Part one of the The Markdown Shakedown
I have been looking for a soft landing spot since I bailed out of the expensive Ulysses subscription scheme last summer. It hasn’t been easy. There are a lot of great markdown editors available, but none with the collection of functions found in Ulysses (yes, I don’t like the company, but I do admire their product). So anything I choose will be a compromise. I am writing this article as a way to come to understand my own requirements for a good markdown editor. That makes this list highly subjective. Your requirements will probably differ from mine.
A few years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d require a markdown editor, but I’ve come to enjoy using a few symbols to style my writing. I don’t need a full-blown markdown editor, because I don’t need to create complex documents (if I do, I’ll use Scrivener or Mellel).
I will need to be comfortable using the editor to write my notes and missives. Comfort is admittedly a very subjective quality. Mostly this means I don’t need to grope around the keyboard to execute styling or edit my text. Having a typewriter mode is also nice. I prefer not to be staring at the bottom of my computer screen when writing longer notes. Shifting between editing/writing and rendered modes should be quick.
Functional organization of notes
I like to organize my writing in folders or the quivalent. Allowing for nested folders is a plus. Tagging is not essential, but it is a helpful additional categorization for some projects and for note-taking.
iOS and Windows integration
“Integration” is a stronger word than I really mean. I want to be able to write notes on my Windows computer at work or via my iPad or iPhone and be able to find and edit them on my MacBook. Having native cross-platform sister applications is probably the best option here, but it also works if I can write in a plain text editor on the PC or iOS devevice and save to a common Dropbox folder.
Effective search capability
Finding notes again is crucial. The best solution will have a way to search across all documents, and present the results in a clear, easy to access way.
Versatile export options
Markdown is great for writing, but not so great for reading. So the editor must allow me to export my work to common document formats: .rft, .html, PDF and .docx. Other options would be nice, as well.
Related to the ability to export, rendering the markdown into an attractive style is really important to me. I want my text to look good. This means nice headings and bullets that fall into place and other elegant flourishes.
Easy switching from editing to viewing
As important as good rendering is, it isn’t any good if it isn’t easy to switch to editing mode or vice versa.
If I’m going to choose a new, long-term solution for my writing and note-taking app, I want to be sure that it has a future. And that means I need to trust the developer will continue to support and improve it.
I don’t like tagging as the primary organizational scheme, but it is nice to be able to tag certain notes to make them easier to find. Having tags, then, also requires a tag listing for quick access to related notes.
Some markdown editors feature the ability to fold up text below headings. This is a nice way to focus on your structure or one section at a time. Alternatively, some of these apps show you an outline of your document based on the headings.
It seems like a simple thing, but I am amazed at how many apps leave out the ability to insert the date and/or the time into a document with a single click and simple stroke of keys. This is a very helpful function for taking notes that evolve.
Being able to add a checklist to any document is a nice feature, but only if they are live checkmarks that can be ticked off with a click of the mouse.
A list of markdown editors
I’ve looked at a lot of these editors. Here is an almost complete list, because I’ve probably forgotten a few:
- Versatil Markdown
- Multimarkdown Composer
- The Archive
There is something to like about each of these apps, but none of them is the complete solution.
I plan to follow up with reviews of as many of these editors as I can manage.