March 11, 2019

WriteMapper IconWriteMapper Icon

WriteMapper Brings Markdown to Mind Mapping

Product: WriteMapper
Price: $39.95 to $109.95

What Do You Need to Write?

Thinking and writing. These are the two activities that writers are engaged in. Whatever you are writing, these are the two activities integral to your process.

They have for a long time been conceived as two distinct functions requiring different tools. Writers, on macOS, use outlining software like OmniOutliner to think through things. The visual thinkers prefer mind maps. They use applications like iThoughtsX, or MindNode to help make mind maps. It helps the writers think in lists or spatial elements and it lets them see the connections between items.

Writing is conceived as a two-step process: writers having ostensibly finished with thinking can move on to the task of writing with whatever tool they have chosen for that function.

This conception of a two step process has led to specialization in the field of software design. Tools for thinking. Tools for writing.

What is the ideal?

Thinking and writing are not distinct activities. They are intertwined with each other. You write to think and you think to write. Why do we need to have applications which are specialized? Or, in other words, wouldn’t it be better to have an application which does both? Help you outline or mind map, and let you write.

MindmapMindmap

WriteMapper tries to answer that need. Build around the concept of the mind map, WriteMapper is equipped with a sophisticated mind map function. It is a well designed, well thought out mind mapping application.

Markdown EditorMarkdown Editor

However, it doesn’t stop there. You can write in it. Incorporating a fully featured Markdown based, distraction-free text editor, WriteMapper takes the product beyond the abilities of a mind mapping application and makes it a writing application.

Some of What WriteMapper Brings

WriteMapper Color TagsWriteMapper Color Tags

Color Tags: You can color your mind map nodes and that would show a grouping of sorts. A grouping of items which fit some taxonomy.

Keyboard Commands: WriteMapper is chockfull of keyboard commands. Most of what you need to do has a keyboard command assigned to it. Makes the process of working in the program easier and if you learn the commands, you are going to be proficient in making mind maps and writing your content in it.

Emoji Support: Your node titles can include emojis if you are so inclined.

Auto-Save: The program has a useful auto-save function. You can work in it without being afraid that you are going to lose your work. Gives you peace of mind.

Full Screen: WriteMapper is beautiful in full-screen mode. Both the mind mapping function and the editing function are well designed full-screen environments.

Task Status: You have the ability to designate the completion status of any node. It is an implementation of task-status which lets you see at a glance what is complete, what needs work and what needs to be started.

WriteMapper Full Document PreviewWriteMapper Full Document Preview

Full Document Preview: The Full Document Preview makes it possible to see your whole editing document at one time. Lets you see where you are in the flow. Interestingly this is one of those commands which do not have a keyboard command. This is a function which needs a keyboard command.

Windowed EditorWindowed Editor

Ability to See the Mind Map While Writing: You can edit a node while keeping the main mindmap in another window. The edit window can be a separate window. This lets you see where you are in the flow of the content and gives you direction about what you need to cover and the issues you need to tackle in the particular section you are writing.

Improvements

WriteMapper is a well designed application. However, it can be improved. These are some of my suggestions:

Multiple Title Nodes: At this point, WriteMapper supports only one main title node, but thinking doesn’t work like that. The program needs to be able to support multiple main title nodes for it to be useful. Yes, you can make the program tackle one major node and then branch off in different directions in child nodes but that is a hack which makes the main title node too restrictive. Multiple title nodes would make that process more efficient, but I have my reservations about whether that can be implemented in the present design.

Flowing Content Nodes: WriteMapper envisions the edit process as editing a discrete node. For instance:

Node EditingNode Editing

I have a section of the document which is dealing with the description of what WriteMapper brings to the genre. It is a node which has five sub nodes within it. When I try to edit the main node, this is what the edit window gives me.

Individual Edit WindowIndividual Edit Window

The content does not include any of the content of the sub-nodes. This is not convenient. This is how it should look.

Flow Edit WindowFlow Edit Window

The edit window of the node needs to include the contents of its child nodes. As a writer, I am not editing a discrete node when I am writing. There is a flow to the thinking and that is designated by the content of the child nodes. If I choose to edit the document at a particular node, I would like the ability to edit the child nodes too. That is the flow of the document. In the present incarnation of the product, you are restricted to editing the content of individual nodes and there is no ability to include the content of child nodes in the mother node. That breaks the process of writing into individual nodes. You can see the full document preview in another window but that is not exactly what I am looking for. I am looking for the ability to edit the whole content of a node at one time. That would make the product more conducive to flow rather than the restrictive mode of writing one node at a time.

Licensing: WriteMapper licenses the product in the following way:

  1. Single: $39.95 (regular price $59.95) for a single computer.
  2. Universal: $49.95 (regular price $119.90) for two computers.
  3. Family: $109.95 (regular price 299.75) for five computers.

It is an Electron app, which is available for macOS, iPad ($19.99) and Windows. I don’t know the world of Windows software but this is not how it works on the macOS software space. For instance, BBEdit lets you use your license for the product on any number of computers you want to use it on, as long as they are yours. The Mac App Store lets you use any software you buy from it on 5 devices. I don’t know any software where the license is for one computer only. WriteMapper lets you switch the registration between machines by deactivating the license in one and activating the license in another. But this is work which no one else makes you do on the macOS space.

The Competition: Curio

WriteMapper is not the first application to tackle this problem of having one tool for both thinking and writing.Curio is the other application in this space which has effectively molded these two functions for a writer. WriteMapper does significantly less than Curio. Curio provides you a plethora of tools for your thinking process and provides a complete MultiMarkdown text implementation in the latest version. Read about the previous version, here. Through its use of idea spaces, Curio has the ability to have both your writing content and mind mapping content on the same screen. It also has the ability to have multiple mind maps on the same idea space.

WriteMapper is a cheaper alternative to Curio ($99.99 - 139.99).

Recommendation

WriteMapper is an Electron application. That leaves me cold because it doesn’t support macOS features like Text Substitution, two spaces do not turn into a period and every first letter of a new sentence is not automatically capitalized. Those are little things I have gotten used to and don’t want to unlearn them. Cross-platform products often run into these shortcomings.

WriteMapper is a capable mind-mapping application and the Markdown based editing function is well-implemented. If you work in cross-platform environments, then WriteMapper makes sense to check out. If you are a Mac only consumer, Curio is a better product.

WriteMapper provides a seven day trial. You can download the product and try it out for yourself.

The developers of WriteMapper provided me a license to review their product.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Mindmap Markdown macOS
February 5, 2019

IconIcon

uFocus the Focused Text Editor

Product Site: uFocus – Desairem
App Store Link: uFocus
Price: Free

uFocus WindowuFocus Window

uFocus is a distraction-free, Markdown based writing application that lets you create and manage plain text files.

We have a lot of these, why am I writing about uFocus?

uFocus brings a few extra things to the genre of Markdown based text editors.

Specialities

Modus MenuModus Menu

Sound: uFocus plays old style typewriter sounds when you hit the keys on your keyboard. It is an odd feature which helps me focus on the writing.

NoWayBack: If you find yourself editing and not writing, uFocus’s NoWayBack feature can make the process easier. You are not allowed to edit your content. Type. Editing is for later.

Library: You can add folders of text files to the uFocus Library. Lets you manage the files and have a whole slew of folders containing text files attached and available to the program.

Usual Slew of Features

uFocus is a competent Markdown based editor. Doesn’t support the esoteric features like tables and footnotes, but does support basic Markdown.

Typewriter Scrolling: uFocus supports typewriter scrolling saving you from looking at the bottom of the screen all the time.

uFocus Keyboard CommandsuFocus Keyboard Commands

Keyboard Commands: Keyboard command support in uFocus is inconsistent. Not all commands have a keyboard command assigned to them. The basic Markdown is supported but the program features are not. I want a keyboard command toggle for Typewriter Scrolling, Highlights and NoWayBack.

The other problem I have with the keyboard command implementation is the non-standard choices. Full Screen Mode is implemented through ⌃⇧F. That is not standard. The Apple standard implementation is ⌃⌘F. Moving lines up and down is also non-standard, ⌥⌘↑ and ⌥⌘↓ is usually ⌃⌘↑ and ⌃⌘↓.

Adopting non-standard keyboard commands leads to conflict with the users setup of Keyboard Maestro and Alfred macros. Requires the user to learn new habits for familiar commands and that is not ideal.

Fonts: uFocus lets you use your own fonts for the program and that is appreciated. Most of these distraction-free editors have barely concealed fascist tendencies which manifests in severe restrictions on user font choice. uFocus stays away from that morass and you can use whatever font you like.

uFocus Dark ModeuFocus Dark Mode

Themes: Only a light and dark theme without the users having the ability to modify and use their own themes. Pity. I like Solarized.

Suggested Improvements

  1. Standard keyboard commands.
  2. Autocompletion of lists.
  3. Auto-pairing of brackets and other Markdown syntax.
  4. Full support of an advanced Markdown variant like MultiMarkdown or CommonMark.

Conclusion

If you are looking for an immersive, capable Markdown editor, uFocus is not a bad choice. It has the added advantage of being free. If you use something else, it is a good idea to have uFocus in the mix of applications that you use. There are times when the typewriter sounds are exactly what you need to jumpstart the writing of the epic you are stuck on.

Recommended heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

macOS MarkDown text editor
January 7, 2019

iconicon

iA Writer Continues to Mature

Product: iA Writer
Price: $29.99

iA Writer got updated to 5.2.1.

It brings along a few significant updates.

New Font

iA Writer now has three font choices.

You can read about it at iA Writer has three custom made writing fonts that are available for download. I love the new Quattro. I am thankful to the folks at iA for making the fonts available at iaolo/iA-Fonts: Free variable writing fonts from iA. I am using them in Ulysses, BBEdit and Sublime Text 3. They are great on screen.

Integration with KaTeX

KaTeX – The fastest math typesetting library for the web is now integrated into iA Writer. If you are into mathematics, you are going to love this.

Microsoft Word Export

This version overhauls and makes comprehensive the docx export from iA Writer. For those of you who need this, this is a great addition to what is essentially the best Markdown based text editor on the macOS.

iCloud Improvements

iA Writer now supports Documents & Desktop in iCloud. If you are using iA Writer on iOS, this is a great addition and will make it possible to deal with all your Markdown based writing on iA Writer.

There are some other improvements. iA Writer is working hard to consolidate its position as the best Markdown based text editor on macOS. I work in it everyday and I love the program.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

ia writer macOS ios markdown
January 4, 2019

Introduce Agenda to Your Note-taking

Agenda IconAgenda Icon

Product: Agenda - An elegant new take on Notes.
App Store: Agenda App Store Link
Price: Free with Premium Features for $24.99

What Do You Get When You Pay for Agenda?

Agenda introduces an interesting variation on subscriptions.

Agenda has a free version. It is available to use for as long as you like. Agenda has two kinds of features: Basic features and Premium features. The basic features are available to everyone. If you pay the yearly subscription of $24.99, you are entitled to all the Premium features that are released during the year of your subscription. At the end of your subscription, you are given a choice. You can renew the subscription, which entitles you to all the new features to be released during the coming year. If you don’t renew, you get to keep all the features you had already paid for but you are not entitled to the new Premium features which are going to be released during the next year.

It is a unique model. My first reaction is that it is a fair model.

The usual subscription model makes your access to the use of the product contingent on whether you have an active subscription or not. Agenda doesn’t do that. If you paid a subscription for a year, you are entitled to use the product and all the features that were released during your subscription period for ever. You are not entitled to new features but you can continue to use the product.

The developer provides a detailed Roadmap to let you know what they are working on, and what you can expect from the developer during your subscription period. The developer provides a sense of what they are busy fixing. This transparency gives you a clear idea on what the developers are focusing on. This helps you make the decision to subscribe or not.

Using Agenda

PrettyPretty

It is pretty. That is the first thing you notice about Agenda.

Agenda is a different note-taking app. The difference is highlighted by the descriptor of Agenda from the developer:

Agenda is a date-focused note taking app for both planning and documenting your projects.

Most note-taking apps deal with notes. They are not date-focused or project focused. Agenda changes the paradigm. It lets you assign dates to your notes. Effectively, it provides a time-line for your note-taking as it relates to a project.

I have two kinds of notes.

  1. Notes which are project driven. It makes perfect sense to have those associated with a timeline and Agenda has the right answer for those notes. Seeing a progression of notes within a project based on a timeline gives me the ability to dig into the details and also lets me take a broader view of the project and its progression.
  2. Notes which are subject driven and not project driven. They are not helped by an association with a date component. Agenda does provide Projects (think folders) which do contain notes which do not have to be associated with a particular date or timeline.

Agenda tries to avoid being prescriptive. You can use Agenda any way you think fit and it is an interesting addition to the note-taking space.

Agenda does tags. Tags are useful for organizing and search. Bear is built around the concept of tags. Agenda is not. Agenda is built around the concept of Categories and Projects. Categories are broad, like work, home, macOS, and so on. Projects are components of Categories. Tags are not nested, they are discrete. You can tag your documents and set up smart searches which collect all the notes or notes in a particular project containing the specified tag. It is an integral component of the search function.

Are You Confused Yet?

Agenda is new. Nothing in the marketplace compares. Notes are usually stand alone documents. They might be associated with a topic or a project, but they have not been associated with a timeline or placed together in any convenient way before. This is new to the world software. Thus, confusing.

This is what the developers say about the product:

Agenda… is really in a category all its own, there to assist you in getting the most out of each and every project, no matter how big or small.

All your notes are part of a project. They can be linked to a timeline. They don’t have to be. Agenda gives you the ability to adopt a timeline for a note or not. So, for instance, if you are managing a project which lends itself to a timeline, you can associate its notes to calendar events and thus you have the ability to assign due dates and build your workflow around the milestones relevant to your project. Agenda is a great way of maintaining control over such a project.

On the other hand, you can be taking notes on something that is not linked to a calendar event at all. Collecting every little bit information you can get your hands on for a DIY project, like Build a Table. You can assign notes on this to a project, call it Build a Table. Tag it with a tag like #table. Add notes to the project as you deem fit. You have all of those notes in one place and they are easy to search using the tag, through the specific project, or through a saved search.

Agenda gives you the ability to manage your notes any way you think is beneficial to you or relevant to the project you are tackling. That flexibility is both a strength of the product and a weakness. The strength comes from the unique approach to generating a timeline of notes relevant to a project and the ability to record the progression of the project through date-centric events. The weakness is the plethora of choices that this provides for the user. You, the user, have to decide on how you want to best manage your notes. The learning curve is a function of the introduction of a new paradigm to the concept of note-taking. You have to grok the program to get the best use of it. Agenda provides a significant quantity of information to help you along the process of figuring out what the product can do.

Preferences

Agenda PreferencesAgenda Preferences

  • You get to choose whether you want to go all in on the concept of associating your notes to a timeline.
  • If you use Agenda on multiple devices, you can sync your data through iCloud and have your notes available on all your devices.
  • The interesting part of the preferences is that it includes a link to the community built around the product.

Community

Note-taking is a crowded marketplace. Agenda is built around a new paradigm of note-taking. It is differentiated from the norm in terms of the function of the product, the design of the product, and the pricing of the product. How do you get traction in the marketplace?

The solution that the developer has put together is a focus on the community around the product. They maintain a product forum which is build into both the preferences and the interface of the product. The forum provides the user with information and a place to ask questions, discuss workflows and get educated about the product. The added benefit of such a forum is that it increases user involvement with the product. Users have the ability to share with other users, learn from them, and effect the direction of the product’s evolution.

Of all the elements of the product mix, if the developer is able to build a vibrant community around the product, this will be the most important element underlying the success of the product.

I am excited by the effort and I commend the developers for thinking this through and giving users a forum to engage in discussions about the product and its use. This ensures that the users have skin in the game and increases their involvement in the product. Nice.

Improvements

Agenda has potential. Like every other software product, it needs some improvements, In no particular order, they are:

Performance: Projects which have a sizable number of notes, and for notes which are long, Agenda lags. Collapsing the notes makes it a little easier to deal with. It is a pain. If a project has a few too many notes, the program becomes slow. The lack of responsiveness makes the product feel unstable. You need to trust the program if you are going to trust it with your notes. Performance glitches destroys confidence. Agenda needs to be more responsive when burdened with a significant number of notes.

Sorting: Notes within a project should be sortable.

Tags: For tags to be meaningful the application has to support hierarchical tags. Or nested tags. As it is implemented now, the tags are just a placeholder for you to remember something or perform some rudimentary organization. Categories and Projects are nice but they restrict you to two levels of abstraction. Nested tags would make this an user selectable level of abstraction. Also nested tags would have to support saved searches for it to be useful.

Font Support: Please let me use my own fonts. Avenir is nice but I have fonts. Nice fonts. They are sitting here, waiting to be called on. Please let them be useful.

List Manipulation: Agenda has to do a better job of managing todo’s. I need to have a place where I can go to look at all my todo’s. If you are going to support todo’s, you have to provide an integration with Reminders.

Single Note Full Screen View: In full screen, I want the ability to concentrate on a single note. The stream of notes is fine in windowed mode, but a single note focus in full screen would improve the ability to write.

Easier Input: A quicker way of getting notes into Agenda would be welcome. A menu bar item or a global input box where I can type in the title of the note, where it belongs (category/project), the date element (if needed), the necessary tags, and the content of the note would make the process of getting notes into Agenda more efficient. At this stage, I need to switch to Agenda to make this possible. This can be simplified by a global inbox, with the metadata input and categorization to be left for later.

Recommendation

Agenda is available to download and use for free. There are no barriers to entry. Download it. Try it out, use it for a while and decide whether it fits your workflow.

There are a lot of things to like about Agenda. I like the innovations it brings to the genre. I like the focus on the community aspect of the application. I love how pretty it is.

Remember though that this is a program which requires a deep dive. If you use the program, you are going to go all-in on the program. Agenda is going to control all of your notes and you are going to be reliant on its proprietary database backend. Agenda has good export options (PDF file, Markdown file, rtf, rtfd, and Agenda files), but you need to be conscious that this is a movement away from the elegance of individual text files and it is a move into a proprietary database controlled by a small independent developer. The good news is that the developer seems to explicitly eschew any concept of a lock-in. There is no lock-in. The export options, and the payment system both steer you clear from any lock-in. The only remaining concern for me is performance. I am not sure that the program can ably support the sheer number of notes that I have. Personally I am going to monitor the progress of the program and not do a deep dive into it.

If you like the demo and are comfortable with the paradigm of notes allied to the calendar that it provides, this is a unique application in the macOS space and it is well worth exploring.

I recommend Agenda with some reservations about its performance issues.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Agenda macOS iOS note-taking
December 26, 2018

20182018

2018 in Review

Mojave got launched and my mid-2011 iMac found itself on the not-supported by Mojave list. Pity. It is a perfectly operational machine. I maxed out the memory a few years ago and installed a new SSD on it. I wrote about it, Juicing Up the iMac With an SSD - Bicycle For Your Mind. I got myself an early 2015 MacBook Air to be able to run the goodness of Mojave. I will write about that machine one of these days. On the iOS front, I got myself an iPhone XS Max. Upgrading from an iPhone 5s, this is a huge jump. I am getting used to the phone and doing a fair amount of writing on it. The huge, beautiful screen is a joy to work in. I am indulging in my old hobby of photography and the camera on the iPhone is a pleasure. I have an iPad2 and it does the things I want it to do: Provide a platform for me to write and play a few games. Obsolete, but effective for the tasks I expect of it. I have been intrigued by the new iPad releases but find it difficult to justify the expense.

On the software side, the following things happened:

  1. iA Writer 5 became the best Markdown based text editor. I wrote about it, iA Writer 5 Manages Files and Folders.
  2. Bear lost its way. Instead of steady improvements to the product they got busy with a web app and introduced stickers on iOS. Depressing. Indicators of stagnation included the lack of tables support and typewriter scrolling on the editor. A purported rewrite of the editor has been on the works for more than a year and I have given up hope. This is a subscription which is not going to renew.
  3. Ulysses kept up its hallowed tradition of responding to every feature request with the same canned response: “This is on our roadmap. We can’t promise a delivery date, but consider your vote counted.” Tables? Same response. Check lists? Same response. The product however is at a state where it is perfectly usable and different and superior to the competition in some interesting ways. Support for Markdown has improved, the user-selectable point for typewriter scrolling is unmatched and it is the best mix of features for an immersive writing environment. It is my main workhorse. It is an emotional decision and not a logical one as I write about in Moving Back to Ulysses - Bicycle For Your Mind.
  4. OmniOutliner became my list manager. I adopted the Essentials version as the main outlining product in my workflow. I wrote about it Outlining Essentials in OmniOutliner - Bicycle For Your Mind.
  5. Scrivener 3 got released this year. It has improved its support for MultiMarkdown and the output function. This is a great program to dive into for every writer. You are going to be using this for the rest of your life, if you remember that, the learning curve will be easier to navigate. The learning curve is steep. My advice to every new Scrivener user: Start using the program. Learn as you go along. This is not software you are going to pick up and learn all at once. The learning is going to be incremental. In the meantime, write.
  6. Mojave is an underwhelming release. Dark mode generated a lot of attention, and left me cold. I spend all my time in full screen mode in either Ulysses or iA Writer. There is nothing on the screen but my words and yes, a dark background. However, I don’t need a dark background in the Finder. The programs I care about have implemented dark mode on their own and it is not dependent on the system. What does a system wide dark mode do for me? There are some nice touches on the OS, but I would like the Finder to be improved. A rethink of that is needed. I find myself relying on fman to get my file management chores done and ignore the Finder. I think we have come up to point where a release needs to be focused on bug-fixes. iCloud is unreliable. The App Store is a mess. Add an iTunes card to the account. Check the amount available display in the front page of the App Store, it hasn’t changed. Go into your account. Check the amount available. It includes your new total. Why is it inconsistent? Why does it take so long to propagate? Apple Music continuously asks me to re-input my credentials. Little things which irritate the user throughout the day. Makes the act of using the computer painful. A release which takes these bugs and squashes them would be welcome.
  7. Agenda - An elegant new take on Notes won a 2018 Apple Design Award. Got some favorable press. I am trying it out and will write about it.
  8. Three products which have been integral to my workflow for the last few years are all doing well. They are Alfred, Keyboard Maestro, and Hazel. I rely on them. Thanks to the developers for improving my life.

I expressed anxiety about the state of Apple. That feeling does not improve with the assertion from Apple that the 2018 iPad Pro Meets or Exceeds Quality Standards even though it is bent. Really? The arrogance and the hubris is mind-blowing to me. This has been gnawing at me for a while, so let me vent for a while. This is the alleged quote from the email sent by Dan Riccio, Apple’s VP of hardware engineering:

Relative to the issue you referenced regarding the new iPad Pro, its unibody design meets or exceeds all of Apple’s high quality standards of design and precision manufacturing. We’ve carefully engineered it and every part of the manufacturing process is precisely measured and controlled. Our current specification for iPad Pro flatness is up to 400 microns which is even tighter than previous generations. This 400 micron variance is less than half a millimeter (or the width of fewer than four sheets of paper at most) and this level of flatness won’t change during normal use over the lifetime of the product. Note, these slight variations do not affect the function of the device in any way. Again, thanks for reaching out and I hope the above explanation addresses your concerns.

Dude, the product is bent. It is a tablet with a kink in the middle. It doesn’t sit flat on a table. It is the most expensive product in the category. 400 microns? The product is bent. It is bent within your acceptable parameters doesn’t fill anyone with a sense of joy and comfort. Fix it. If you find that the product doesn’t sit flat on a surface, you have a design flaw. It is a tablet. It is not meant to be a curved device. Who thought that this was acceptable? Who thought it was a good idea to talk about your quality standards when faced with bent iPads? You guys have lost your mind.

Can you imagine the reaction if Microsoft made the same claims about their Surface product? How much derision would that have elicited? You guys are special? If the new iPads meet your quality standards, you have a design flaw and you are in a bind. You can’t hide bad design behind quality standards. What you are effectively saying is “We are making high quality, badly designed products.”

This was the last big story of 2018. There are customers who are happy with the new iPad Pro line. There are some folks who are obviously not happy about bent iPads. I have no idea about the numbers. Apple is not saying. Strikes me as a story which we haven’t heard the last of. It also means that I am not rushing out to buy an iPad anytime soon.

News About Me

  1. I am going to write more in the coming year.
  2. I am working on improving the quality of my writing.
  3. I am going to finish my book on using macOS in 2019.

That was my take on the year 2018.

Hat tip to: Tomer Dahari for the picture Bokeh Photography Of Black Framed Eyeglasses

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

macOS iOS review