do it. My understanding is that access to xmlrpc.php is a requirement for most, if not all, of the do-it-all apps. Texts fits my simple blogging workflow perfectly:

  1. write and edit my journal entry with Texts app
  2. select text
  3. copy as HTML
  4. paste into WordPress
  5. play with SEO fields in WordPress and publish.

Byword Comment

How is any of this different than Byword?” I love Byword, but after I experienced Texts’ straightforward table creation and live preview of images, I was hooked.

Texts App Conclusion and Download

Occasionally, an Indie developer creates a gem that a lot of end users miss. I’ve concluded Texts deserves a little more love than it’s had thus far. Texts is a simple-to-use, but surprisingly powerful application; it could easily become your most used writing app. Although it may, or may not, fit your workflow, my recommendation is to give Texts an opportunity to impress. There’s a free trial, so download Texts app now. I know you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If Texts elegant, minimalist approach doesn’t suit you, you might want to have a look at Ulysses.

I haven’t used Windows for years, but, if you do, Texts app is also available for Windows.

Big Problem with Markdown Apps

There’s a big problem with Markdown apps. 🙂

Q: What’s the problem?
A: It’s much too easy to switch to the latest, greatest, OS X distraction-free, text editor. This one is prettier. That one makes it easier to write and blog. The monster advantage of plain text is that you’re not locked into a specific application. Unfortunately, that can also be a curse.

Surely, that’s only a problem if you’re an app developer? Well, no, it can also be surprisingly distracting, if you’re easily seduced by new, competing applications.

It’s no secret that Byword app is currently my favourite markdown editor. That said, I recently had a look at Desk app and then Typed. The Typed app got my attention.

Typed app icon

  • Typed is a pretty application – gorgeous, minimalist and completely at home on Yosemite
  • there’s no window clutter, controls (writing view, preview and sharing) only appear when you mouse over the left margin
  • the typography on my 13” MacBook Pro Retina Display makes composing for the web as sublime an experience as writing can be
  • there are plenty of font options and sizes, but I wish Typed and all editors offered font scaling/zoom (bigger/smaller)
  • I prefer the ivory background and it’s oversized, colourful cursor (you also have a choice of white/light and black/dark backgrounds)
  • word count is nicely placed at the top right
  • extensive keyboard shortcuts are easy to remember
  • the autosave implementation is reassuring
  • Zen Mode surprised me, because the music didn’t distract me, as I feared it might
  • HTML preview and HTML export couldn’t be easier
  • I even like the app icon.

Comment: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let’s just say, there are significant similarities between Typed and Byword.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
– Charles Caleb Colton

While trialling Typed, I experienced a few hangs, after cutting and pasting. I also saw considerable markdown-display funkiness. To be fair, Typed is a v1.0, I know Realmac Software will get it sorted. Based on their team’s history the fixes are likely to happen in the near future.

Typed has potential, but I’m sticking with Byword, at least for now. Byword is currently ahead of Typed in both functionality and stability. In fact, Byword is so good, you really have to wonder why I keep trying out all the new stuff?

Update: I just read and enjoyed David Sparks post about Byword and Typed. David is clearly much less fickle than I am, but he arrived at the same conclusion I did. We both love Byword! In my case, the only question is, “Will the love affair last?”

Back with Byword

I was recently asked, “Which OS X markdown application are you using these days?” I answered, “I’m back with Byword.” My response prompted the anticipated question, “Why?”

About two and a half years ago, I wrote a post I titled, ‘Markdown: Why Byword App?’ Since then I’ve tested almost every new markdown app. The markdown apps that have most impressed me are:

  1. Byword
  2. Texts
  3. Ulysses III
  4. MultiMarkdown Composer
  5. Sublime Text with the MarkdownEditing package

Each application’s website adequately highlights the apps benefits, so I won’t do a comparison here, but this is why I favour Byword App:

  • creating and editing is straightforward
  • it has great markdown support
  • the widely-copied, light theme is easy on my eyes
  • there’s no interface ‘chrome’ to get in my way
  • it works well with Marked 2 (I use an Alfred workflow to preview in Marked)
  • I prefer managing my files in the Finder, not a database
  • the Universal iPad/iPhone app is excellent
  • iCloud and Dropbox support is flawless
  • blog publishing is available, although I haven’t used it yet (I have paid for it on my Mac and plan to test it soon).

Have a look at the ‘Byword MultiMarkdown Guide’ for an excellent overview.

Ulysses III App and Marked App

Overview

Ulysses III app and Marked app are a beguiling, best-in-class combination. Ulysses III has quickly become my OS X markdown editor of choice, but, it's new and, unsurprisingly, has not been problem free. Marked app is the best markdown previewer. It feels like both applications were custom engineered just for me; they weren't, of course, but I'll bet you'll feel that way too.

Live Preview of Markdown

The current crop of look-alike, dual-pane, dedicated markdown editors extol 'Live Preview' as their major feature. Live preview is a fast way to learn markdown syntax, but after a short learning curve, you'll discover that the built-in preview pane will become a tiresome distraction. I don't know about you, but I much prefer seeing a single version of my words when I'm composing new content, one nice panel is all I need. Fortunately, most editors will allow you to hide their live preview panel. That said, there's an even better option.

Ulysses III App

Ulysses III is the best looking plain text composition app I've ever seen. It's powerful, but it's still a very comfortable writing environment. Every time I launch Ulysses III app I discover something new. I've quickly learned that Ulysses app is much more than a pretty face:

  • one window
  • one document library
  • modern 64 Bit application
  • Retina Display enhanced
  • enhanced for OS X Mountain Lion
  • full iCloud integration
  • App Store 'Editor's Choice'

Marked App

Marked app is not an editor, rather it previews markdown. That said, it previews markdown better than any built-in preview panel, plus it has more advanced writer's tools than any other previewer. A few of its many features are:

  • a plethora of document stats
  • all kinds of export options
  • lots of themes/styles
  • modern 64 Bit app
  • Macworld Favorite Mac Gem 2012

As an added bonus, the Marked app works with other text editors you already own, including TextEdit that ships with OS X. Marked app offers you a consistent markdown preview, no matter which editor you happen to be using.

Note: Ulysses III app doesn't require the Marked app, but you'll be more productive and have a lot more fun if you use them together.

My Current Workflow:

  1. launch Ulysses app in the 'Editor Only' view
  2. begin entering and editing content
  3. from time to time, hit command + 9 to bring up the markup column
  4. content ready to publish? preview content with the Marked app and probably discover at least a few sentences that need further editing
  5. and finally, preview the actual HTML syntax in BBEdit before copying and pasting it into WordPress.

If you think my workflow has too many steps, try this instead: Launch Ulysses III app, create content, open in Marked, press shift + command + c and finally paste HTML into your website.

Conclusion

Marketers love to offer 'Good, Better and Best' purchasing options, so as a former marketer, here's my list:

and to complicate things even further, there's another horse in this race. At some point, in the not too distant future, Texts app may become the 'Best' choice.

If you hate making choices, order the Marked app and then, you can’t go wrong with either Ulysses, Byword or MultiMarkdown Composer.

Ulysses III App Problem

I was seduced by a fresh, very pretty face; specifically the Ulysses app’s UI. Then, suddenly, rudely, I was brought back to reality by my Ulysses III app problem. After successfully using Ulysses to write a blog post about markdown app housekeeping, I was in the midst of writing another post when I experienced a minor disaster. Here’s what happened: Ulysses III crashed and wouldn’t restart without crashing again and again and…

My problem began with a simple operator error. I pressed command + w intending to close the Marked app preview window, but instead closed the Ulysses window (I hadn’t recognized, that at some point, I’d made Ulysses the active window). There’s no ‘Undo’ for being a putz. 🙂 When I pressed command + q to quit Ulysses, the Apple crash reporter appeared. Ever since then, whenever I attempt to launch Ulysses, I’m locked into an Apple and/or The Soulmen crash reporting/crashing loop. So, my new Ulysses III app is temporarily out of action. In addition to completing the Ulysses in-app crash form, sometime yesterday afternoon, I also completed the feedback form at the Ulysses website. I haven’t, yet, had a response, which is completely understandable, because they’ve experienced a very successful App Store launch, so they’re busy. Their small team is getting lots and lots of feedback. I just hope I haven’t lost my documents which were stored locally, not in iCloud.

When it comes to OS X productivity, a ‘hot off the press’ app, loaded with the very latest whiz-bang features isn’t necessarily what you need. I learned that the hard way with Ulysses III.

In my housecleaning post, I mentioned that it was a little distressing for me to remove Byword from my applications folder. Well, Byword is back and, unsurprisingly, it’s performing reliably, as it always has.

Comment: One of the biggest advantages of composing with markdown syntax is that it’s plain text, so there’s no lock-in to a proprietary format like Microsoft Word. Ulysses app stores documents in a database, even when you save locally, i.e. not to iCloud. In a situation like the one I’m still experiencing, I can’t get at my, database-confined content because Ulysses won’t launch without crashing. Although Ulysses enables export to plain text, I didn’t do that before the first crash. If I had created my documents with Byword, Texts app, or almost any other plain text or markdown editor, I’d be able to open and edit my stuff with a different editor; as it is I’m stuck. I’m also wondering if the Ulysses database will increase backup times?

Correction (20130413): You can store local files in Ulysses, “…click plus sign in the left bottom corner and select “Add External Source”, then select “Edit…” in context menu for the created external source and select “Always assume Markdown syntax”. Tip via Fedor Sheremetyev, developer of Texts.

Ulysses III app is destined to become a stellar writing environment, but as my situation illustrates, there can be teething problems, even with the best apps. I’ll update this journal entry after I’ve heard from the Ulysses team.

Update (Support responds): The Soulmen Support folks responded about a day after I contacted them. Initially they suspected an Apple iCloud problem, but that definitely wasn’t it because my documents were stored locally. Next they asked me to send them a crash report and system information. Although I had previously filed a report, they couldn’t find it. Then the weekend arrived and support communication ceased. A forum post solved my problem. After three days, it was nice to see Ulysses launch successfully and reassuring to see that my content was still there. When Ulysses’ support’s communications resumed Monday, they echoed the forum post I discovered over the weekend; i.e. Use terminal to reset Ulysses III app’s settings to resolve the crashing problem. All communications from the Ulysses folks were courteous and focused on getting Ulysses running again. I suspect the app’s first update will correct the problem I experienced. Rest assured these folks are professionals and Ulysses III has tremendous potential. The first update v1.0.1 appears to have solved my problem.

Plain Text Markdown Housekeeping

The introduction of Ulysses III motivated me to do some serious plain text markdown housekeeping, by which I mean plain text app and markdown app housecleaning. I'll admit, I've been an app slut. I've been flirting with plain text editors and dedicated markdown apps for a couple of years. All of the apps had something good to offer, but not one was a perfect fit, until Ulysses 3.

Aside: My plain text related fickleness reminds me of my, long ago, lifeguard days, before I met my wife. 🙂

My OS X writing environment changed overnight. Ulysses app is meticulously crafted and superb; it's nearly perfect, for my needs, at v1 and has tremendous upside potential. The best review of Ulysses III I've seen, so far, was written by Matthew Guay at mac.appstorm.net. Update (20130503): Here’s another great review, this one was written by John Martellaro at The Mac Observer.

It was a fairly easy decision to remove most of my dedicated markdown apps. I found removing Byword difficult because it has served me very well and I have great respect for the app's developers. Update: I reinstalled Byword. (see below)

Reviewing my use of plain text editors prompted an entirely different thought process. I used BBEdit until TextMate appeared. I used TextMate until its development all but ceased. Recently, I've been having fun with Sublime Text, but:

  1. I don't write code (except markdown, HTML and CSS)
  2. I now prefer Ulysses app for markdown
  3. I always enjoyed creating HTML and editing long text documents with BBEdit
  4. I don't need a cross-platform app
  5. I am biased toward 'Mac-only' developers

I decided to return to BBEdit.

Summarizing, my plain text markdown housekeeping lead me to add:

to keep:

  • Byword (see Update below)
  • Texts app (an amazing app, early in its life cycle)

to remove:

  • FoldingText
  • MultiMarkdown Composer
  • Sublime Text
  • Taco HTML Edit
  • Textastic
  • Text Wrangler (upgrading to BBEdit)

and note that I had already removed:

  • Coda
  • Chocolat
  • iA Writer
  • Markdown Live (Life)
  • Markdown Pro
  • Mou
  • skEdit
  • TextMate
  • VoodooPad
  • WriteRoom

Update (20130411): Byword is back because of a Ulysses III app problem.

Drafts App

Drafts app icon

Drafts app is like a magical pencil for iOS (iPhone and iPad). It doesn’t draw, rather, it captures notes from your muse.

“A Short Pencil Is Better Than A Long Memory.”

An old aphorism states, “A short pencil is better than a long memory.” The secret to creativity is to capture your ideas, as quickly as possible, before they disappear into the ether. Once you’ve captured a great idea, getting a project started becomes much easier.

Q: When do you do your best visualizations?

For many people, their answer looks something like:

  • in the shower
  • when I first wake up
  • while I’m jogging
  • when I’m alone with nature

My iPhone is almost always nearby, so I can quickly capture moments of illumination with the Drafts app.

Drafts app screens

Plain text and markdown: That’s the ticket. 🙂 The Drafts app has become the starting point of my plain text, markdown workflow. My preference is to use it in landscape mode. I’ve set the apps appearance to a light yellow background and I use the FFTisa font. I’ve set my iPhone documents to automatically sync with the iPad version of Drafts. At my leisure, I’ll briefly edit my best concepts on the iPad before saving them to Dropbox. My best ideas then get fleshed out in Byword or FoldingText on my iMac. One of the beauties of plain text and markdown is that it’s straightforward to move documents between plain text apps.

  1. capture ideas with Drafts app for iPhone
  2. iPhone Drafts’ documents sync with the iPad version of Drafts
  3. edit concepts on the iPad
  4. save to Dropbox and
  5. flesh out the best project ideas with FoldingText and the best blog post concepts with Byword.

Draft’s output options are very impressive. I’ve output documents to Agenda, Byword, Day One, HTML, Mail, Markdown, Things and Tweetbot in addition to Dropbox.

Drafts app output

Drafts is a great value. Consider investing a couple of bucks so that you’re ready for your Eureka moment. You’ll be glad you did.

>> Visit Agile Tortoise, the developer, to learn more.

It takes a very clever developer to create a simple, straightforward app where everything works in an obvious way.

Markdown Theme

You know the drill, you’re using Chocolat app, Sublime Text or TextMate 2 and you’ve decided to try composing your WordPress posts in Markdown. That’s when you discover that the ‘.tmTheme’ that you’re currently using doesn’t include markdown syntax highlighting. Although you’re considering rolling your own theme, you’ve decided to search for a markdown theme that’s ready to go.

I’ve tested a few markdown themes, but my favourite is Made of Code.

Made of Code markdown theme colors

Options:

  1. IR_Black.tmTheme
  2. if you don’t write a lot of code and you haven’t already fallen in love with a text editor, I’m convinced you should have a look at the Mou app. Why Mou?

    • composing/previewing markdown with Mou is good fun
    • Mou’s available live preview will quickly teach you markdown syntax
    • Mou’s actions (keyboard shortcuts) automate most markdown formating for you
    • Mou’s themes are gorgeous
    • Mou is a superb example of OS X 10.7 Lion technologies nicely implemented by a very clever programmer.

Mou icon

>> learn about the Mou app

Related articles:

  1. Mou App Evolving
  2. Markdown Apps
  3. Adventures With Mac Markdown

Markdown Apps for iOS

Writing Kit screenshot

Have you been searching for Markdown apps for iOS? Writing Kit might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

If you have an iPhone and/or an iPad and enjoy Markdown, I’ll bet, like me, you already own the excellent app, Elements.

Q: What does Writing Kit offer that Elements, currently, does not?
A: Watch Don McAllister’s video

Markdown shortcut keys, Dropbox sync and integration with CloudApp, OmniFocus, TextExpander touch, Terminology and the Quick Research tools are my favourite Writing Kit features.

It’s worth mentioning that although I’m really enjoying using Wrtiting Kit, right now, Metaclassy the developer of Byword app, my favourite Markdown app for Mac OS, has been hinting that something iOS and iCloud related is in the pipeline. I’m betting on Byword for iPad.