Friday, 20 April 2018

TextWrangler is end of life, and why I care

For those of you unfamiliar with the product, TextWrangler is a very nice language aware text editor for OS X from the same people who produce BBEdit.

Over the years I've used in mainly to write MarkDown, raw HTML and Perl, and it's done my proud. The folks at BBEdit have now decided to cease development of TextWrangler, and encourage people to move to BBEdit, although existing TextWrangler installations will continue to work provided you don't upgrade to the latest version of OS X (now Mac OS).

Essentially if you move to BBEdit, you get a thirty day free trial of the paid for product after which time you can say 'No thanks' and dropdown from the paid for product to a free version BBedit Lite, which has all the features currently in TextWrangler.

BBedit don'd publish product roadmaps, so we can't say with certainty what's the future of BBEdit Lite, but it's probably fair enough to assume that it'll be around for a few years.

Unfortunate, but that's life. It's their product, and they can do what they like with it.

Personally, I find that these days I'm increasingly going back to the Windows platform, so I'll probably not be that inconvenienced by its demise.

However, over the years, I've helped several citizen science, local history, and other community projects get going, be it counting bugs (real bugs ones with six legs) or transcribing old records.

These projects usually struggle to buy a box of teabags and a pack of MacVities digestives, and this is usually where I get involved.

These projects are often very reliant on volunteer labour and have next to no budget for anything. Basically what I do is try and get their recording methodology in place and help them get software installed.

Often they acquire what IT equipment they have through donations - old iMacs from dentist's surgeries, local library system cast offs, or PC's donated via a bank's community programme.

Now the people involved in these projects are often highly skilled in their specialisation, but they're not really into digital archiving or indeed IT generally.

So, when helping them get going I've tended to emphasise open products with open file formats so that the data can be imported into something else later with a minimum of effort. At the same time I've usually encouraged people to use text as a format for working notes and records because of it's clarity and simplicity.

And where possible, I've tried to leave them in a situation where they can be self supporting with simple products that it doesn't matter too much if they don't upgrade.

Now, remember these iMacs from the dentists surgery (and others from other places).

Over the last 10 or 12 years I've been recommending TextWrangler to my Mac users, because (a) it was rock solid, and (b) free. It's running on old machines, many of which will never, or can never, be upgraded to the latest version of OS X.

That shouldn't be a problem, except that TextWrangler now tells you it's end of life when it checks for updates, and this confuses people. They think they have to upgrade, even when they don't, and the  whole 'try before you buy' thing confuses them even more.

And that's creating a support problem. Like I said, unfortunate.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Standard Notes

About a month ago, I bought myself an old ThinkPad as a stopgap replacement computer and installed Standard Notes on it.

Since then I've played with standard notes as a note taking application.

Just to be clear, I use OneNote and Evernote to manage documents, be they scanned nineteenth century newspaper extracts, household bills, or useful web pages. On the whole I don't use them to manage working notes.

These I usually simply write up in Markdown - my markdown documents are more of an expanded dot point list rather than a complex document with embedded images and links - using an editor such as Kate and save them with a filename starting with the date and something sensible.

Probably I ought to use something a bit more structured to group documents together rather than a self documenting file structure, but then I've survived forty years on the fringes of academia working that way.

Cherrytree, about which I blogged some time ago, would be a suitable tool, especially as you can locate the .ctb file on Dropbox, OneDrive or what have you to share between machines (and incidentally provide a backup of sorts).

The only concern is that CherryTree is basically a one person project, which has long term support implications, while Standard Notes is owned by a small company and possibly a better option for long term support. Basically if you need to do due diligence on your software tools as part of a project, Standard Notes would probably come out ahead on longevity and risk.

So I had a play with Standard Notes. Out of the box it's fairly sparse, you need a subscription to unlock the clever edits, saving to OneDrive, and other nice features.

Featurewise the basic version is much of a muchness with CherryTree. Given the way I work there's effectively no difference in functionality.

The lack of a native markdown editor in the basic version isn't really a problem, as I've said I usually type up my drafts in an editor to create a file a little like this wiki example. As Markdown is fundamentally a text file it's easy enough to cut and paste the markdown text into the standard notes application to make a new text note.

For me, as the idea of using markdown is to improve readability (basically all I use is indenting and section titling) pasting the fie as a text file works fine. If you do some clever things in your note taking, this probably won't work for you.

So, it's a competent product. Out of the box it has some restrictions and limitations, and if you want a full featured note management application, you might want to look elsewhere. As an application for managing working notes in text format it's fine. It does everything that you would expect.

And, unlike its big brothers, it's available for linux.

I would however like to have a 'try before you buy' evaluation mode for the various extensions to be able to explore its capabilities more fully.

But, if you need a competent note taker and management application for text based notes, standard notes might well do the job, especially if you are a linux user ...