Monday, 3 February 2014

Distraction free markdown editors

Even since I got interested in using Markdown as a lightweight documentation format I’ve been seeing references to distraction free markdown editors.

Always curious, I thought I’d download one and see what was so special about a distraction free editor.
More or less at random I chose

Now I am very old school. I’m happy with kate on linux, textwrangler on a mac, textedit on android, and just about remember a lot of the weird keystrokes to make vi do useful things. I used to use PFE on windows until the lack of updates made it a pain. Since then I’ve never found an editor in windows that I feel totally comfortable with. But that’s more a comment about me rather than anything else.

I’ve also written raw TeX enough times to know that having an editor that does the grunt work of embedding the command sequences for you can be a great help.

I’ll even admit that one of the reasons that I use stackedit to write these blog posts in markdown is to use some of the widgets to do the formatting for me.

So just like the early nineties html editors, a good markdown editor should take the grunt work out of formatting things. This is different from the language awareness of kate or textwrangler which use highlighting to help you trap errors. Basically, hit the Code button and you should be able to mark a block of text as a code fragment.

At its simplest this is what does. Provides you with a blank screen and some basic formatting tools. This is the distraction free bit, the idea that a fullscreen minamalist user interface helps you focus on what you’re writing - which may be so. If you’re intersted in trying out the distraction free experience without installing Writebox for the Chrome browser (and by extension a chromebook), and also the iPad allows document format agnostic editing.

So, all the distraction free bit is about maintaining focus, and by using markdown not get too distracted by twiddling the layout of the document.

When I tried it, provided a pretty good editing experience - not good enough to want me to change but pretty good.

Markdown as a document format is however pretty useless. Not a lot of applications out there can render markdown - which usually means either running the file through pandoc or else using a service like MarkdowntoPDF to make a pdf version of the document.

Personally I usually export my markdown documents to odt and then insert them into a blank template document to both spell check them and make them look professional before emailing them into evernote or onto colleagues.

A nice feature of is that it provides an easy scripted install of pandoc ( and Xetex for pdf creation) for document export. And I guess that this is really the selling point of and similar products - is a paid for product - for a small fee you get a nice editor and one that takes the pain away from installing and using pandoc and Xetex for document export - ie it appifies the process - which might be anaethema to old school toolchain people like me but, on the other hand, why should users have to fiddle about with installing multiple applications and getting them to work together …
Written with StackEdit.

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