We recently asked TidBITS readers to vote for their favorite word processors (see “Vote for Your Favorite Mac Word Processor,” 10 July 2017). Although the results were useful, many people made it clear that they have traded traditional word processors for apps that support the Markdown text markup language, originally designed by John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame.
Markdown, which took some of its design cues from the setext markup language that Adam Engst helped Ian Feldman develop 25 years ago (see “TidBITS in new format,” 6 January 1992), has become popular over the last decade. It’s plain text, which keeps files small, easily manipulable, and portable across multiple apps on every computing platform. Because Markdown is relatively straightforward and standardized, Markdown files can easily be converted to other formats, including HTML for posting on Web sites, RTF or Word’s .doc for importing into word processors, and even LaTeX for scientific writing.
Clever Mac developers have created numerous editors that go beyond the basics to assist in writing and editing in Markdown, and that’s where we’re going to direct our attention in this week’s survey. As always, we have to focus, so we’re considering only apps that meet these criteria:
- Must be a native Mac app with a menu bar, Dock icon, etc. We aren’t considering apps that you access only inside Terminal, but Mac adaptations of Unix apps are fine. Also, no iOS-only apps and no online-only apps.
- Must have features to help write and preview Markdown. These features can be either built-in or come via a plug-in or extension.
While Microsoft Word was unquestionably the 800-pound gorilla of word processors, we have no sense of which Markdown editors will stand out in this survey. BBEdit is likely the best-known text editor on the Mac, and it can colorize and preview Markdown-formatted text files, but it’s probably used more commonly by programmers and Web developers.
We also included Mac adaptations of two Unix mainstays: Emacs for Mac OS X and MacVim. We bent the rules slightly to include MacVim. While Emacs has a plug-in that adds Markdown previews, MacVim’s plug-in adds only Markdown syntax highlighting.
You may be as surprised as we were by some of the apps that made the list. Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code can apparently be transformed into a top-notch Markdown editor. Likewise, we think of Coda and Espresso primarily as Web development apps, but they turned out to be decent Markdown editors in their own right.
Now it’s time for us to turn to you, the TidBITS reader, and ask you to share your opinions about the Markdown-capable text editors you have used on the Mac. We’ll collect and summarize the results, as we’ve done for other software categories in the “Your Favorite Apps” series. The survey is embedded at the bottom of this article on our Web site or you can navigate to it directly.
Notes on Ratings — A few important notes before you start clicking your answers:
- Please rate only those apps with which you have significant personal experience. That means weeks or months of use, not something that you launched once before discovering that it lacked a feature you need. Don’t enter ratings for apps you haven’t used.
We’ve listed a lot of apps in the survey, but if we missed the one you use, let us know so we can add it. To keep this manageable, we’re focusing on Markdown-capable text editors for the Mac. Please don’t suggest Web apps, apps without notable Markdown functionality, iOS-only apps, or anything that’s not in active development. There’s nothing wrong with such apps, but we have to draw a line in the sand.
Some apps will get more votes than others, so when looking at the results, take that into account. A lot of votes may indicate popularity (or a successful attempt to game the system), but an app with just a few highly positive votes is still worth a look.
Ratings don’t give a complete picture, so feel free to say what you like or don’t like about apps you use in the comments for this article; we’ve seeded the top-level comment for each app, and please keep your thoughts within the appropriate comment thread. Searching for the app name will be the fastest way to find it.
You can see the current results below the survey, and we’ll report on them next week, calling out those apps that garner the most votes and have the highest ratings. Thanks for the help!