In my last post, I explained my reasons for using plain text files. I also introduced Markdown, a simple formatting language. You don’t need any special tools to write in Markdown. Textpad, the default text editor for OS X, and Notepad, the default text editor for Windows, work just fine. But there are other tools that make the process easier.
I’ve tried a number of tools on the Mac. My favorite is Byword ($10). Byword applies formatting as you type, while still showing the original text. It does this by dimming out the formatting characters. For example, the # characters used to denote headings appear in light grey text, while the text that appears after them uses a larger font.
It’s worth remembering that the resulting file is still plain text. Byword is fully optimized for Lion, with support for autosave and full-screen mode. The editor is small and extremely fast. There are a limited number of preferences in the program. After all, the idea is to concentrate on writing, not formatting. That said, Byword can be set up to have a very soothing light text on a dark background.
Honorable mention: Marked
Marked ($4) is a utility that watches a text file on disk, and shows the contents in Markdown format. You pair it with a non-Markdown editor (e.g., TextEdit) and with every save you see the formatting in a separate window. I recently used this conjunction with Byword to write my performance reviews for work.
Most of my blog posts, including this one, are initially written on my iPad using Elements ($5). It’s simple and elegant- one click to bring up a Markdown preview. The app stores its files in a single (configurable) Dropbox directory, so the files are immediately accessible on other platforms (I’ll cover Dropbox in a future blog post).
Elements is a universal app, so it runs on the iPhone and iPod Touch. I have not tested it on either of these devices.
Note: A recent update to Elements was extremely broken. I was unable to use the app for about a week. All the issues have been fixed, but the app store reviews took a big hit.
Honorable mention: Nebulous
Nebulous ($4) is another Dropbox-oriented Markdown app. It’s more full-featured, with a special configurable keyboard and oodles of options. For me, though, less is more.
MarkdownPad (Free) is my current favorite under Windows. The app features a two-paned editor, with text on the left and formatted Markdown on the right. The right pane is updated as you type in the left pane.
If you like this approach, check out MarkdownNote on the Mac ($4) or iPad ($4).
These tools have quickly become an important part of my daily workflow. I hope you find them useful too.