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.

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 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

Choosing Markdown Software

HTML to Marked and Byword

Not too long ago, having a website required at least a little knowledge of HTML (HyperText Markup Language). For many of us that meant purchasing an HTML book. I chose Elizabeth Castro’s ‘HTML FOR THE WORLD WIDE WEB’. Sadly, even with Elizabeth’s book sitting on my desk, composing HTML wasn’t always straightforward. Fortunately, for those of us who are code-challenged, John Gruber created Markdown and made our lives easier. It’s been said, "if you can add an emoticon 🙂 to an email, you can compose with Markdown."

"Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML)…"

Using Markdown is easy, but choosing Markdown software can be befuddling; new tools arrive almost every week, so there’s a big list of apps vying for your attention.

My recommendation for choosing Markdown software for Mac:

  1. get Marked
  2. get Byword
  3. there is no step 3… cliché but true, grab Marked for $2.99, Byword for $9.99 and you’re good to go.

For about thirteen bucks you have a very powerful, personal-publishing system for your online/offline needs.

Related Article: Markdown Mac

MarkdownNote for Mac

MarkdownNote for Mac icon

I’ve been on a text editor, plain text and Markdown kick recently. Why is that? Quoting Brett Terpstra, Markdown is just such an “easy, fast, clean, portable, flexible workflow” for writing with plain text and outputting to HTML, PDF and LaTeX. Just yesterday I wrote about using Sublime Text and the Marked app.

Today, a nifty new application arrived at the Mac App Store. It’s called MarkdownNote for Mac OS.

“MarkdownNote makes it really easy to create notes using John Gruber’s popular Markdown markup language in your Mac or iPad. Using live preview feature, you can preview your Markdown markup syntax to HTML on writing. Sync your documents with Dropbox.com, built into MarkdownNote for iOS and using the desktop client on Mac.”

It’s not going to replace Sublime Text and the Marked app in my workflow, but the implementation of a single widow design with instant live HTML preview is brilliant. A tip of my hat to Young Hoo Kim at Coding Robots.

Update (20111002): I also recommend checking out the new Mou app

Note: There’s also an iOS iPad version of MarkdownNote.

MarkdownNote blog entry