Lightpaper Brings Some Neat Features to a Markdown Editor

I write in Markdown all the time, the easy-to-use writing syntax conceived of by John Gruber (of Daring Fireball fame). The nice thing about the syntax is that it doesn’t require any one specific app, so web writers can use it with whatever text editor they feel like — including default editors like TextEdit for Mac, which is much more powerful than most of us realize, I think.

That hasn’t stopped the flow of Markdown editors from arriving for Mac, though. Recently, I stumbled upon Lightpaper, which will be familiar to anybody who uses Android. Lightpaper Pro is well known on the Google Play Store, and I even reviewed it on Android.AppStorm. I went so far as to include it amongst the most noteworthy Markdown-equipped Android apps. The real question is: can lightning strike twice for developer Clockwork Engine with the Lightpaper Mac app? Read on to find out if this app is worth exploring, even in its beta state.Like the article? You should subscribe and follow us on twitter.

A Desktop Design

The first thing you’re probably wondering is how the Android design can fare on a larger desktop screen. After all, Android apps aren’t exactly known for their design polish. Thankfully, though, the two apps are almost entirely different from one another, taking only the slightest elements of design (like the typography for the Markdown preview). The folks at Clockwork Engine have taken their Android design and made it into an entirely different beast for Mac.

 

This is Lightpaper for Mac.

This is Lightpaper for Mac.

The Mac app is, first and foremost, fast. It’s a nice place to write in because it feels focused on everything you need for the task, and while a lot of people have focused on minimalist text editors, Lightpaper takes the cake for being one of the prettiest feature-packed editors I’ve ever seen. And, as a bonus, they’ve made it so that you don’t have to know Markdown to use the app’s features. You can highlight text and use the Format menu or some keyboard shortcuts to make changes the old-fashioned way.

Not unlike the Android app, Lightpaper for Mac lets you work with differently-coloured themes. I’m a sucker for Solarized Light themes, so that’s what I’ve ended up sticking with, but if you don’t find any built-in themes to your liking, there’s a Github page where you can find many others to install. The typefaces are also customizable, but they regrettably don’t have access to your full OS X font library and look a little more Android-inspired than I’d like.

I'm a big fan of the Solarized Light theme, which I've made my default.

I’m a big fan of the Solarized Light theme, which I’ve made my default.

The app is split up into multiple panes, which you can easily turn on and off. First is the text editor itself. This is consistent; you can’t turn this off for obvious reasons. You can also toggle a Markdown preview on the right and file navigation on the left. I love the Markdown preview on the right, which I think is a really handy feature, and the file navigation that appears on the left is perfect for anybody working on long form writing in multiple different files.

The app also comes with tabbed writing, so that if you’re working with multiple files at once, you can easily just swap from one open file to the next. I’ve found this tool surprisingly indispensable — I’ve been using it all the time since I got the app, and in a way, it helps me stay focused on what I need to write today. I keep everything running until it’s been posted, which is great as a sort of hybrid todo list and text editor.

The app is split up into panes: on the left is a file browser and the right is a Markdown preview. The middle pane holds your text. The Markdown preview and file browser can be toggled on or off.

The app is split up into panes: on the left is a file browser and the right is a Markdown preview. The middle pane holds your text. The Markdown preview and file browser can be toggled on or off.

There’s a couple really nice touches, too: the app has highlighted syntax, which is great, and even has a special icon in the tabs for unsaved work. Unfortunately, work doesn’t save automatically, although I think that’s the next logical step.

The app also makes logical sense for author writers, too. If you turn off the Markdown preview pane and turn on file navigation, you could potentially get easy access to each chapter of a book as you write. I think it’s great.

Beta Software

That being said, it’s not perfect. I’ve got a couple beefs with Lightpaper, and I’m going to chalk all of them up to Clockwork Engine’s current beta status out of fairness — after all, there are likely going to be more features added and many bugs fixed by the time this hits a 1.0 status.

The full screen mode doesn't quite feel as polished as the rest of the app.

The full screen mode doesn’t quite feel as polished as the rest of the app.

The first complaint I have is that the panes don’t always work. I had to restart the app because the file navigator pane wouldn’t display. Granted, I could have opened the file just by going through the regular menu, but that defeats the point of the feature. Little glitches like that aren’t incredibly numerous, but they do happen.

Secondly, the Markdown preview pane doesn’t scroll with the text. It always displays the beginning of the article, but you have to manually scroll down to keep up with any later changes you’ve made. As soon as you begin typing again, your preview often jumps back up to the beginning of the article, again making it a moot point. But this is a bug — not a feature.

I wish that the Font options were more diverse.

I wish that the Font options were more diverse.

Finally, there are a couple things that I wish were actual features. For example, I prefer OS X to check my spelling as I type. That helps me edit on the fly, and it keeps me from making really foolish mistakes. I have to select this setting every time I open or create a new file; I can’t make it a default. (By default, spelling will only be checked when I tell Lightpaper to check it.) I also wish that the keyboard shortcuts were a little easier. I don’t know if I’m used to the way those other apps do it, but every shortcut in Lightpaper feels like it takes one too many keys compared to the competition.

The Distraction Free Mode is nice, but I wish it wasn't quite so buggy (the bug is pictured here).

The Distraction Free Mode is nice, but I wish it wasn’t quite so buggy (the bug is pictured here).

There’s also a Distraction Free mode that bears some mentioning. It doesn’t work quite as well as it does with other popular text editing software, and is a little buggy as well. When it does work, it works as you would expect for the most part. While I’m writing right now, every other paragraph is greyed out and I’m left only to focus on my current words. However, Markdown syntax highlighting is turned off in Distraction Free Mode, and the red lines signifying a spelling error remain as visible as ever when in Distraction Free mode — so text is almost invisible, but spelling mistakes are clear as day.

Again, to make it clear, these are growing pains for Lightpaper. They’re part and parcel of a beta app. The real questions should be about the overall writing experience. While Lightpaper might be flawed, it’s also bringing something new to the table. It looks similar to some coding apps I’ve seen, and it just feels good. The typeface is a little robotic (not surprising, considering its Android legacy), but at the same time, it feels friendly. While I’m not sure I’d want to write the next American novel in Lightpaper’s interface, it’s perfect for web writing.

Final Thoughts

Lightpaper is buggy. If this was a bug-free product that did everything naturally without any setup from me, I think it’d be as close to perfect as any Markdown text editor could ever be. That being said, it’s not there yet. It’s not ready for prime time. But for those of us who are early adopters, it’s worth checking out.

Something about the writing experience in Lightpaper makes it easier for me to focus. It’s not the Distraction Free Mode, and it’s not the Full Screen view. In truth, I barely use either of those because they largely feel like gimmicks. But the app does feel fresh. While using it for the past couple days, my writing productivity has skyrocketed by about 200%. If this weren’t a free beta, I’d pay good money for that kind of improvement. And while I’m not sure if I can blame it on my morning coffee recently or on this app, I will say Lightpaper is more than worth trying.


Summary

Lightpaper brings some really get ideas and customizability to the table and, while it's not perfect, it's well worth checking out for anybody looking to tweak their productivity and writing workflow.

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