August 15, 2018

Finding the right Markdown editor is hard

I thought Ulysses would be the best. It has a beautiful appearance, is full-featured, gets many positive reviews, and I already have ownership (or at least subscription access) of it thanks to being a subscriber to Setapp.

I’ve been using Ulysses to draft the text of work reports that I ultimately layout in Word for traditional print publication, and it has performed that task admirably with a hefty library of words built-up within its overall library.

With its support for Markdown and a direct connect service for publishing via Wordpress, I figured Ulysses would work well for blogging. I have persisted with it for some time, but the obfuscated Markdown finally lost me. When writing for the web, markup matters. Links matter. Getting these integrated with the text quickly and easily matters. I was finding that Ulysses just made this too hard. Finally, when I tried to leverage Brett Terpstra’s SearchLink service, Ulysses would mangle the link entirely. That was the last straw; I had to search for alternatives.

I own Byword on macOS and iOS and tried going back to that; but for whatever reason it just feels old and unloved. There’s no joy in using that app, I’m afraid.

I was recommended to have a look at Typora for the Mac, which looks beautiful. I think it could be my preferred option on macOS. There’s no iOS version though.

I have long known that the other famous’ option in the realm of Markdown editors is iA Writer. I’ve watched it from afar over the years, but I gave up on them when they developed that terrible workflow’ approach to the app. I figured they had jumped the shark and stopped following the app’s development.

Recent research, however, brought me back to have a new look at iA Writer. It seemed to tick all the boxes — not the least of which was that Markdown code elements were not obfuscated when drafting text.

My research encouraged me to purchase iA Writer and try it for myself, so I have bought the iOS version. Writing this piece is my first trial-run with the app. So far, colour me impressed. It is simple and elegant. As I type it feels as though the words are just pouring out from the caret in a very satisfying way.

In drafting this text, I have been impressed with the keyboard shortcuts of iA Writer, especially in getting Markdown links into the app. I can even just put the cursor within a word - not actually select it - and with a Cmd-K it wraps that word and pastes the URL from my clipboard. Being on iOS I can’t use the SearchLink service, but this at least makes the copy/paste dance bearable.

Unfortunately, despite this great first impression on iOS, I’m not so excited about is paying AU$8 for the iOS version and then looking over and seeing they are charging AU$48 for the equivalent iA Writer for Mac. That is a heck of a price differential for the same app just residing on a different platform. I think any text editing I do with iA Writer will be limited to iOS. This will negate some of the iCloud sync benefits, which is a bummer because having the same library of text anywhere, on any device, is basically table stakes at this point.

Furthermore, with Dropbox access being through the iOS Files app - albeit integrated into iA Writer, I just had a heck of a time trying to move this very file from iCloud to Dropbox. I ultimately had to do it from the Files app in iOS. Maybe I’m missing something? To publish to this blog on Blot.im, though, I just need to place a file in Dropbox. It’s a shame that there is not more direct integration with Dropbox, but I understand it is an API deprecation issue, so I can’t really blame iA Writer for this — but it does make things more cumbersome.

Where to from here? I’m not sure. Of course, the greatest thing about writing in Markdown is that it is just plain text. I can write it with any app. So I can continue to bounce around to my heart’s content, trying and experimenting to find the best app and the most efficient workflow. And if that isn’t hobbyist computing at its finest, then what is?


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Why I’m giving up on Ulysses ➜ Seems I’m not the only one having similar thoughts about Markdown editing, and the place that Ulysses does or does not have in the workflow. Chuq