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.