3 min read

Different Markdown Editors, And Why I Use Ulysses

I’ve tried various different editors for writing text - iA Writer, MarkdownPad, StackEdit, and of course Vim/Emacs. Here’s why I’ve settled on Ulysses for my editing.
Different Markdown Editors, And Why I Use Ulysses

Since I’ve started blogging I’ve naturally needed more from my editors, in terms of both writing and organisation.

For better or worse, blogging and static site systems seem to have settled on Markdown for formatting input. It has the advantage of being fairly simple to learn and using only normal text characters for formatting.

I’ve tried various different editors for writing text - iA Writer, MarkdownPad, StackEdit, and of course Vim/Emacs. Here's why I've settled on Ulysses for my editing.

Ulysses

It has great Markdown support, but more than that:

  • it integrates with multiple blogging platforms (Ghost, Medium, WordPress and Micro.blog), supporting the extra metadata available on each one.
  • the navigation panel makes it easy to move around what you're writing and see the outline of the work (using the headings)
  • sheets can be arranged into groups and sub-groups, to help with organisation
  • sheets can also have tags and notes added
  • there's a great markup helper in case you forgot a particular tag
  • support for images and other attachments
  • first class iCloud support
  • available on iOS, iPadOS and macOS, so it's available pretty much most places I might want to write. Tie that with the iCloud sync and you can pick up and go.
  • it can export to multiple formats - Word document, PDF, HTML, Markdown, or even straight to ePub.

There’s also a variety of features I don’t use (yet), simply because I haven’t needed to.

I’m going to resist the temptation to take a screenshot of each individual point and just link to the Ulysses app page instead, where they show off each feature at its best.

The features mean Ulysses is surprisingly flexible - while I use it for blogging, I also use it for tracking projects I’m working on. Things that aren’t developed much go in an ‘ideas’ sheet, while others get their own group. Those groups have more sheets inside - for example, a ‘user walkthrough’ sheet for the website in question.

Other options

iA Writer

iA Writer isn’t bad as such. They both have focus mode and the style checking does seem a nice feature.

One downsides for me was that iA Writer doesn’t seem to have any concept of libraries, groups etc. and I use those a lot.

In addition, each supported platform is purchased separately so it would cost me $60 to use both Mac and iOS. Ulysses isn’t priced per platform, and is even included in the Setapp subscription.

StackEdit

StackEdit is actually very good. It has a nice smooth UI, good integration with other sites, and it’s free software. It lacks some of the features like tags, but the features it has work well. I have a private instance that I use sometimes.

One feature that is lacking is direct publishing as Markdown - publishing expects to export to HTML or Jekyll format. If you want Markdown you have to export the file.

MarkdownPad

Briefly - it’s Windows only and has a very outdated UI, which makes sense since the last update was in 2014.

Vim

Vim using the preview plugin is surprisingly good. When you start the preview the settings are to open a page in your default browser, which is kept in sync as you type. A lot of the behaviour can be changed.

It doesn’t just preview Markdown, but understands formats like PlantUML as well. I suspect that without Ulysses I’d be using this plugin to write posts, along with NerdTree and other plugins to keep things organised.

Emacs

Yep, I did try it! No simple way for a live preview. I’ve never found Emacs a great fit for the way I work anyway (and the key chords hurt after a while), so I didn’t spend a lot of time here.

The end

Well, that’s it really. I just wanted to share with you about a tool I’ve come to use increasingly often as time’s gone on. :-) Probably next time we’ll be back to coding in some form or another…