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.

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 Mac

Sublime Text 2 plus Marked App icons

Markdown Mac: Have you considered using Markdown on your Mac?

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).”

Why Plain Text

Proprietary file formats can be a pain. Have you ever received a document that was tough to open? Microsoft Word and Publisher files spring to my mind. Years ago many Mac owners were forced to use a program from DataViz to convert files that arrived from Windows users. These days some Mac owners still feel compelled to purchase the newest version of Microsoft Office. It really doesn’t have to be that way. In an ideal digital world, your operating system, software of choice, software version and chosen fonts shouldn’t matter, it’s your content that’s important and it should be readable everywhere, now and into the future.

Plain text gets it right, it’s your words that matter; simplicity and portability are important.

It’s Your Words That Matter

Plain text isn’t just for the Web, it’s perfect for email, text messaging, all sorts of information sharing and archiving. An added bonus is that plain text doesn’t have to look boring, it can contain simple instructions for formating when output to HTML, PDF and LaTeX. This is where Markdown and MultiMarkdown come into play.

>> Why Markdown? A two-minute explanation

>> Markdown Primer

Action Steps:

  1. Get a text editor (see list below)
  2. Grab the Marked App

Apple supplies TextEdit with every Mac, but you might want to consider a more powerful app. Mac OS X is fortunate to have a number of excellent text editors, you’re likely aware of BBEdit, TextMate and TextWrangler, but there are also other apps that handle Markdown very well. Examples are:

  • ByWord
  • Chocolat (early days)
  • iA Writer
  • Macchiato
  • MarkdownNote
  • MarkMyWords
  • MultiMarkdown Composer (was MMDEdit)
  • myTexts
  • Smultron
  • Sublime Text

I’m currently using Sublime Text 2 in combination with the Marked App.

Sublime Text is nifty, it’s fast, modern, cross-platform, 64 bit and capable of using many TextMate themes, snippets and bundles.

Note: Fletcher Penney, the creator of MultiMarkdown, is developing MMD Composer, I’m anxious to see how it will perform.