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Saturday, November 15, 2014

SmartDown - a markdown editor for Windows

SmartDown

This is my first use of the of the Aflava software, SmartDown, billed as a minimalist, markdown editor for Windows. I downloaded the trial version (which is due to expire in December). I don't know what the ultimate cost for it might be. But it was mentioned on Outlinersoftware.com, where I often find interesting new software, and I'm intrigued by the quick, zen-like approach to plain text writing.

Let's put it through its paces.

Interface

  • Sandwich icon on top left (file functions, export function)
  • Character and line count at bottom center. Hover the mouse over it and get word, sentence, page counts. That's essential for most of the writing I do.
  • View icons at lower right: pencil for edit, eye for view output.
  • Column size easily changed by dragging.
  • Right click gives usual cut/copy/paste/delete options.
  • Spellcheck tags.
That's it, and so it's a very simple interface, with a pleasant enough gray-blue background. It seems to be close to my essential writer tool chest requirements.

Note: it appears that I can only edit one file at a time. That's too bad.

Editing commands

  • Movement forward and back by word (ctrl+arrow). Check.
  • Delete forward and back. Check.
  • Home and end. Check.
  • Select by shift and cursor movement. Check.
  • Beginning and end of file (ctrl-home/end). Check.
  • Select all - check.
  • Copy/paste - check.
  • Undo - check.
  • Movement by paragraph (ctrl-up/down). No.
All but one of the usual suspects are there.

Formatting commands

This is italic, and this is bold.

Items preceded by a hypen become part of an unnumbered list, as above under "editing commands."

Items preceded by numbers become a numbered lists.

  1. The first item.
  2. The second.

Links

This should be a link to my website. Yep, although I don't see how to then go back to where I was (short of clicking between the view icon and edit).

I am supposed to be able to link elsewhere in the file, too, but I don't quite understand that yet.

Folding

Apparently, anything that follows a heading (line preceded by hashtags) until another heading of the same level or higher can be collapsed simply by clicking on the along the left edge of the window. I guess this includes any other text, until the next header.

Nesting

So if I want to have additional folding under something, I'll need a new section.

Like this

And text under it.

Like so.

But note that the additional "nesting" does not result in additional onscreen indentation.
  • Unless, perhaps, I also add hyphens to cause bullet indentations.
Folding is a very handy way, as in outliners, to collapse onscreen text, allowing one to stay on top of the emerging structure of a piece.

Spellcheck

It works as expected: anything it flags has a wavy red underline. The dictionary files came with the program, based on Hunspell and Chromium dictionary files for English.

Focus mode

I went to preferences and turned on this toggle. All it seems to do is highlight the current sentence. Once one finishes the sentence, it grays out. Not terribly useful for me, I think, and not the "hoisting" feature (pulling an outline level up so that it is the only visible section on the screen) I thought it would be.

Conclusion

I like it. It's fast, easy to learn, easy to use, not a bad place to work. Again, I have a growing preference for elegant software. I suspect there is much more that I could do with this - setting up text snippets, and digging a bit deeper into markdown syntax.

It is often the case that I find good software, but then don't get around to using it much. I don't know what the final cost for this one will be, but it looks promising. And it's always fun to just mess around with new software.

P.S.

Now that my trial version is about to expire, I see that an introductory price has been set: $20. I'm sure it's worth it. After having spent some time looking at other "zenware" type writing tools (particularly SmartMonkey), I think SmartDown is quite good. But I also think that I probably wouldn't use it. I use outliners for complicated things, or LibreOffice for standard documents, and a variety of other apps on other platforms (Workflowy, SimpleNote). My usual discovery is that I don't actually need more tools. I need to spend more time using them.

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