Most people have started to cringe at the idea of installing yet another text editor on their computer, especially one that promises distraction-free writing environments and Markdown support. It starts sounding familiar to apps like iA Writer, WriteRoom and Byword.
You must keep in mind that the word processor isn’t the tool keeping you from being able to crank out that perfect novel, blog post or tweet. The writing is still ultimately up to you. These are tools and should be respected as such. Getting a better text editor isn’t going to make you a better writer- no more than a nicer hammer, guitar or paint-brush set is going to make you a better handyman, musician or artist.
With those warnings in mind, let me show you around Macchiato, a Markdown-centric text editor.
A Primer on Markdown
In case you’re a bit confused, Markdown is a special language for writing. Instead of writing in HTML, a writer can craft their file in plain text using special characters to denote certain HTML functions. For instance, using the “#” symbol multiple times around a line makes it into a header. Asterisks around a word or phrase emphasize it. In the end you’re left with a still very readable piece of text, which can be easily transformed into a blog post or other written work for the web.
Macchiato supports many of Markdown’s styling options, including bold, italics, lists, underscore syntax, blog quotes as well as in-line and blocks of code.
Processing vs. Styling
One of the few distinctions the developer has made through their very beautiful, simple website is the lack of support of Markdown processing. This application is made to write the text and directly saves out only using .md or the Markdown file format. However, this application will not process your .md files into raw HTML. It won’t even let you save the file out as a .txt format. You could say that Macchiato is a Markdown only application.
Instead of concentrating on parsing the file from the raw text imputed into HTML, Macchiato stylizes the text right in front of your eyes. As you start to use the application and enter text in Markdown format, the text appears the way it would appear online. As soon as you emphasize a word, for instance, it becomes italicized. As soon as you start a new line with the “#” symbol, it jumps to the size and weight to what a header line would be. You get a running live preview of what you’re text will look like, as your editing the raw Markdown syntax, without needing a separate window open like most programs.
Features Beyond Just Markdown Support
One of the few shocking things about this app is the lack of a preference pane at all. Hitting the typical keyboard shortcut to open the preference pane generates an annoying alert sound. Instead of giving you the customization one would expect from a text editor, it has stripped it all away, à la iA Writer.
Macchiato is very much Lion ready. For instance, it supports the Lion fullscreen mode, Autosave feature and Version history tools. All of which are wonderful to have in a text editor.
When in fullscreen mode, the application does eliminate the distractions and notifications most have built into their computers. One thing I particularly like is how in both fullscreen and windowed modes, the word count appears in the top right hand corner.
I really enjoyed using the new Find and Replace system in Lion, which is also implemented in Macchiato. The UI around the Find and Replace toolbar does break a bit in Fullscreen and wide modes though.
Some Gripes and Confusions
There are still some bugs that need to be worked out, as most near 1.0.x apps have.
For example, there are several menu options that have been disabled but still show up in the drop downs. I could never find when there would be a time that the application would let me show a toolbar or customize it for that matter.
There are some built-in options to select text, then apply a bold or italic style to them. On a single select a word-then select a style basis, it works fine. The downside is when you select bold (or italics) without selecting a line and accidentally hit it again to disable, it adds more bold inducing asterisk marks and leads to quite a bit of confusion.
One thing I’m not 100% certain about, but wanted to address, is I feel there is a slight delay to my writing. When I hit the keys there is a minuscule moment before it appears onscreen. I do have the sense that the program is trying to catch up after a while, but it is still just a tad delayed. This is incredibly frustrating and seems to get worse over time. (I did find that a quick Quit and relaunching of the application fixed the delays for a while after.)
Macchiato is a fine application for writing, and I hope that some of the bugs that I have pointed out today will be addressed in a future update. I had a fine time writing this review in Macchiato and really enjoyed the Markdown support and features built into the core of this text editor.
One downside is that Macchiato has no trial available on their website. You’re forced to bite the bullet and download it for $19.99 from the Mac App Store. I found that a bit steep and would love to see a timed trial of some sort available for those who would rather not just try this app on a whim.
I could see Macchiato becoming my go-to text editor for writing (and ousting iA Writer) in no time. However some of the bugs and the lack of .txt support have made me reconsider giving it the “prestige” of being my word processor of choice.
What are your thoughts? Have you given Macchiato some time as your word processor? Also, what are your opinions of the new standard text editor price point of $19.99? With both iA Writer and Macchiato priced about the same, which would you chose?