MacJournal: Still the best notebook for MacOS

In this post, I want to discuss my reasons for returning to MacJournal as my number one notebook.

When I first journeyed back to MacOS for my personal use about 11 years ago, I installed Scrivener, CircusPoinies Notebook and MacJournal almost immediately. I didn’t really appreciate MJ at the time, but it was touted as the best diary app, and that’s how I first used it. I slowly uncovered other features that made it useful for all kinds of writing and note keeping, but I was committed to Scrivener and then Ulysses for longer-form writing (I don’t mean book-length work, but essays and long notes about specific things). I dabbled in using MJ for other types of writing, but then DayOne came along and it dazzled me with its clean appearance and the easy way it synchronized material between MacOS and iOS, so I turned to it for my diary. When DayOne went to a subscription, I looked elsewhere for a new diary app and relegated MJ to the app scrap heap. But after several years of failing to be satisfied with my diary/journals I decided to give MJ another go. And I am glad I did.

Diary vs. journal

I make the following distinction between a diary and a journal:

  • A diary is for keeping a record of what happened on specific days. It is very date-centric. You might record your thoughts about various subjects in a diary, but they are organized by date. If you just want to keep a diary, you might be happier with another app. I’d recommend Diarly, but DayOne and Lifecraft are both worth a look.
  • A journal should be able to handle date-centric notes, but it should also be a place to write about any subjects you like unrelated to the date. You may find that you write enough about a certain subject that you want to group those entries in their own sub-journal. A journal belongs in a notebook (or set of notebooks), which is why I used that word in the title of this post.

Some of the types of entries I want to keep in my digital notebook:

  • diary entries
  • notes about specific topics
  • blog post drafts
  • project notes
  • planning notes
  • spark notes
  • reading notes
  • movie and TV reviews
  • first drafts of correspondence

I’ve found that MacJournal handles these all elegantly and powerfully.

Before I discuss how, let’s get a few definitions out of the way. MacJournal calls the file you open to work in a DOCUMENT. Inside the document, you create JOURNALS. Inside each journal you can create individual ENTRIES. You can also create sub-journals and SMART JOURNALS.  You can also create BOOKS, which I’ll touch on later. 

Journals vs. tags

You can see from the screen shot at the top of this post that I have several topic/purpose-related journals in my main document. This is how I like to organize my notes, which is one of the major reasons I don’t use Bear for note-taking… it only has tag-organization. I like having the option to add tags, but I hate having to create tags to put my notes in order. With MJ, I can add tags as needed, or forget about it. For example, when I am creating diary entries, I tag the ones that refer to an important event as “notable.” Then I have a smart journal that hunts up the “notable” entries, so at the end of the year I can have a quick summary of the important happenings. 

Another smart journal I have is for spark notes. Rather than stash my spark notes in a dedicated journal, I prefer to leave them in the journal in which the idea first came to me, where I might get some insight based upon their context. But I will add the spark tag to those notes, and then I have a smart journal gather those tagged notes together.

In MacJournal you can set up Smart Journals that hunt through your entries to find those that meet a certain criteria. This one is simply based on finding a tag. But you can add several qualifiers.

Tons of meta-data

MJ allows you to hitch a lot of meta-data to each entry. You can use that meta-data for smart-journal selection, sorting or just visibly adding information to your notes. Here’s a short list of some of the meta-data you can add to your notes:

  • Tags
  • Annotations
  • Status
  • Due Date
  • Rating
  • Priority
  • Labels

The screen shot below shows the inspector panel for an entry:

With MacJournal, there are many types of built-in meta-data for cataloging your entries.

You can pop up the inspector panel to view all the meta-data (as in the screen shot above), and you can choose to see meta-data in the entries grid. Each entry also has an INFO BAR which will display the meta data you signify.

You can choose what meta data to view in the entries grid and in the info bar. The red arrow points to a disclosure triangle with a list of meta data to show in the entries grid.

Writing and editing

Surrounding your notes with all sorts of great tools is wonderful, but where the rubber hits the road with a journal is how it works for composing your entries. MacJournal may not be quite as nimble as some other dedicated writing programs, such as Ulysses and Scrivener, but I feel fully at home writing in its editor. First of all, the application performs like you would expect a good word processor to perform. It even looks like one, as this screen shot attests:

Open any entry in a separate editor.

You have three options for how you can work. You can write in the editor when it is docked with the entries grid and journal panel (as in the screen shot at the top of this post). You can open the selected entry in a separate windows (as the screen shot above). You can go to focused view to let your writing dominate the screen.

Almost every writing app has a focused view that allows you to let your words take over your screen. MacJournal does too.

So you can write in MacJournal as if it is a standard word processor. You can also use markdown formatting, although I have to admit that there is virtually no documentation for how to make the best use of this feature (the User’s Guide doesn’t even contain the word “markdown”). But trust me, you can write with markdown and then view a preview of your formatted text.

And if you prefer another editor for writing, no problem. You can choose to edit an entry in an external editor of your choice.

MJ does not do a split screen view to allow you to reference one entry as you work on another, but you can open more than one entry in a separate window at a time and align them on the screen for essentially the same effect. You can also open more than one tab, so it is easy to switch back and forth between entries.

Here’s another nice feature of MacJournal. You can use the keyboard to summon the Quick Note feature while working in any app (as long as MJ is running).

Sharing and exporting

Getting your work out of your journal is almost as important as getting it into it. MacJournal is very adept at allowing you to turn your work into a variety of formats for sharing it. You can, of course, share your work via email through the SHARE menu. You can also output your entries to DevonThink and other information management apps on your computer. I haven’t put this to the test much, but the little I have, it worked fine.

You can also export your entries to a wide range of formatted files. See the screen shot below for the list of options:


MacJournal is unsurpassed when it comes to the options it gives you for exporting your entries.

If you blog, you can upload your entries to your blog. I personally prefer working in WordPress, so I’ll just cut and past this text, then add the images from within WordPress. That’s my way of admitting I haven’t tested this feature, but I suspect it works just fine.


A journal usually contains private thoughts, which you may not wish to share with others. MacJournal protects your information in a number of ways. First, it allows you to set up automatic backups, so all your journals and entries are backed up regularly. The application also allows you to lock journals behind a password, and you can opt to have locked journals encrypted. (Note: the level of encryption used is not specified in the User’s Guide.)

MacJournal on the go

The iPad version of MacJournal allows you to take your notebook with you. It’s not as full-featured as the OS version, but it works well. It also has a nice wifi sync feature, so you don’t have to put your data into the cloud if you do not want to.

The iPad version looks sharp and has worked well for me, though I do not need it often.

Thoughtful features

MacJournal is full of thoughtful features. One of my favorites is that while you have one entry selected, you can hove the mouse over another entry and a little window pops up showing you information about the other entry as well as previewing the contents.

I also appreciate the breadcrumb trail at the bottom of the screen that shows where I am amongst my writing. This is especially useful in the floating editor window where your work is detached from the context of the document (i.e. the opened file).

There is a timer feature so you can record how long you’ve worked or set a specific length of time to work.

Other nice features

Make aliases. MacJournal allows you to store your entries in more than one journal via the ALIAS feature. When you alias an entry, you can put the copied version in any other journal. Changes in one copy appear in all the copies. You can see that an entry is an alias because the title appears in italics.

Publish a journal as a book through As I mentioned earlier, you can create a special journal type called BOOK. Here is what the User’s Guide says about this feature:

Within MacJournal, books are a special type of journal that are designed in a way that they can be published to, from where you can order a hard copy once you obtain a free account. You can choose from a variety of book formats including “Digest” and “Casewrap,” and easily glide from chapter to chapter while choosing which sections to include in your book. 

I haven’t tested this feature yet, but if it works as advertised, it could be useful for some writers. I for one would prefer to work with Scrivener to publish a book-length project.

Other views. So far all the screen shots I’ve shown have been in the EDIT view. But MacJournal sports two other views that may be more or less useful depending on your needs. You can choose to view your entries on a timeline, or in a calendar.

The Timeline View allows you to view your MacJournal entries in a diagram.

Not surprisingly, Calendar View shows your entries in a calendar.

One thing to keep in mind when working with these views is that MJ uses the date the entry was created.

Areas for improvement

MacJournal is darn good, but it isn’t perfect. Here are a few ways I’d like to see it improved:

  • Better markdown. Right now the markdown facility seems like a quick add in. I’d like to see markdown a serious option for formatting entries.
  • Smoother scrolling. For some reason scrolling feels difficult, like it takes a little extra effort to move up and down the editor.
  • Typewriter view. Any serious writing application needs typewriter view, to keep the line being edited/written in the center of the screen and not a the bottom.
  • Fix the icon bug. In the current version of MJ, if you try to change the icon for entries, the app quits instantly.

A new version is in the works

The current version of MJ hasn’t been updated in over two years. I had begun to worry that it was being abandoned. But recently the developer, Dan Schimpf, has issued a beta release of version 7. (Note: I believe that Schimpf is the developer and Mariner Software is simply the distributor, but I’m not entirely sure of the relationship.)

You’ll find a list of the extensive changes and improvements here. This is certainly welcome news. I have no information about the potential release date or what the cost for upgrading might be.


To summarize, I use MacJournal as my major notebook for the following reasons:

  • Its organizational scheme matches my way of doing things
  • It allows me to add all kinds of useful meta-data to my notes
  • It is easy to write in
  • It lets me output and share my notes in numerous file formats
  • It is full of thoughtful features that make working in it fun

For many, MacJournal will look and feel kind of retro. Don’t let this fool you. MacJournal is the most powerful journal I have found, even years after it was last updated. That it is still being developed is good news. 

If you want a digital notebook that can handle every piece of written material you want to tuck into it, you need to give MacJournal a try.


Task manager show down

I’ve been looking at various task management applications. My minimum requirements are:

  • Cross platform: accessible from my Windows PC and my MacBook as well as my iOS devices.
  • Not too expensive
  • Email tasks into the app
  • Recurring tasks

Other than this, I am open to different methods of organizing tasks, at least as far as trying them out to see if they work for me. Most of these apps have similar features, many designed with the getting things done model in mind. They have an inbox and built in views of what’s due today, tomorrow and other other points in the future. They let you break out your tasks into related groups. You can usually prioritize and add notes.

So when it comes right down to it, the “right” app is probably more about its feel and a few features that make that feeling.

Here is a partial list of apps I’ve looked at:

  • Todoist
  • TickTick
  • nTask
  • HitTask
  • OmniFocus (which is rolling out a web app)
  • DropTask
  • Taskade
  • Toodledo
  • Wunderlist

As I said, that’s a partial list. There are dozens more available. In the last week I narrowed my choices to Todoist and TickTick, the main subjects of this post. But before I get to them some quick comments about a few of the others:

OmniFocus. This app seems to be the most popular among Mac users. I tried it for a while and liked it, but the more stuff I put into it, the more my eyes glazed over by the sameness of everything. The web app is still in its infancy, but for the most part it worked. Nevertheless I abandoned OF for another option.

Taskade. I like the concept behind this app very much. Basically, you create pages of notes and each note has the ability to be a task and all can have due dates. But it does not integrate with my Apple Calendar and it did not yet have recurring tasks… both of those were deal breakers. I believe those features may be added in the future. I’m going to keep an eye on this app.

Toodledo. I have a lot of affection for this multipurpose app, which hosts many productivity tools. I especially like that it has dedicated notes and tasks functions. The problem is that the interface is stodgy and not very intuitive. Regardless, if Toodledo integrated the notes with the tasks, I’d probably be using it. It doesn’t, so I don’t.

Wunderlist. This is a nice task manager. It is also free. As far as I can tell, it has much of the same basic functionality of TickTick. But it is owned by Microsoft and there is a sense that they are phasing it out for a new task manager.

So on to the two finalists:


After I gave up on OmniFocus, I used TickTick for a couple of weeks. Some features of TickTick that appeal to me:

  • Meta data panel shows information for each task you select, including a large area for notes AND comments
  • Built in calendar for viewing your task due dates
  • Natural language parsing of due dates and priorities
  • Web, Mac, Windows and iOS apps
  • Ability to email tasks into TickTick

I like to make notes about many of my tasks, and TickTick handles this well. I also like that each task can have sub-tasks embedded in the notes area, and those sub-tasks can have due dates. Unfortunately, you have to choose between notes and sub-tasks, you can’t have both. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that you can add comments, which are basically dated notes. Although — in my mind — task description notes and comments should serve two purposes, even if you are using the app without collaborators.

You can group your projects (TickTick calls them lists) by combining at least two with drag and drop. But you can’t nest lists beyond this one level. This is one of the biggest limitations of TickTick and why I looked elsewhere eventually.


At this moment, I am using Todoist as my task manager. Like TickTick, there are web, Mac, Windows and iOS apps. I can email tasks to Todoist (and the facility seems to be a bit more agile than TickTick’s, though that is a cursory opinion). You can archive projects in Todoist, which is nice: get completed projects out of the way, but keep them around for reference. 

The main reason I’ve settled on Todoist is because it allows me to nest projects down several levels. I find that helps keep the list of projects looking more manageable. Todoist also seems to have a wider support and user base; not crucial but comforting.

I can create sub-tasks easily, but they appear in the main list — not in the meta-data panel. This is only a personal preference, but I like TickTick’s way of isolating those sub-tasks. But Todoist’s method allows sub-tasks to have all the same features as any other task, which could be useful for more complex projects.

I am sacrificing the nice notes feature of TickTick, as Todoist only allows notes in the form of comments. I am also missing the calendar view. I can live with those limitations.

I’m not sure if this is a positive or a negative, but Todoist also has this productivity calculator which reports on your “karma.” That is, it tells you how you are doing at meeting your self-defined goals. This seems a bit silly to me, but who knows? Maybe I’ll get into the spirit of it and find it as a source of motivation.

So Todoist is an imperfect option, but it will work, I think. 

Both TickTick and Todoist have similar subscription pricing, so that’s not an issue. They are both (as are most of the apps mentioned here) designed for collaboration. I don’t need collaboration, so all I require is that the collaboration features don’t get in my way. They don’t with either TickTick or Todoist.

Another set of great Tinderbox videos from Beck Tench

Beck Tench has created five new videos demonstrating how she takes her research reading and translates it into a Tinderbox map. I found these videos fascinating. Not only are they excellent primers on Tinderbox, they are also interesting because they show a smart person making sense of complex concepts.

I am convinced that the best way to learn and understand how Tinderbox works is through case examples like these. If you have a short attention span, you may find these videos too long. But then, Tinderbox is probably not the right app for you anyway.

Find the videos here, with other videos by Beck. The videos I’m refering to are called “Turning Reading Notes Into a Tinderbox Map.”

A terrific video series about note-taking and Tinderbox

One of the participants over at the forum recently directed our attention to a great video series by Beck Tench about using Tinderbox to organize notes. You can find this series here:

I love Beck’s approach to Tinderbox, not trying to understand the whole thing and using every feature she can. I agree with her that that would be a recipe for frustration and abandonment. Rather, she makes use of some of Tinderbox’s most basic features, and as you can see in the videos, that still allows her to build complex and useful sets of notes.

Thanks for sharing, Beck.

Milanote – cloud-based project management that’s something different

Milanote allows you to build a collection of nested white boards to manage all sorts of projects. I used one board to write this review.

I’m a sucker for apps that allow users to nest work spaces (see Mindscope for iOS). I recently came across one I hadn’t heard of before. Milanote is a cloud-based app for creating a hierarchy of white boards on which you can append notes, todo lists, links, images, documents and other objects.

The developers call Milanote “a tool for planning creative projects.” It has functions intended for work with colleagues, but I’ve been using it the past week as a solo act. I’ve found Milanote to be very intuitive and genuinely helpful.

While it has an approach that reminds me some of Notion, I find Milanote much easier to use (not to mention that the ability to get my work out of Milanote is way more advanced than Notion.)

In this review I am going to rely heavily on screen clippings, because I feel they convey the valuable features of Milanote better than I can explain them in words.

So let’s have a look.

You can add a variety of different objects to your boards in Milanote, and you can nest boards.


The column feature is especially clever. You can drag previously created items into a column object (see next screen capture for the result).


I dragged various items from the board into the column.


In this column detail view, you can see that I’ve also added a board portal and a web link.


Milanote has a number of board templates you can use. See the next screen capture for an example of one such template.


This is one of the pre-populated template boards you can select with Milanote. Notice the button in the upper right corner that allows you to clear the content and just leave the structure of the template. One of the thoughtful features of Milanote.


Another thoughtful feature of Milanote is the breadcrumb trail at the top of the screen.

Things I like about Milanote

  • Drill down to access various topics
  • Free form “boards,” similar to Curio or OneNote
  • Elegant design
  • Nice export options, and nice export execution
  • Adequate variety of objects that can be added to a board
  • The Mac App is very nice
  • Thoughtful touches like the breadcrumb trail at the top of the screen and the way pasting objects works — put into the unsorted area to be dragged to the proper location
  • Lightweight Markdown for formatting your words
  • Long form notes open as a mini word processor and allow for creating longer drafts


Turn a note into a long-form note and open it in a mini editor for composing longer notes.

Additions to Milanote I’d like to see

  • An overview view of your boards, like an outline
  • Calendar integration
  • Offline capability (in the works)
  • Table creation, spreadsheet (in the works)
  • A few more header levels
  • An iOS app (in the works)

The Bottom Line

I am very enthusiastic about Milanote. It feels like a natural way to plan and manage projects. It is no replacement for a full-on note manager like Evernote, certainly. And it has room for improvement. But the developers have demonstrated their commitment for continuing to refine Milanote and they have a roadmap of potential improvements based on user feedback (see here). I have no doubt that the app will continue to get better. In the meantime, it feels good enough for me to put it to genuine good use. I just upgraded to the Pro subscription.

P.S. Here is the Word file I exported from the board shown in the first screenshot at the top of this review (I edited the review after pasting it into WordPress, so the export doesn’t exactly match this post): Milanote Review export

My new Bullet Journal caddy

I have recently recommitted myself to using a paper notebook for bullet journaling. For the past couple of years I’ve been using Dynalist, a nice web application for this purpose for maintining a bullet journal-like outline of my days. It works well, but I missed a paper journal for reasons I may get into in another post.

One of the things I wanted to find for my bullet journal is a way to carry pens, my ruler and my notebook that was convenient and not bulky. Call this my Bullet Journal caddy. In the following video, I describe the solution I came up with.

The small Cafe Bag-sized Freudian Slip is available from American bag maker Tom Bihn. Be sure to order the small Cafe Bag-sized Freudian Slip.

For more on The Bullet Journal Method and Ryder Carroll’s new book, go here.

Diarly — an excellent markdown journal

Diarly is a recent addition to the diary/journal app competition.

Diarly is a journaling app that uses markdown to format its entries. Released earlier this year, the initial version was attractive but felt far from complete. Steady improvements since then have turned Diarly into a more realistic option for taking daily notes. With the recent addition of an iOS companion app, Diarly takes a big step forward in the competition for useful journaling software. 

The basic version of Diarly is free. You can unlock premium features by purchasing the Pro upgrade, which, at the time of this writing, is $10.99  for the MacOS app and $4.99 for the iPad app. You will need to upgrade in order to sync your journals across devices.

Here’s what the developer says about Diarly:

Beautiful, Safe and Secure – Diarly is designed so that you can focus on journaling. Pure in it’s form, powerful in it’s functions.

Here are my thoughts:

Dedicated to journaling

Diarly is a dedicated journaling app. It automatically creates a new entry for the date you open it. You can only create one entry per day per journal (more on journals below). There is no add button, although you can use the calendar to navigate to a different date, which creates an entry for that date if you haven’t already created one. 

Use the pop up calendar to navigate to existing entries, or to create new ones, past or future.

Multiple journals

You can have multiple journals to record different aspects of you life and responsibilities (you get the multiple journal feature when you buy the Pro version). Switching between journals is quick and easy, just select the journal you want from either of the two drop down menus — one is at the top of the editing panel, the other at the top of the entry list panel. Or select the journal from the Journals menu.

Entry List Sidebar

In the sidebar you can filter your list of entries. View all entries, starred entries (favorites), entries with photos, or select from a list of hashtags. You can add hashtags to any entry the same why you’d add a hashtag to a tweet.

Live search narrows the list of entries as you type the search string. And the app highlights the word or phrase in the text of the qualifying entries.


Diarly uses standard markdown syntax. There is no preview view. After you enter the markdown characters, they generally get out of the way, similar to the way Bear works. Bear describes this approach as “rich previews while writing so you see prose, not code.” 


You can set Diarly to encrypt your entries with password access. I believe this works universally with all your journals and entries, and can’t be set on a journal or entry level. 


If you like structured journal entries, Diarly allows you to build a custom template for each journal. It comes with one in place for the Diary journal with three headings:

  • Events
  • Accomplishments
  • Activities

You can edit or add a template to any of your journals using the preference dialog.

You can modify this however you please. The template becomes the default for new entries. You can have a different template for each journal.

Update: The developer has informed me that the new default template has just two headings:

  • What did I do?
  • What did I learn?

Inline images

You can drag images right into the editor to place them where you like. Embedded images, however, are not encrypted with the text.

This nifty dialog allows you to adjust the type size, the font and the line length. You can also select from one of four themes (with the Pro version), and create your own themes.

Other nice features

  • Modify themes if you understand CSS
  • Word and character count
  • Set word goals
  • Import DayOne and MacJournal entries (I haven’t tested this)
  • Word and character counts, and writing goals

iPad app

The iPad app is nicely designed and has so far sync’d flawlessly. There is not yet an iPhone app, but that is next on the developer’s list.

Suggestions for Improvement

  • I’d like additional built-in theme options, with the ability to apply them individually to the different journals. That way I would have an instant visual cue to remind me which journal is open at any one time.
  • Diarly needs more options for exporting text. Right now you can only export as a markdown file.
  • There is no way to print from within Diarly. There is a Print item in the File Menu, but it is grayed out. I learned from the developer that he is likely to add printing, especially if people request it. The same is true of PDF export.

The Bottom Line

Since it will be natural to see this review falling into the same category as my review of markdown note-takers, I need to make it clear that Diarly is not a substitue for a dedicated note-taking app. It is a daily journal. As such it is very well designed and feels natural and inviting to use. Fire it up and an entry is waiting for you to begin recording your daily thoughts and activities.

I like Diarly enough to adopt it for my daily journal, trusting that its few shortcomings will be corrected in future releases. If you’re comfortable with a one-entry per day approach to journaling, Diarly might be a great choice for you, too.

Keep It now does markdown

It seems as if a new markdown note-taking, editing option comes along once a week. The latest release of Keep It (version 1.4) now supports markdown formatted notes.

Keep It is from Steve Harris at Reinvented Software. It replaced that developer’s former application Together. While Together was a competitor of DevonThink and other catch-all data repositories, Keep It has a focus more on note-keeping — which is not to say that you can’t store other file types in the app, just that it is stream-lined for taking and managing notes.

Before you can use the markdown style note, you need to select it from the “Manage Stationery” dialog.

Here is what the developer says:

Keep It now has a dedicated Markdown editor on both Mac and iOS. This includes syntax highlighting, editing assistance for things such as headings, emphasis, links, images and lists and a choice of styles for both editor and preview.

This isn’t a full review of Keep It — I hope to do that one of these days, because it is a well-designed application with a solid iOS app. I’m going to focus primarily on Keep It’s markdown facility for the time being, although nice features of the app in general that enhance the markdown experience are on the table.

What I like about Keep It (as a markdown editor)

  • Uses a standard markdown syntax — the same engine apparently as MacDown
  • Markdown is just one note type (two others are built into the app: plain text and rich text
  • Handsome rendering of the markdown
  • Markdown preference dialog
  • Provides a host of organizing functions to keep your markdown notes under control and findable
  • Allows for customization of the CSS for the editor and preview themes — though I don’t really know CSS so haven’t tried this function
  • Short-cut keys allow you to apply markdown formatting
  • Can edit the document in the main window, or pop up a separate window
  • Open your markdown document in any text editor you have

Keep It features a markdown settings dialog.

What I like less about Keep It (as a markdown editor)

  • Has just two built in themes for the editor and the preview — both are nice
  • Limited implementation of markdown
  • Does not allow for live checkboxes
  • Doesn’t handle tables (although one of the screenshots on the Reinvented Software site shows a markdown document with a table, so maybe I’m missing something)

Keep It markdown note in preview mode.

The verdict

Keep It isn’t a full-featured markdown editor, but it provides markdown basics with the advantages of a full-featured note-manager. I’ve liked Keep It since it was first introduced. What I didn’t realize is that perhaps I’ve been waiting for markdown to be added for me to fully embrace it as my go-to note app.


I received a note from the developer responding to a few of my comments, which I wanted to share:

I will probably add more themes in the future, along with a theme editor. For now, as Keep It uses the same format for styles as MacDown, you can use any styles that work with that. For example, this site has over 320 that you can preview there and download for free here:

Also the preview can handle tables, but the editor doesn’t provide any help in creating them. Here’s an example (from the guy who made the preview):

| Tables        | Are           | Cool  |
| ————- |:————-:| —–:|
| col 3 is      | right-aligned | $1600 |
| col 2 is      | centered      |   $12 |
| zebra stripes | are neat      |    $1 |

For now I’m not looking for Keep It’s editor to go beyond plain text, so you wouldn’t expect to see inline images or live checkboxes, but it could happen down the line. Really the idea was just to give people the basics, and a way to preview.

Another new markdown contender: Highland 2

Highland 2 was released recently. It is upgraded from a screenplay-only composer, to an authoring tool for many kinds of documents.

The new release of Highland 2 from Quote-Unquote Apps is a full-fledged app for creating writing projects of all kinds. If I understand the history correctly, version one of Highland was specifically for writing screenplays and used Fountain, a markup syntax for just that purpose. But the developers have turned version two into a writing tool for all types of projects.

Here’s what they have to say:

We’ve taken the tools we built for writing screenplays and made them work for almost every kind of document you write. From novels to blog posts and school reports, Highland’s clean design and innovative tools help you focus on words, not formatting.

They have added markdown syntax for formatting text. It seems pretty standard to me, which is to say that it is familiar and easy to use. You can open a cheat sheet for markdown or Fountain from the Help menu. The little window stays on top for you to reference while writing.

Highland fits into the mold of what I’m now thinking of as markdown word processors. That is, it is intended for working on one-off documents, but is not a notebook for your notes. For one thing, it does not have a list of documents in a sidebar. For another it has no universal search — only a Find for the current document.

So let’s take a look at what Highland does have.

Preview mode.

The environment

At first blush, Highland looks like many other editors, with the editing window on the right and a reference panel on the left. Often the left panel is a place for locating various documents, but Highland is meant for you to work on one document/project at a time, so what you see in the left panel is meant to analyze and support the project you’re working on. You can select from five different types of view in this sidebar:

Navigator: Which shows an outline of your work based on the headings and other features we’ll get into a little later. A filter allows you to select various elements to view or not in the outline.

Bin: A place to store snippets of text. Drag a paragraph to the bin, then drag it out where you want to relocate it. Have a brilliant phrase for your work, but don’t know where it goes yet? Put it in the bin until you know the perfect place for it. One small drawback is that you can’t compose writing in the Bin. You have to drag it in from the editor. Not a big deal really.

Statistics: Tells you a bunch of different measurements about your document and allows you to set a goal in words or pages.

Assets: Shows you any items you’ve imported into the document.

Scratchpad: Where you can add notes about the document.

In the upper right part of the screen you will find the “sprint” button to set a timed writing session.

Next to the sprint button are menus for adjusting the theme for editing and the theme for exporting. They could have some more varied and creative options for the export themes.

In the upper left corner of the editor you will find buttons to select editing mode or preview mode, to view what your work will look like when exported.

Most functions have keyboard shortcuts as well as menu or button activation. For example command-E toggles between editing and preview modes.

All in all, the interface is handsome and well designed and includes typewriter mode.

The statistics panel in the sidebar lets you set writing goals, and provides some basic data about your document.

Note to self

Highland has handy ways of making notes to yourself about your project in addition to the scratchpad mentioned above.

[[Enclosing your text in double brackets allows you to create inline notes for yourself that do not print, export or appear in the preview.]]

= Adding an equal sign to the start of a sentence creates another kind of inline note. They suggest it is useful for adding a synopsis to your writing. By default these synopsis notes do not appear when previewing or printing, but there is an option to include them.

Inline notes and context notes will be displayed in the navigator panel, although you can uncheck the option of showing either of them.

One type of note that is missing from Highland is footnotes or endnotes, so Highland won’t be a good choice for academic writing or some non-fiction, unless you’re just doing a draft and importing into a word processor like Mellel.

Missing functionality

There are a few things missing from Highland 2:

  • There is no iOS app.
  • There appears to be no option for synchronizing your project between MacOS devices.
  • There are several export options, but no option for either Docx or HTML files.

One other feature that would be really nice is a file browser view in the sidebar. This way, if you were working on a multi-chapter project, you could keep all the documents in a folder then have quick access to them in the file browser. This would also enhance another nice feature already built into Highland 2, the ability to “include” other documents in your current document on export. With the file browser, they could make it so you just had to drag the file name from the browser into the open document to create the “include” link.

The Verdict

Highland 2 compares well to other markdown “word processors”:

  • ByWord
  • Versatil Markdown
  • LightPaper

It isn’t a substitute for Evernote or Bear for managing notes. But for composing longer documents, it might prove to be the best option — as long as you don’t need a companion iOS app.

Curio learns Markdown

[Note: This article was updated 5/8/18]

Imagine a notebook that had white boards instead of pages. That’s sort of Curio in a nutshell. Well, maybe I should suggest you add in that you have tools for including

  • Text
  • Lists
  • Mind Maps
  • Tables
  • Index Cards
  • Images
  • Videos

… and other figures to those white boards in order to make sense of your information. Oh, yes, you should add the project and task management features. Right, and also you can add sections to your notebook to organize your white boards. And you can have as many notebooks as you want. (BTW, the white board pages in Curio are known as Idea Spaces.)

You get my point, I hope. Curio is a remarkably robust information manager. (I wrote a review of a previous version for the defunct website MacAppStorm.) Well, the developer, George Browning of Zengobi Software, just released version 12.0, and it just so happens that it dovetails nicely with my Markdown Shakedown series. So here goes.

With the release of version 12.0, Curio now has the ability to work with markdown files. I won’t yet call Curio a markdown editor, as it is missing too many elements required for genuine markdown writing and note taking, but the new markdown proficiency makes for some interesting interaction with markdown editors.

To render text into markdown you just create a text figure, like the one in the image above. Add the markdown syntax, then click the little markdown button in the inspector. When you click out of the text figure, Curio does its work showing what you wrote in its markdown rendering.

You can change the look of your rendered text, but this requires customizing the master markdown style, which sounds a bit complicated, but really isn’t. Curio has a menu option for opening and editing the master markdown style file in whatever is your default text editor. I managed to do it, so it isn’t too hard.

The list of markdown syntax recognized and rendered by Curio.

Markdown limitations

As you can see in the image above, Curio has a limited number of markdown attributes it recognizes. Markdown aficionados will probably have a long list of missing attributes. The two major missing ones for me are ordered or unordered lists and tables. (Of course, if you add asterisks before your list items and export the text into a markdown file, a good markdown editor will render those asterisks as bullets.) Because Curio does do tables and lists with its other figures, this is not a major omission as far as getting information on the page. I asked George if he were planning to add rendering of lists and tables and he explained that it was more of a technical challenge, one that might have other implications… so the answer is maybe, but don’t count on it unless there is an overwhelming demand from Curioites.

Update: After reading my initial draft of this post, George sent me an email with the following clarifications:

Curio does support markdown lists and markdown tables but only to/from Curio’s native lists/mindmaps and native tables (so just not within its text figure)…

Plus you can export selected figures, idea spaces, or even your entire project as markdown — with Curio generating the markdown as needed for rich text, images, lists, mind maps, tables, links, files, etc with optional figure notes as markdown footnotes plus meta tags — is also a huge feature. Basically without knowing markdown you can use Curio to produce a tremendous amount of markdown content. That single resulting markdown file, with associated assets folder, can be viewed with Marked 2 or MultiMarkdown Composer.

Here is a simple example of what he is talking about:

Curio Table Figure

I created this simple table figure in Curio, then exported it using the share as markdown command under the FILE > SHARE menu.

LightPaper Preview 2018-05-09 14-36-52

I then opened the table export file in LightPaper. You can see the exported markdown on the left, and the rendered version on the right.

Curio markdown proficiency

The markdown proficiency of Curio may seem limited, but it isn’t intended to replace a good markdown editor like LightPaper, but to work alongside it. You can extract text from Curio in a markdown format and open it or paste it into your markdown editor of choice.

I exported this article from Curio as markdown and opened it in LightPaper. Voila.

But the real power, I think, in Curio’s markdown proficiency is how you can bring markdown files from your favorite editor into Curio. In the video below I drag a markdown list created in Lightpaper and drop it onto a Curio Idea Space:

The verdict

Well, there isn’t a verdict. You wouldn’t buy Curio to use as your markdown editor, but for the million other things it does, yes, you definitely might want to buy it. The markdown built into Curio adds a new dimension to its usability. One of Curio’s other limitations is that it is only for MacOS. Cognizant of this, Zengobi works to add functions for Curio to work with other apps that run on other types of devices. It interacts with your Calendar. It has an easy way to bring Evernote notes onboard. Zengobi’s free notes app, Curiota, helps capture stuff from the web and elsewhere and then suck it into Curio. The markdown capabilities of Curio now make it possible to, for example, use a markdown editor on your iPad, and save markdown files to your Curiota folder on DropBox. You can then yank that information into Curio as text, a list or a mind map. That’s pretty cool.

Markdown proficiency adds another tool to the impressive list of ways Curio can help you manage, analyze and capture information.