The Perfect Markdown App

Perfect Markdown App snippet - BBEdit
Perfect Markdown App snippet – BBEdit

Have you invested valuable time testing markdown editors? Of course you have, web authors are predisposed to an endemic syndrome, we’re always looking for the perfect markdown app.

My markdown writing finalists are:

and my favourite helper apps are:


Q: Does the perfect markdown app exist?
A: No, not yet, creating the perfect, stand-alone markdown application is close to impossible. Unfortunately, even the most promising markdown applications share the same problem; many people are accustomed to using Microsoft Word and Pages. The marketplace for a specialized, MacOS, plain text editor is still relatively small. The upshot is that a few apps have moved into their twilight, where development languishes. Only healthy app sales justify ongoing development and contrary to myth most developers aren’t wealthy.

I’m consistently drawn to beautiful, MacOS native apps, but, when forced to choose, reliability trumps beauty. After compromising a little on beauty and in-built, keyboard shortcuts, I’ve chosen a very reliable plain text editor and I’ve paired it with a helper that gets me very close to markdown perfection.

BBEdit + Marked 2 = near Perfect Markdown App

Ask yourself, “What would happen if I combined BBEdit, the leading MacOS plain text editor, with Marked 2, the leading MacOS markdown previewer?” In my case, doing so always puts a refreshing, big smile on my face.

BBEdit icon


BBEdit has always had a dedicated MacOS following. It has been actively developed since 1993 and “It (still) doesn’t suck”. Quoting Bare Bones website, “BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for macOS. This award-winning product has been crafted to serve the needs of writers, Web authors and software developers, and provides an abundance of features for editing, searching, and manipulation of text.”

BBEdit’s preferences are a thing of beauty, you can customize almost everything. After choosing your favourite font, font size and colour scheme, position an ideally-sized scratchpad window. Save by choosing ‘Save Default Text Window’ (under the Window menu item). Later, you can refine all of your settings until you have a workspace that suits you perfectly. If you’re anything like me, it won’t be long before you begin to appreciate BBEdit’s best-of-class features.

To make writing/editing markdown with BBEdit even easier:

  • within BBEdit’s Completion preferences, check both ‘Insert matching delimiters while typing’ and ‘Surround selected text when typing matching delimiters’ which renders link and image-link creation easy-peasy
  • use Christopher Stone’s AppleScript to surround selected text with quotation marks and/or to add Asterixs for bold and/or italicized text
  • use TableFlip when you want to add a table.

Although BBEdit is continually updated, you will never feel like it’s a work in progress; it’s rock solid.

Marked 2 icon

Marked 2

One of Brett Terpstra’s many contribuions to the markdown ecosystem is his exceptionally useful Marked 2. Quoting the Marked 2 website, “Marked is a previewer for Markdown files. Use it with your favorite text editor and it updates every time you save. With robust features for previewing, reviewing and exporting beautiful documents, you can work in plain text while reveling in rich formatting”

Back in 2014, Macworld’s Dan Frakes wrote a review of Marked 2. Note that Marked 2 is now at v2.5.15, it’s better now than when Dan gave it a five mouse review.

My BBEdit + Marked Workflow:

  1. compose in BBEdit
  2. edit, formating with markdown, while previewing with Marked 2
  3. with Marked selected hold shift + command + c to copy HTML
  4. paste HTML into WordPress
  5. complete SEO and publish.


Words that spring to mind after writing numerous short articles with BBEdit and Marked 2:

  • easy
  • enjoyable
  • customizable
  • powerful
  • and very reliable.

If you’re searching for the perfect markdown editor, give BBEdit and Marked 2 a try, you won’t regret it.

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’.


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.

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 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.

Love Markdown?

Do you love Markdown?

One of many reasons I enjoy using Markdown syntax is that it allows me to be fickle.

fickle |ˈfikəl| adjective
changing frequently, esp. as regards one’s loyalties, interests, or affection: Web patrons are a notoriously fickle lot, bouncing from one site to another on a whim | the weather is forever fickle.

Example: Have you tested more than one Twitter client? I certainly have. One of the neat things about Twitter is that you can be fickle about the client you choose. FWIW, I ended up with Echofon for Mac OS.

Markdown’s must-have companion the Marked app enabled joyous fickleness, perhaps even a little flakiness (well OK considerable flakiness) in my text-editor-of-choice world. If you haven’t already guessed, I have fun testing new stuff. My journey:

BBEdit => TextMate => Sublime Text => Byword

FYI, I’ve also played with

Smultron => Chocolat => MarkMyWords => iA Writer

My choice is Byword and the Marked app.

If you haven’t already tried Byword, you need to give it a shot. It does most, if not all, of the automatic Markdown syntax stuff that made TextMate and Sublime Text fun. When you’re testing Byword be sure to:

  1. select some text
  2. hit command k

Best Mac Text Editors

Sublime Text or TextMate or BBEdit graphics

What are the best Mac text editors?

My current top three Mac OS X text editors:

  1. Sublime Text
  2. TextMate
  3. BBEdit

Even the recently released BBEdit 10 somehow feels old, but, frankly, I have no idea why. Is it still a carbon app? It’s still 32 bit, but do either of those things actually matter? I was a BBEdit guy for years, right up until TextMate was released and then again after TextMate stopped receiving regular updates. I should love BBEdit because it’s updated regularly by a team of very clever fellows who clearly have a road-map. It’s Mac only, so the engineers are focused, but for some reason I’m not in love, BBEdit doesn’t suck, but…

TextMate works remarkably well considering how long it’s been since it was last updated significantly. It’s still 32 bit, but again, does that matter? I just have the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that TextMate has been abandoned. Update: TextMate 2 alpha just announced.

Sublime Text recently captured my, almost full, attention, it feels fresh and modern. I’ll confess when I first visited the Sublime Text website, I was a little put off by the Windows screen shots. I also thought, “What a crappy icon.&#8221 The preferences thing was next on my list of off-putting stuff; I’m a Mac guy, so I’m accustomed to a nice GUI, instead I was greeted by customizable preference files. On my second download and install cycle, I added my favourite TextMate theme and played with the combination of Sublime Text, the Marked App and TextSoap; ends up they worked very well together. The first positive thing I noticed was that Sublime Text was fast. Then that it’s also receiving very frequent updates. Hey, since then I’ve even gotten to like the preference files, there’s significant power hidden in there.

Chocolat has potential, but it’s clearly very early days. It was slow to launch and slow to quit compared to Sublime Text. That plus I’m a ducks in a row kind of guy and Chocolat didn’t remember my chosen window size and position, so that was it for my evaluation, at least for now.

Looking for a markdown theme (.tmTheme) for Chocolat, Sublime Text or TextMate?

MacVim also beckons from time to time, but I suspect I’d end up spending more time learning Vim than actually getting stuff done.

*Disclosure: I’m certainly not the best guy to review text editors, I don’t write code. I use my text editor for general writing, updating my blogs, content manipulation and a little, very little, HTML and CSS. That said this really isn’t a review, it’s just a few thoughts about why I’m currently using Sublime Text.

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.

Mac OS X and iOS Apps for a Plain Text Workflow

BBEdit screen capture of plain text

I like plain text.

Although I admire beautifully typset documents, nothing beats plain text for productivity. Plain text is easy to compose, easy to send and easy to receive. Sharing/syncing plain text documents on a Mac and an iPhone/iPad with Dropbox works beautifully.

Mac OS X Apps (I set the font to Monaco 14 in all four apps)

iPhone/iPad (Courier New 14, iOS4 doesn’t have Monaco)

Cloud (for syncing and sharing)

Plain text email

Apple Mail preferences for plain text are set as follows:

Mail > Preferences… > Fonts & Colors
Apple Mail Fonts and Colors Plain Text

Mail > Preferences… > Composing
Apple Mail Composing Plain Text

FYI, my email system closely follows that outlined by Joe Kissell in his TidBITS article ‘Achieving Email Bliss with IMAP, Gmail, and Apple Mail.’

Apple Mail messages are stored in plain text, one message per file (a modified eml format with an ‘.emlx’ extension). Apple Mail archives are stored in the mbox format which is just one big text file.

BTW, I suspect standards organizations and security folks love plain text too.