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.

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.

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