Multiple Editors And Markdown

I've written many, many times about how much I love writing in Org mode. I write a plain text file that I can then export to HTML, LaTeX, or several other formats. I can even, theoretically, write an Org mode document with some editor other than Emacs. But Org mode isn't the only way of doing this. Another is Markdown a similar system that probably inspired the Org mode mark-up syntax.

One of the advantages of Markdown is that you can use it with any editor. Many editors, including Emacs, even have special Markdown modes that enable highlighting and interface with the Markdown script. I'd certainly be using it if I didn't have Org mode so I read The Markdown Mindset by Hilton Lipschitz over at the The Hiltmon blog with particular interest. Lipschitz gives the usual list of benefits for Markdown: editor agnostic, plain text, flexible, exports to multiple formats, and so on.

But here's what I don't get. Lipschitz goes on about how he writes his programming notes using Markdown in BBEdit, his blog posts using Markdown in Byword, his manuals and related documents using Markdown in Scrivener, and his readme files using Markdown in TextMate. I don't object to him doing this—whatever works for him—but I can tell you for sure that I'd be drooling and babbling incoherently if I tried something like that. After 5 years, I still have flashbacks to Vim and try to go up a line with 【Ctrl+k】 or something similarly hilarious. I simply can't imagine trying to use that many editors. One of the advantages, to me, of Emacs is that I can stay in the same editing tool almost all the time. On my Mac I even have a special file that gives me (mostly) Emacs keybindings so that everything works pretty much the same even when I'm not in Emacs. Love them or hate them, there's only one set of bindings to worry about. (Yes, yes, I know that statement gets muddied a little when considering some modes but it's basically true).

I'd be interested in hearing what others think. Can you easily handle multiple editors routinely the way Lipschitz does or does leaving Emacs to use some other editing tool make you uncomfortable and less efficient?

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  • Jorge

    I have the same problem as you, that is why I stopped using firefox, everytime I tried to cut text I closed the program. No I use conkeror as browser and okular for pdf viewing and put all the keybindings as the ones from emacs

  • Matthew Darling

    I think the difference is how much you utilize the special features of any one editor. If you use Emacs for Emacs-specific features, and not just as a plain text editor, then you'll have trouble with other programs. On my last class assignment, I worked on the project in four different editors (I'm only just starting to use Emacs now). But I was just using them for writing code, so it made no difference what program I was using at the time.

    That being said, I'll happily commit to just one tool and using it really, really well. Hence why I'm getting into Emacs!

    • jcs

      The real difference for me is not so much the special/advanced features but the routine things you need to do in any editor. How do I move the cursor down a line? Over a character? Save a file? The goal is to become one with the editor; to do whatever you need done without thinking about it. Another way of saying it is that the editor commands are burned into your muscle memory. That oneness with the editor is why I found it so hard to learn Emacs after using Vi(m) for years. Now I've trained my muscle memory in the Emacs way (although I do occasionally have one of those flashbacks I talked about) and I would just find it incredibly difficult to use some other editor or application with an editing aspect to it. Doing so routinely strikes me as madness, although it seems to work well for Lipschitz.

  • Alan

    Since it's OS X, many of the keyboard shortcuts are identical across these applications, and many additional features come from services (which are application independents).

    I really enjoy Emacs, which I now use exclusively to write code or text, but I can understand the benefits of his approach. First, some of these applications are very accessible and have great features (such as Scrivener). Emacs is great but mastering its powerful features require some investment. Second, I could relate to the use of different tools for different tasks, not necessarily for their features but because they put you in a state of mind. "Ah, I'm in Byword, so I'm writing a blog post..."

    Finally, Emacs and these applications are great, compared to what I'm going through to write this comment on my iPad!

    • Alan Schmitt

      I really should have read the linked article before commenting here, as the author mentions the mindset argument. So I'll just say I agree about that.

    • jcs

      Since it’s OS X, many of the keyboard shortcuts are identical across these applications, and many additional features come from services (which are application independents).

      Happily OS X lets you define your own keybindings so almost all applications on my Macs use the Emacs bindings.

      Finally, Emacs and these applications are great, compared to what I’m going through to write this comment on my iPad!

      Amen. I feel your pain. The iPad is a wondrous thing but not for editing text.

  • Try keysnail (emacs key binding for firefox)
    And install it's plugin HoK.

  • hi jon,

    am always a bit contrarian… one problem of markdown, as mentioned in one popular blog few years back, is that eventually one outgrow the simple features and want something more systematic and powerful … for me, i stick to simple HTML format… but of course, the html tags are just too hairy and cumbersome to type and read, but if one got template system, it's is actually FASTER to type than any of the simple markdown, yet with features and precision more powerful than any markdown, and display well in browsers. (i accumulated tens of personal lisp commands for html over the years)

    about multiple editors… i used BBEdit from 1991 to 2003, emacs from 1998 to now. (bought BBEDIT, then i became a alpha tester and got a mention in their splash screen scroll ~2000 version). For about 4 years i use both BBEdit and emacs (all with default keybinding). No problem. At the time, i remember having the sentiment that BBEdit is actually faster to use, and not less powerful for all things i need to be done. (was sys admin on solaris at the time)

    today, having ventured in elisp heavily for several years… of course it's a joke to say BBEdit being more powerful (or any editor AT ALL). As for efficiency of operation, i cooked up my own ErgoEmacs keybinding so to me it's much more efficient.

    today, occasionally i open other editors (sometimes Aquamacs Emacs, or Notepad++ on Windows, or plain GNU emacs sans any my init file, sometimes vim). When i'm on these, my mind revert to a basic operation mode: arrow keys, menus. ☺ My use of these are typically no more than 5 minutes once a week.

    • jcs

      One of the advantages of Markdown-like solutions is that you can export to several different formats. Yes, most of the time I want to export to HTML but I can also export to plain text, PDF, LaTeX source, and several others. Org mode, which is what I use, is actually an extension of Markdown which includes things like very easy formatting of tables. I occasionally need to insert an HTML tag manually but mostly Org mode handles everything I need to do

      As for using other editors, my experience is basically like yours. Sometimes you have to use another editor and it's not that you can't but that you have to drop back to menus and arrow keys and other crude navigation means even if the editor has shortcuts. That's really my point: how can you be efficient when you regularly use many editors? I don't know Lipschitz or how efficient his editing is but I know I couldn't use that many editors efficiently.