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, January 21, 2014

The Linux Setup - Wolf Vollprecht, UberWriter Developer

Wolf is correct — I did find him via UberWriter, a beautiful Markdown editor. There are lots of Linux tools that work well and there are lots of Linux tools that look great, but there’s not always a lot of overlap between the two. UberWriter looks great and works great. Wolf uses Synapse, an application launcher, within GNOME, which has some built-in launcher functionality, but that lacks the depth and finesse Synapse offers. Wolf’s other ideas for how to enhance GNOME are very interesting, too.

You can find more of The Linux Setup here.

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

    I am Wolf, currently studying mechanical engineering in Zurich. Besides studying, I program desktop applications and websites. I also organize one of the biggest Hackathons in Zurich (together with the people from the Entrepreneur Club). I guess I was chosen for this interview because I am the developer of UberWriter, a quite popular distraction free text editor for Ubuntu/Linux!

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    Because I love free and open source software (FOSS). I think all of us would be better off if the world was a more open place and the best software was readily accessible for everyone.

    I’ve used Macs and Windows in the past, too, but Linux actually outperforms both of them for the tasks I am using it for. Besides that, most of the engineers here use some sort of Linux for work.

    Using proprietary services, like Skype or Facebook, also begins to make me feel really uneasy. I was quite inspired to pursue a FOSS lifestyle by some of the talks from Richard Stallman, too.

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

    I am still stuck with Ubuntu, because it’s the easiest to install and works really well. However, I am in the process of moving at least one machine to Arch Linux to get cutting edge features.

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

    I love GNOME (especially 3.10). They seem to be doing things right. If I want to get super-nerdy, I use i3-wm from time to time. There are two things I would want to have in GNOME Shell (or an additional program) though:

    • Unity’s HUD feature, which is really great for searching through large menus. One of my plans was to use the HUD dbus-service and integrate it into Synapse (another DE-addition that I love and use all the time)

    • a global autocorrect (like OS X has, I think) because I mistype things so often. I believe software should help me out, already! I envision a T9 for computers, but better.

    I also use tiheums icons:

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

    Synapse is one of the tools I depend upon. It’s a super fast and convenient way to open applications and find files. Otherwise, I depend on a mix: Inkscape, GIMP, LibreOffice, Vim, Sublime Text, and Chromium — I depend on all of them equally, I’d say.

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

    I have a Intel i7-4770k on a Gigabyte Mainboard and two Samsung 256GB SSDs. The graphics card is a Geforce 680-Ti which powers a nice 27” Dell monitor and another smaller display. I also use an i7 Thinkpad X1 Carbon for traveling.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?


Wolf Vollprecht's desktop

Interview conducted November 11, 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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