Thursday, February 27, 2014

Markdown Editor Roundup: gedit vs. UberWriter vs. ReText

Very much inspired by my interview with Bryan Behrenshausen, I’ve been spending a lot more time working with Markdown. Day-to-day, at work and at home, I usually work with either HTML or word processed documents. I’m fast with HTML and proficient with word processors, and I rarely need to convert one to the other, but I liked the idea of simplifying my process and using Markdown for everything, with pandoc to convert it.

Markdown is simple enough, but there is a learning curve, so while one of the advantages of it is that it doesn’t require any kind of special editor, the reality is that I needed something with a preview so I could make sure my syntax looked OK (which it often did not). As a result, I went through a few Markdown editors, trying to find the one I like best (and because I love a good rabbit hole).

I eventually narrowed my list to three: ReText, UberWriter, and gedit-markdown. When choosing software, I can usually tell if something will work for me in the first hour or so of use. All three of these editors were very usable to me, which is why I wound up needing a bake-off. I still haven’t really picked one, although I do spend the most time in gedit, mostly because it’s where I do everything. And even as I’ve gotten a handle on Markdown, I appreciate the preview all three provide, just to get a sense of how the final product will look.

ReText is simple. It’s just a text window. It has a spellcheck and a live preview. It lets you natively export to HTML, ODT, or PDF. It also lets you grab the HTML as source. There’s not much to it, which I see as a feature. My main issue with it is that it’s black text on white background and I prefer white text on a dark background. There’s a CSS file that can be tweaked, but I haven’t explored that part of ReText yet. Also, Linux Setup interviewee Amy Cavender is a ReText user.

screenshot of ReText editor

UberWriter is beautiful (as I’ve mentioned before). It’s got the same basic export options as ReText, plus an advanced export menu I’ve never had to use. It has a spellcheck, a running word count, and a dark mode. It also lets you copy the Markdown into HTML without having to do a formal export, which is a nice feature. There’s also a focus mode, which puts an emphasis on your current line and de-emphasizes previous ones. It’s great, but I have a few issues with UberWriter. One is that it doesn’t remember the dark color scheme — it has to be set each time it’s open. I think it’s under review as a feature, though. There’s also no search and replace ability, although that’s also on the roadmap. Another issue is that there’s no preview for me, which I believe is because I’m on Ubuntu 12.04 and there’s some kind of dependency issue (I’m not sure it’s supported for 12.04, although it runs fine otherwise). UberWriter is $5 through the Ubuntu Software Center and despite those few issues, it’s well worth the money.

screenshot of UberWriter editor

gedit-markdown is gedit with a preview window. The preview isn’t live — you have to manually update it, but other than that, it does everything gedit does, which for me, a gedit lover is a nice thing. I assumed that as I got used to Markdown (it’s really not super complicated), I’d just phase out the preview window, but it’s actually proven to be very helpful to me, just in terms of checking the formatting of stuff I’m writing.

screenshot of gedit-markdown editor

So for now, I’m sticking with gedit for my Markdown needs, although I’m keeping an eye on UberWriter, simply because it has a great look and feel and seems to be continually improved. But ReText is also a strong option for anyone who wants a simple Markdown editor.

A final note. At work, on Windows 7, I’ve been using MarkdownPad. It’s great. It has live preview and easily exports HTML — it even has a copy code as HTML function that converts Markdown to HTML on the fly. It doesn’t export into any kind of word processed format, so you need pandoc if you’re going to use it for that sort of thing. If you’re stuck in Windows, MarkdownPad is a great option. I’ve been using it for all kinds of writing, from articles to blog posts.

screenshot of MarkPad editor

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Linux Setup - Amy Cavender, Professor/ProfHacker

I found Amy through her ProfHacker work. For those who don’t know, ProHacker is a technical productivity blog from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Amy’s setup in interesting, in that she’s using a souped-up Chromebook with Ubuntu instead of ChromeOS. That hits a real sweet spot for a lot of people. I know I’m interested in something light and cheap to carry around, but I want more than just a web browser at my disposal. Amy’s ChrUbuntu setup is an interesting option. (ASUS seems to be getting in on the concept but I think it’s about $100 too much for the hardware they’re offering).

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

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  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    My name is Amy Cavender. I’m a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Saint Mary’s College. I’m also interim director of the college’s Center for Academic Innovation, and I blog regularly at ProfHacker.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    There are several reasons. First, I like to tinker. Then there are all the other reasons I listed in a post I wrote for ProfHacker a little over a year ago: it works on older hardware (at least, some distributions do, and there’s quite a variety), it’s highly customizable, and it’s free.

    Finally, it’s the one full-blown operating system that can be installed on a Chromebook. Installing it on a Chromebook results in a very lightweight, inexpensive portable system that works very well for what I need in a portable computer. Linux isn’t the OS I use most of the time, at least not yet (I’m primarily a Mac user), but I find it very useful in a lot of circumstances.

  3. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    I’m running Ubuntu 13.04. I like 13.10 well enough, but it wasn’t particularly stable on my primary Linux machine. I chose Ubuntu both because I’m familiar with it, and because to the best of my knowledge it’s the only distribution available through ChrUbuntu.

  4. What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?

    I’m fond of GNOME Shell (I’m currently using 3.8). I use Alfred in the Mac world, so I’m used to launching applications with just a few keystrokes. I know that’s possible in Unity, too, but I prefer GNOME’s appearance and quick-switching between applications.

  5. What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?

    If I have to pick just one, I’ll have to go with ReText, since I do a lot of my writing these days in plain text/Markdown. I also rely on SpiderOak and Dropbox to sync my files with my other computers and my iPad.

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    I’m running it on an Acer Chromebook (C710-2833). I’ve upgraded the RAM from the standard 2GB to 6GB (well, usually — sometimes the machine sees the second memory module, sometimes it doesn’t). I’ve also upgraded to a 128GB SSD from the 16GB drive it shipped with.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

Amy Cavender's desktop

Interview conducted December 5, 2013

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

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