Switching between iA Writer, Ulysses, nvUltra and Panda Bear

If you’re writing in Markdown, MultiMarkdown or CommonMark, you probably are familiar with editing tools like iA Writer, nvUltra (beta) from Brett Terpstra, Panda which is Bear app in an early beta stage, Ulysses and MultiMarkdown Composerpix.

I have all of them on my system, but Ulysses is my favourite editor, especially as it incorporates an update functionality for blog content and a grammar and style checker. Sometimes, though, I want to switch to a different way of working, a different writing environment. Usually, I end up using iA Writer for a while, then switch back to Ulysses.

Lately, however, I’ve been trying out Panda and nvUltra as well and I was curious to see if working in these note taking apps would be efficient and whether they would all update my content in realtime, making it possible to literally jump from one to the other.

Ulysses has its own format that incorporates a number of things CommonMark nor MultiMarkdown are capable of, such as writing to a goal, publishing capabilities, and more. If you want to use Ulysses to publish to WP.com, for example, you will use Ulysses’s markdown if you want the luxury of the app filling in the form fields, such as the excerpt, the tags, categories, etc.

If you use Ulysses in markdown compatible mode, however, you’ll need to fill in the form fields yourself the first time you publish your text to WP.com or one of the other supported platforms. Afterwards, if you want to update the post, you will find the fields filled in as with Ulysses-native content.

iA Writer ($29.99 for the macOS version) supports publishing to some blog platforms as well, but it isn’t as integrated as Ulysses is. iA Writer is a MultiMarkdown editor and its publishing model is much less sophisticated, but it does the job. In other areas, I like iA Writer’s approach better. For example, its spelling, grammar and style checkers operate in realtime. Especially the style checker is fabulous as it greys and crosses out filler text as well as platitudes, while the syntax checker colours adjectives, nouns, verbs, etc. And the best part might be that you can disable them all and/or write your own style patterns to watch out for.

In short, I like to switch between the two even mid-project. That, however, requires both apps to update my content in realtime or at the very least when I’m saving a document.

It turns out that Ulysses — when set to use an external folder in markdown compatible mode — updates content continuously and that allows you to set it up as a sort of central blogging hub for switching as well as publishing your content. And after trying it with nvUltra and Panda, I came to the conclusion switching and updating works across these apps as well but not as elegantly as between Ulysses and iA Writer, and without the publishing part.

The only editor it doesn’t work with is Craft. That is, it doesn’t work now but if Craft would switch its internal format from JSON files to markdown files, I’m pretty certain it will. When it does — or if it will — it will be interesting to know which features are unique to Craft that would justify switching to it from Ulysses and iA Writer.

For example, when I need to include a table in my content, I’ll write that part in Panda because it’s the best implementation of Markdown tables I’ve come across.

The whole idea of this post might sound crazy to you as it obviously requires you to invest money and learning time in multiple editors. If it does, then perhaps I should compare a text editor to a pen. Some people will be happy using a 5-cent ballpoint pen and that’s fine. Others will love to use a Parker fountain pen, while still others will want to switch between a Montblanc, a Pelican and a Visconti, perhaps even using different inks in each of them.

The only difference is that a pen doesn’t have a learning curve, but I can assure you the investment in a Montblanc, Pelican or Visconti fountain pen is many times more costly than all markdown editors combined on the market.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to switch from iA Writer to Ulysses and get this piece published on my WP.com account. Enjoy your day!

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