May 26, 2022

What Is the Best Writing App for Me?

ChoicesChoices

This was a question I got asked by a reader a few days ago. There are so many choices and features to consider that it is not an easy question to answer. The needs of a user from a writing application varies. In fact, I am going to approach this from the perspective of user needs.

  1. I need an easy to use application.
  2. I need an application I can grow with. As my writing evolves, I want the application to provide me features which I will need.
  3. I will spend the rest of my life in this application. I will use it all the time, learn all of its nuances and live in it.

Caveat

I am not interested in rich text. I will concentrate on plain text applications with Markdown as the core markup for your writing. I am going to choose one product in each of these categories. There are a ton of competing products, but I am going to restrict myself to what I consider “best of class.”

Need an Easy to Use Application

Some of you are put-off by complex software. You have the need for a program which you can use to write, think, and take notes. You don’t relish the thought of reading a manual or a help file. You are looking for simplicity.

It is also a truism that if you find a program approachable and easy, you are going to use it more. If you like the note-taking program you are using, you are going to take more notes. Conversely, if you find the note-taking program intimidating, you are going to resist taking as many notes.

iA Writer

I recommend iA Writer for the user seeking an easy to use application to write in.

iA Writer is a minimalistic text editor which handles Markdown and gives you a simple environment to work in. The new version, which is in beta, significantly improves the editor. I will write about it when it is released.

I have written about iA Writer before:

I seem to write about iA Writer a lot.

If you are looking for a simple editor… What is a simple editor? An editor is simple when the learning curve is almost non-existent. You can launch the program and start writing in it without having to figure out too many things. How does that happen? The developer makes choices for you which make it possible for you to not have to go through an endless process of setting things up and customizing things to make the editor behave the way you want it to. A simple editor makes most of the choices for you and you can get down to the business of writing and not worry about things. iA Writer is an expert at that.

Please don’t confuse simple with lacking features. iA Writer is feature rich. It does a host of things which make it the perfect Markdown based text editor. It provides you a complete solution for all your writing and it does it without over-burdening you with choices. This is well-designed software.

Need an Application I Can Grow With

You belong to the category of users who don’t mind a learning curve, but don’t want it to be particularly steep. You are willing to grow in your use of the product. Discover the features and nuances at your own pace, while being productive in the meantime.

Obsidian

Obsidian is the obvious choice in this category. Obsidian can be a simple application if you want that. Yet it is capable of so much more that soon you are going to make it a lot more complicated than you want to. The plug-in infrastructure is the differentiator. They add so much to the program extending it in ways that you never thought possible, that you are going to have a lot of fun discovering things that it can do.

I have written about Obsidian before:

Obsidian is growing at a frenetic pace. If you adopt it, remember that there is a learning curve to expertise in Obsidian. As an auxiliary to the things that Obsidian can do, the program has a tendency to get away from you. Too many plugins and too many changes to the workflow will make this a difficult learning curve.

Obsidian is a deep program which you need to get comfortable in. You can use it for all your writing and it is the program with the best set of features in this marketplace.

These are more things for you to read if you are thinking of using Obsidian.

An Application for the Rest of Your Life

This was a difficult choice to make. If you are looking for a program which you are going to live in for the rest of your life and are looking for a feature-rich, “serious” text editor, the choices on the macOS are the following:

You can choose any one of these and get similar benefits. They are all fantastic solutions.

BBEdit

I will recommend BBEdit.

BBEdit supports the macOS better than the competition. It has better tech support than the competition and it ships with the most detailed manual that you can use to learn the ins and outs of the program. It is continuously improved by the developer and has had a long run on macOS.

You can’t go wrong with BBEdit.

An Exception

Scrivener. A rich-text solution. Scrivener is designed for writers, and brings a bunch of custom features to the task of writing. It is life-changing software.

It has a steep learning curve, but the good news is that you can start using Scrivener and grow into it. Don’t be intimidated by the learning curve. Don’t assume that you need to know all the intricacies of the software before you start using it. Dive in. Write. Learn as you go. Scrivener ships with a great manual and they have a helpful online community in their forums.

You can use Scrivener as a plain text editor. You miss out on some features like styles if you do that, but it is possible to use it as a plain-old text editor and you can compile Markdown documents from the program with little effort.

Conclusion

This was an interesting article to write. Restricting myself to only one choice in the three categories made it difficult.

Depending on your needs, you cannot go wrong with iA Writer, Obsidian, or BBEdit.

Happy writing.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Thanks: Carlo Martin Alcordo

writing macOS
May 24, 2022

QB 007: Back Tap on the iPhone

An iPhone feature. I didn’t know this one.

Open Settings>Accessibility>Touch and locate Back Tap. Back Tap lets you set a shortcut to an app or a feature through a double-tap or a triple-tap on the back of your iPhone. Yes. On the back of your iPhone.

I have the double-tap set for the Camera and the triple-tap set for the Magnifier. I need the Magnifier to read instructions on most packages. Getting old has its challenges.

This is a feature which I use a lot.

Thanks Macworld for teaching me this one.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

iPhone iOS
May 17, 2022

Bike IconBike Icon

Bike Outliner - a Bicycle for Your Outlines

Product: Bike Outliner
Price: $19.99

“Bike is a fast and fluid outliner—a simple tool that feels nice.” This is how Bike is described by it’s developer.

Does Bike live up to that description? The answer is “An emphatic yes.”

Bike is the best outliner I have used in a while.

Bike WindowBike Window

What makes Bike a great outliner?

  • Simple: Bike is simple. If you know how to work with outlining programs, you know how to work in Bike. Get familiar with the keyboard commands and you are ready to be an expert. This is well designed software which is a pleasure to use.
  • Performance: Bike is responsive, fast, and stable. It is comfortable with large files.
  • File agnostic: Bike deals with OPML files, text files and it’s own .bike files (these are HTML files). There is no lock-in. You can use Bike for a while and move on to something else for your outlining needs without any problems. Conversely, you can bring in files you have created with other programs into Bike and that is an easy process.
  • Focus and Hoisting: When I have a large outline, I want to be able to concentrate on sections. Bike lets me do that.
  • Keyboard Commands: Bike is superb at providing you keyboard commands to write and manage outlines in Bike. With a custom built editor, Bike is designed to keep you from the mouse/trackpad. You can do everything with keyboard commands and it makes the experience of editing in Bike fantastic. I love being in Bike and living in it. Find the list of Keyboard Shortcuts for Bike.
    • To give an example of how extensive the support for keyboard commands are in Bike.
      • Indent and Outdent are two things you do a lot when you are in an outline. You can indent and outdent in the following ways:
        • Tab and Shift-Tab to indent/outdent.
        • ⌃+⌘+Right and ⌃+⌘+Left to indent/outdent.
        • ⌘+[** and **⌘+] to indent/outdent.
    • I love this program.
  • Documentation: Bike is extensively documented at Bike - Bike. I love it when a new product takes the trouble of documenting it’s features. Makes the act of learning how to use it easier. You get value from your investment if you know how to use the product you paid for. Bike is excellent at that.
  • Different Modes: Bike has an editing mode which is what is supported by all text editors and outliners. In addition it has an “Outline Editing Mode.” While in text editing mode, press the ESC key and you switch to outline editing mode. Outline editing mode is useful when you are re-arranging the items in your outline. Try it. You might love it like I do.
  • Links: Bike has the ability to link the content of one document to another document. This is not restricted to Bike alone. The Bike link can be activated in other programs and as long as Bike is installed on the machine, it will work. Links can be directed to the path of the document, if that is what you prefer. Read about it Using Links - Bike.

Roadmap

At this stage Bike has an extensive roadmap. Themes and plug-ins are promised. This is a version 1.0 product. I would like some improvements to the basic product and they are listed next.

Improvements

  • I want to use my own themes and fonts.
  • Full screen sucks. I want the editing window in full screen to be smaller than the whole screen of the computer.
  • Typewriter Scrolling. I don’t want to look at the bottom of the screen when I am writing.

A Couple of Issues I Want to Address

Questions About the Future of Bike

A comment from the Outliner software forum: Outliner Software: New app, Bike

Ah! Jesse Grosjean does it again… The guy who created and killed Mori, Plaintext, Folding Text, Taskpaper for IOS, SimpleText, QuickCursor. I have lost count of how many apps he created and dumped (along with his customers). I won’t be fooled this time.

There is consensus amongst the participants of this forum. I know all those products. I paid for all of them, except Mori. I also know that Jesse Grosjean is a developer who keeps pushing the boundaries of what is possible in plain text files. TaskPaper is a fantastic product which has given me continuous service for almost a decade. Folding Text, an experiment, is working on the latest OS. I respect Jesse as a developer. And Bike is bringing me joy.

Yes there is a promised roadmap and no one knows whether it can be delivered. Bike, as is, at version 1.0, I am going to use extensively.

Bike Is Not TaskPaper 4

Jesse explains that in How does Bike relate to TaskPaper?

Recommendation

Adopting Bike into my workflow is a no-brainer for me.

I recommend it heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Note: The developer provided a license code for beta-testers of which I was one.

Update: Bike got updated to include the ability to use your own fonts. Yippee!!! Update 2: Changed name of product to Bike Outliner.

outliner macOS
May 5, 2022

SilhouetteSilhouette

Links of Note 2022-05-05

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Note: Thanks to Photo by Juan Nino from Pexels

links
May 1, 2022

Typora IconTypora Icon

Typora is Fantastic

Product: Typora — a markdown editor, markdown reader.
Price: $14.99

Typora is Markdown focused text editor. It has emerged from a long beta period. I have been waiting to write about it for a while.

Typora does Electron Right

Typora is an Electron app. The criticism against Electron apps on macOS is that they don’t support standard macOS features like:

  1. Services.
  2. “Lazy” typing. Two spaces don’t turn into a period. The first letter of a sentence is not capitalized even though the system defaults specify this.
  3. Version control and revert to previous version.

Typora supports Services, version control, and “lazy” typing. I was not expecting this, Typora surprised me.

Supporting macOS features makes Typora a better experience for me. It is a cross-platform application, but it is a well-behaved macOS application and that is fantastic.

Typora screenTypora screen

Typora is a full-featured, Markdown focused text editor. It is well documented.

These are some of the Typora features I am fond of:

  1. Shows the image when you add an image to the document.
  2. Lists auto-continue. Both unordered and ordered lists auto-continue.
  3. Typora has a good table editor.
  4. Support for inline math, subscript, superscript, highlight and diagrams through sequence, flowchart and mermaid.
  5. Typora has typewriter/focus mode.
  6. The Outline view in the sidebar is useful. Lets you navigate through your document.
  7. You can add Auto-Numbering for Headings through CSS. Auto Numbering for Headings - Typora Support.
  8. Typora lets you add your own CSS to the themes. Add Custom CSS - Typora Support.
  9. Typora is integrated with the macOS system service of Version Control and Recovery. Version Control and Recovery - Typora Support.
  10. You can maintain task lists in Typora. Task List — Easy Way to Record Todos - Typora Support.
  11. The support for keyboard commands is extensive in Typora. Shortcut Keys - Typora Support.

Typora with No Syntax HidingTypora with No Syntax Hiding

Typora’s Main Feature Doesn’t Impress Me

Typora’s contribution to the world of Markdown based text editors is a feature that I despise. It hides the Markdown syntax and gives you a kind of WYSIWYG look at your file. Since the release of Typora in beta, users have been hounding competing developers to add this feature to their products. Bear is adding it to their next iteration of the editor. Obsidian has added the feature.

I hate it. Markdown is by definition a minimal markup. Why do we have to hide it? I don’t see the upside. A vocal group of users seem to like this feature and that is one of the defining features of Typora. It is wasted on me.

The theme Monospace gives me the ability to not deal with this abomination and see my Markdown syntax. I am in that theme all the time.

Suggested Improvements

These are some of the improvements which would make Typora better:

  • The search feature needs work. It is anemic at this point.
  • Folding of sections would be a definite improvement. Makes it easier to deal with larger documents.

Conclusion

Typora doesn’t behave like a typical Electron application. It is a good macOS citizen supporting Services, Version Control, and System Keyboard settings. It deals with Markdown well and has the ability to add features like inline maths, sequences, and diagrams.

This is a well-designed editor. If you are looking for a Markdown based text editor, you cannot go wrong with Typora.

Typora is recommended heartily.

Note: Another review of Typora: Best Markdown editor for distraction-free writing.

Typora macOS Markdown