Icon of MultiMarkdown editor WriteA new Markdown & MultiMarkdown editor for Mac OS X appeared on the scene. It’s called „Write“ and I beta-tested it a couple of months ago. I really like most of it but there are a few things to be optimized, too. Check out my first impressions.

I’ve tested and used loads of Markdown editors / tools / apps in the past. My current setup for writing in Markdown on the Mac is the combination of Byword and Marked. I can’t live without Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown features anymore (meta tags, tables, easier links, enhanced image tags etc.) so I need an editor that’s capable of it. Like Byword (which, btw, will have a new release soon).

Praise

Write from Tanmay Sonawane fully supports the latest incarnation of MultiMarkdown, version 4, and that’s awesome! What really amazed me was the fact that this enables beautiful math formula writing without all the TeX / LaTeX installation hassle by using MathJax! 🙂
Just include this meta tag at the top of your MultiMarkdown document:

HTML header: <script type="text/javascript" src="http://cdn.mathjax.org/mathjax/latest/MathJax.js?config=TeX-AMS-MML_HTMLorMML"></script>

… and then write formulas in your document like this:

Example of math within a paragraph --- \\({e}^{i\pi }+1=0\\) --- easy enough.  

And an equation on it’s own:  
\\[ {x}_{1,2}=\frac{-b\pm \sqrt{{b}^{2}-4ac}}{2a} \\]

That’s it. MathJax renders that beautifully and you can see the result in Write’s preview mode:

MathJax Test

I also like the layout of Write’s main window with the two columns on the left. It’s not too big of a limitation that you can’t resize those two panes. If you want you can open your file for editing in a distraction free (and optional full screen) mode, too. That’s hip, although I don’t need it.

Write works with Dropbox, iCloud or local files for now. Those are the must-haves and it’s sufficient for my needs. But others may need additional cloud options (like Google’s or Microsoft’s).

Write comes with its own tagging system which, at first glance, seems unfortunate but after you learn that it’s integrated into Mavericks‘ tagging system you’re happy again. That is: tags you set in Write can become Mavericks tags if you like. The other way doesn’t work currently: you don’t see the tags you gave files in Mavericks in Write. Tagging of multiple documents at once is not supported in Write 1.0.

Suggestions

  • Essential: if you’re writing an unordered or ordered list it’s a must that you can press the TAB key immediately after pressing Return to indent the line to a next list level. In Write you have to do this manually and that’s a bit of a pain in the back.
    Also, in case of an ordered list indented new sub ordered lists should start newly with a number 1. And if you press Shift-TAB to unindent the level the numeration should reflect that, too. Have a look at how Byword solved this beautifully!
  • The four icons/buttons in the upper right corner disappear after a short while of writing. This is totally not understandable and irritating. After finishing typing my eyes look at the location where  these buttons used to be and they’re gone! Bad usability. Why? What’s the reason? A more uncluttered GUI? Not working. Still lots of distraction on the screen with the two leftmost columns.
  • Speaking of which … these two columns are fix in width and not hideable. Unless you go into „Pop Out & Enter Full Screen“ mode. But — another usability glitch — how do you get back to the mode WITH the two columns? The same command is greyed out now and doesn’t work. Strange & irritating. Well, turns out that after issuing that command you get your document in a new window that’s full screen by default. If you exit full screen mode you see two windows, one with the two columns the other with your document. Now how do you get back to where you were, i.e., your document in the full fledged window? No way other than closing the window that contains your document and re-selecting it in the „main“ window. Complicated and — again — irritating.
    It’s all too complicated. User interfaces whould be maximum easy.
  • Multimarkdown meta tags should be color coded (syntax highlighting). Love that in Byword. Sets the meta tags in the header visually apart from the real text so that you visually realize that those meta tags won’t be rendered in the preview or export but are more like (functional) comments.
    Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 13.40.01
  • The preview button should be labeled „Preview“ not „HTML“. HTML is a technical term and being a developer myself I understand it. But I guess most potential users aren’t and just want to write texts and preview them. They don’t know about the fact that markdown gets translated into HTML. And they don’t need to know.
  • In Preferences: what’s the „Theme“ for? What’s the „CSS“ for? The one is for the editor, the other is for the preview, I assume. But there’s no explanation. Also, other markdown tools are more comfortable here and allow to select styles from a dropdown list or similar thus allowing for multiple styles (editor AND preview) to choose from. So, no quick switching between a dark and a light theme in Write, currently. 🙁
    Also, what’s the „Theme“ syntax? It looks like CSS but it’s not. What keywords can I use besides those I see in the default „Solarized“ theme?
    On the other hand it’s great that you have full control over the styles because you can directly edit the CSS inside Write. Here, a syntax highlighting feature would be nice, though.
    How about a best-of-both-worlds solution: being able to chose from different styles AND present the currently chosen style in an edit window …
  • Sharing to Evernote is really missing.
  • Little bug: the „Show iCloud folder“ setting was on but there was no iCloud folder visible. Switching it off and back on again helped. This may have only occured for me because I beta-tested Write so it might have been a problem with existing settings .plist files.
  • Favorites aren’t synced from one Mac to the other. 🙁
  • Drag & drop of files between Dropbox and iCloud folders would be a nice to have feature!
  • Speaking of drag & drop: one of the features I love the most in Byword is being able to drag & drop an image file onto the editor and get the Markdown image sytax right away. Not possible in Write 1.0. Really miss that.
  • Also, usability could be better when inserting links. Currently, Write opens a popup window if you press Command-Option-L — and disregards what you had selected. My workflow for inserting Markdown style links in Byword is:
    • Mark the text that should become a link.
    • Get the link into the clipboard.
    • Back in Byword, press Cmd-K.
    • Press Cmd-V.

    That’s efficient, fast, usable, nice, slick. 😉 In Write you have to grab the mouse, click into the first of three text boxes, click again outside of the popup window, … not very efficient.

Conclusion

That much for my first impressions of the released Write version 1.0.1. It might look like I don’t like it very much because of the many suggestions but that’s not true! I really respect Tanmay’s effort and especially the MultiMarkdown 4 support. Write has a huge  potential to become a Bywork killer imho but it’s not there yet. Usability is the key, now that functionality works fine. Just add a few keyboard shortcuts and typing aids (lists!) in version 1.1 and it’ll be great! 🙂