October 29, 2015


(Originally posted on 2014-02-10)

Katana - Note app for Mac OSX
App Store Link
Price: $9.99


It all started with Notational Velocity, created by Zachary Schneirov.

You could have a bunch of text files, and a program to interact with them. The program was unique in several ways:

  1. Unimodal search and input window. One window to search your notes and the same window to create your notes.
  2. Instant search of the title and content of your notes. Even for large collection of notes, the search seemed instant, almost, wicked fast.
  3. Mouseless interaction. Tons of keyboard commands, letting the user move around without ever really touching the mouse.

Then Brett Terpstra and David Halter merged their forks of Notational Velocity and created nvALT. This changed the notetaking marketplace in the Mac OS space.

They took an excellent text editor and added Markdown and MultiMarkdown support. They tweaked, they fixed, they added, they enhanced: They created the ultimate Markdown and Multimarkdown based note-taking system on any OS. If you haven't tried nvALT, you owe it to yourself to download it, and change your notetaking life. It is freeware. But if you use the program, consider donating to the fine folks who bought you this notetaking nirvana.

If you need help in trying to figure out how to use nvALT, you should read this Michael Schechter post.

Unfortunately due to the open source origins of the program, there is no money to be made of this software. Donations are great, but they are not a revenue stream. I am always afraid when I see no revenue streams. Will the bugs be fixed? Will they keep up with changes in the next OS? I like freeware, but I can't find myself relying on it. So I have been keeping a lookout for commercial alternatives to nvALT. Which brings me to Katana - Note app for Mac OSX.


A new entrant into the field of notetaking apps for the Mac OS, Katana is a nice little program which does most of what nvALT does. It is commercial, well-supported and pretty.


Katana has a search box like nvALT. Search is instant and it is progressive, it searches by title, content and tags. It is however not the place where you create new notes. New notes are created by tapping the plus icon, or by the usual ⌘ + N shortcut. If Katana is not active, you can also create a new note by a pre-assigned keyboard command, which you get to set in the preferences.

I must say that I prefer nvALT's unimodal approach to search and note creation. But Katana's approach works reliably and is functional.

It deals with individual text files in a folder. If you are using the same notes on iOS, keep your notes in a Dropbox folder and if you are using Notesy, Editorial, Write for iPad/iPhone, or some other text editor on the iOS, you will have access to the same notes, irrespective of the device you are on. It supports Markdown, and has extensive keyboard command support for the Markdown syntax.

The app supports Gruber's markdown syntax and some enhancements from Github Flavored Markdown and MultiMarkdown.

Katana has a smart set of preferences. You get to assign a keyboard command to switch to the program and to create a new note.

Preference GeneralPreference General

You have the ability to define your default font. Also, lets you specify the indent size of the tab key, specify the preferred markdown syntax for dealing with bold, italics and lists. Gives you control over the system functions related to spelling and grammar.

Preference EditorPreference Editor

You also have the ability to define where your files are going to be stored, and what your preferred extension is in dealing with markdown files. I use .md as the extension, you can use whatever you are comfortable with.

Preference StoragePreference Storage

The editor window maintains a Table of Contents view. In a reasonably large document, that is a feature which I find very useful. Katana also supports linking between notes. To link to another note, place its title inside the <" "> tag. This is another feature which is very useful when you are writing interconnected notes and want to have ability to move from one to the other. Very cool.


Katana is nice looking. It is also very customizable. Giving you the option to tweak most elements of your Markdown markup.

Preference ColorPreference Color

Gaps in the feature set

The problem with competing with nvALT is that it is a mature product with two very smart developers. They have added features to nvALT over the years and the product has a dedicated group of users. The good news is that this is a template for a notes app and Katana's developer would be well served in looking at the nvALT feature-set for inspiration.

I would like a bookmarklet to be able to send articles from Safari/Chrome to Katana, preferably in markdown.

You can choose a note and ask it to Open in text editor. However you have no control over which text editor it will use to open the document. Whatever has been assigned in the system to deal with markdown files will open your document. I would like this to be user-selectable. That would make the process easier for text editor groupies like me.


Katana is new. It shows promise and is a worthy note-taking entrant in the Mac space. It is well-designed, fast and deals with individual text files stored anywhere on your Mac. I am looking forward to its evolution.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Katana Notetaking nvALT

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