The Essential Mac #4: Document Editing

My Essential Mac series profiles those applications that I consider essential– apps so important to my workflow that I won’t upgrade my OS without them. For the first app in today’s entry, Document Editing, I’m extending the definition a little.


Byword is my Markdown editor of choice. Markdown can be edited with any text editor, including the TextEdit editor that comes installed as part of OS X. Technically, then, I probably would upgrade the OS without a new version. But Byword is so central to my Mac workflow that it still deserves a mention in this blog series. Byword is a text editor with a very clean and simple user interface. Markdown characters are represented on screen in a very subtle fashion. The app is fast to load, and takes up very little memory. I wrote more about Byword in a previous blog entry.


Back when I lived in the Windows world, I used Microsoft Word for just about everything. I used it for formal documents and text files alike. When I first started using my Mac, I had to find a replacement. Although there is a Microsoft version of Mac, the pricing model is stuck in the twentieth century when everyone paid hundreds of dollars for software. I tried out NeoOffice. Freeware at the time, it did the job, but felt like a clunky Windows app. I switched over to Apple’s Pages and have stayed there ever since.

Since that time, most of my basic text editing has moved to Markdown, but I still use Pages where anything but the most basic formatting is required.

How about Word files? Although this is starting to change, most of the world, especially the business world, is still stuck with Microsoft Office. In a pinch, Pages can open and save .doc files, but it’s pretty clunky. The save menu in Pages only saves to Pages format- you need to use the Export menu to save a file back to .doc format. Unfortunately, this means that AutoSave is not supported, a feature from OS X that I rely on 100%. I used NeoOffice for a while, but they’ve recently switched to a model where they charge $10 for upgrading to the latest major version. The last few versions of OS X, now upgraded annually, have required new versions of NeoOffice, and I got tired of paying every year. I’ve found the completely-free OpenOffice works just as well.


I went through a similar process selecting a spreadsheet software package, settling on Apple’s Numbers program. Hardcore Excel users might find this too much of a limitation, but my home spreadsheet uses are extremely limited- I think I’ve created 3 spreadsheets in 5 years. I’ve recently started using the iOS version for the first time, and have been extremely impressed with the capabilities.

OmniOutliner Pro

I have mixed feelings about putting OmniOutliner Pro on this list. The app allows you to create outlines. That sounds so simple doesn’t it? Can’t you do this in a word processor or even text file? Technically, yes, but OmniOutliner makes it so easy. You can create multiple columns, expand and collapse hierarchies, and add more formatting than you can possibly use. I use outlining much more than I ever did in the past. Every presentation I write, and most major documents start in OmniOutliner. Even my plan for building my iOS app is stored here.

So why don’t I like it? I have a few reasons.

  1. It’s not as easy to use as the iPad version. The iPad version especially shines with formatting, coming with a set of easy-to-use templates.
  2. The lack of sync between the Mac and iPad versions. The OmniGroup has promised this for a future release, but for now the only way to sync is with iTunes and a cord. Bleah. The files appear on other systems as directories, so you can’t even use DropBox to sync them. In a world without sync, if I had to choose one version of OmniFocus, I’d go with the iPad version.
  3. Cost. Wooooo. The Mac version tops out at $70 for the pro version. That’s a lot for an outliner.

My next post in this series will cover software development tools. Stay tuned!

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