Markdown Tools Revisited

Remember Markdown? Markdown is a fast and efficient text format that I fell in love with over two years ago, and still use daily. Back then, I wrote a post outlining my favorite Markdown text editors. How has that list stood up with the passage of time?

Mac

Byword remains my most-used editor on the Mac, and I continue to use Marked to provide better formatting.

I write a lot of documentation at my new job, and Word is the format of choice for the company. I still find it distracting, clunky, and slow, with just too many tools that I never use. I continue to write my rough drafts in Markdown. There are a ton of different ways to convert Markdown to Word, and I think I tested them all. The process I came up with generates the best-looking document for me.

  1. Write the document in Markdown. As mentioned above, I use Byword.
  2. Load the document in Marked. Marked allows you to control how the text is displayed using a CSS style sheet. I created a special one for my documentation that sets the fonts and font sizes. Taking my advice from this document on typography, I use Garamond for the body text (serif) and Calibri (sans serif) for the headings.
  3. Export the document to HTML using Marked, setting the Include Preview Template in Output option. This includes the CSS described above.
  4. Open the HTML file in Word for Mac. Save as DOCX.
  5. To get past a bug in Word for Mac, switch to Print view, then back again. Save a second time and done.

After that I add pictures, page numbers, footers, and a table of contents as needed. Why is this better than just using Word to begin with? Again, this lets me focus on the document and its structure, and not the formatting, during that all important first draft.

I’ve added another tool to my repertoire, and that is iA Writer. I use iA Writer exclusively as a fun writing tool. Whenever I want to write a blog post, or a journal entry this is my go-to tool. It is about as minimalist as I can take- there are literally no preferences to set. It’s a psychological tool more than anything- when I write I use iA Writer. I sync files with the iPad and iPhone versions of this app using iCloud. Generally a half-baked technology, I’ve never had any problems with iCloud and iA Writer.

iPad

The favorite app that I wrote in my last post, Elements, has declined in quality over time, and was finally discontinued this month.

I had long ago switched to Byword. The offline syncing capabilities remain frustrating. To sync a directory, you have to visit the directory in the app, which is fine. But if you want to include subdirectories, you have to drill down into each one individually. So if I want the latest files in my Dropbox account, I need to recursively traverse the entire directory structure- bleah. Outside of this, Byword works great.

As mentioned above, I use iA Writer for personal writing tasks, no matter the platform.

iPhone

The keyboard and screen don’t lend themselves to serious writing on the iPhone, especially since I usually have another device with me. On occasion it’s good to read a document and maybe make a small correction, and that works fine. I use the same apps as with the iPad- iA Writer for personal writing, and Byword for everything else.

Windows

In my last post, I talked about Markdown Pad as my Windows Markdown app of choice. Unfortunately, I need to withdraw my recommendation. Something about the way the app is built prevents you from assigning it as the default app for .md or .txt files. In addition, startup time is slow, often made slower by constant reminders of app updates.

During the last months at my previous job, I switched to Sublime Text, a general purpose text editor (also available on other platforms). This is a great text editor, but it doesn’t have any Markdown processing tools. When I needed to convert to HTML or another format, I would need to bring up Markdown Pad, or even bring the file up on my iPad and process it there.

There doesn’t seem to be a good choice on Windows, unfortunately. Remember the days when the Mac was the platform where you had to struggle to find apps? Times have changed. Lucky for me, my work PC is now a MacBook Pro, so I don’t care as much as I used to.

It will be interesting to see which Markdown tools I’m using in 2016!