When I first discovered Markdown and shortly thereafter MultiMarkdown, I instantly fell in love. Almost overnight writing workflows and tools were transfigured. They became more streamlined and ubiquitous.
Therefore, when news surfaced that Fletcher Penny was readying the release of MultiMarkdown Composer 2, I was antsy to get my hands on it. The wait was a long one… but well worth it!
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Look And Feel.
When starting Composer for the very first time, you’ll be greeted with a view very similar to that what we’ve come to expect from this type of application: a main window split vertically, showing both editor and preview. The similarities to other editors, however, end there.
Composer also has three HUDs that provide additional information and functionality:
- Information HUD – Shows word, character and line counts, either for the entire document or selected text
- References HUD – Holds the various reference entries found in your document (links, images, footnotes, etc.). You can search for a reference entry and double clicking or dragging an entry to the editor window will insert it into your document
- Table Of Contents HUD – Holds a live outline of your document, which can easily be searched and navigated (clicking on an entry will navigate both editor and preview to that section). Additionally, you can drag and drop entries in your TOC to rearrange the document structure. As is the case with the References HUD, dragging and entry into the editor window will create a link to that section of the document.
Composer has a rather powerful syntax highlighter under its hood which can be fully customised by means of Styles. Although the bundled styles aren’t very appealing in my opinion, it’s easy enough to fashion one to your taste. If however that isn’t your thing, styles from other users are starting to surface already.
The style I’m using can be found here.
Smart Editing Features.
Unlike most other text editors, where MultiMarkdown seems to be an afterthought, Composer was designed with it in mind. This becomes immediately apparent once you start using it. The app is teeming with clever little features that make editing MultiMarkdown a much smarter affair.
To aid you in getting your words down as efficiently as possible, Composer will autocomplete pairs for you as well as automatically format lists, code blocks and block quotes. You can also just as easily toggle between list types with a single keystroke.
Tables in Composer are truly smart and working with them is – dare I say – a sheer joy. Start your table, type a header, hit tab and immediately a new | is inserted for you. Once you’ve entered all your headers, hit enter and Composer will complete the alignment row and place your cursor in the first cell. If the cell contents grow wider than the header then the app will shift everything so that it remains neatly aligned and readable.
The magic doesn’t stop here though. Composer allows you to paste tab separated values as either a table or table rows. This means you can easily copy a content from a Spreadsheet app, paste it as a table and Composer will format it correctly.
Lists Are Fun Too.
Creating lists is just as easy and magical. Either select some text that is already on your page and hit ⌃⌘L turning that text into a list item. Hit that very same key combo and it will toggle list type. As happens with many other apps, when you move on to the next line, Composer will continue the list for you. Additionally, you can paste any text as a list, either bulleted or enumerated.
Other Smart Tidbits.
Besides the already mentioned options, you also have Paste As Blockquote. Selecting some text and hitting ⇧⌘B or ⇧⌘I will turn the text Bold or Italic respectively. Creating a Markdown formatted link is a simple matter of selecting text and pasting a URL.
Now while Composer is smart enough to aid you in creating properly formatted lists, tables and metadata, you may have some legacy text where that isn’t the case. Selecting that text and choosing Format>Cleanup Selected (List/Table/Metadata) will correct this.
For those that prefer keyboard shortcuts over mousing around, Composer delivers. You can navigate between sections of your document, increase and decrease your selection ranging from word, line, paragraph or entire document and shift text up, down, left and right, all with a few keystrokes.
Import And Export.
Getting text in and out of Composer has clearly received as much thought and attention as did every other aspect of the app. Composer supports most text files (txt, md, mmd, ft, etc.) and additionally opens OPML outline files. When importing an OPML file, each node is a heading section and notes attached to a node are text under that specific section. This is without a doubt one of Composers “killer” features. It just makes it that much easier to get from brainstorm/outline to final text. OPML is also amongst the many export formats that Composer supports, as are MultiMarkdown Text Format, HTML, rtf, LaTex, PDF, Word and OpenOffice Document.
Exporting to PDF relies on Web Preview so you need to have it open in order to export to PDF.
As great as it’s been to work with Composer 2, there are a few minor quirks that I feel need to be ironed out, in order for it to reach awesomeness!
- Automatic Pairs – This s a great feature with a single flaw: when deleting the initial pair, the second remains. I would expect that when deleting the first pair the second be removed as happens in other apps with a similar feature.
- Info HUD – I would have liked to see was smarter info panel with a more consistent behaviour. Currently, metadata and ending # in headings are included in the word count. On the other hand, it doesn’t count the URL part in a link as an extra word (which is correct in my opinion).
- Preview – Live web preview also exhibits inconsistent behaviour when dealing with images. In some cases it shows the image correctly whereas in others it simple shows the dreaded blue question mark.
- Exporting – Both exporting to PDF and printing will retain text formatting of the current style which can sometimes lead to strange results (Solarized will render light text on a white document making it almost unreadable). This is not the case when exporting to rtf, doc, fodt or HTML. It would however make more sense to retain style of the preview when exporting to HTML.
As I stated in the beginning of this review, the wait was long but worthwhile. This is without a doubt an essential app to have in your tool belt if you work with MultiMarkdown. With smart editing features and extensive import/export options, it’s a steal at $11.99.