There’s dozens of writing apps out there, ranging from the basic plain text editors built into your OS to advanced note apps that can store all your text notes, as well as PDFs and a zillion other things. Even if you’re looking for a minimalist writing app, there’s so many right now, it’s hard to choose the best one.
A native app for plain text writing will usually let you edit any plain text file on your computer, and save new or edited files in any folder as you’d expect. You can then copy the file onto a flash drive, edit it in another app, post it on your website, or anything else you want. That’s the beauty of plain text: it works anywhere, and you’ll never have to worry about losing what you wrote as long as you have the files.
Most writing apps online, however, store your text in their own database, making it hard to save what you’ve written as a plain text file and almost impossible to sync to your computer and edit in other apps without resorting to copy and paste. TextDrop is a new web app that turns this totally around, letting you edit and create plain text files in your Dropbox account, right in your browser. All your files are safe and synced with Dropbox, and you’ve got all the benefits of a minimalist writing app in your browser. It’s like a writer’s dream come true.
Online Notes Without Storing Apps in Another App
It’s actually surprising more web apps don’t already support Dropbox. From text editors to productivity tools to office apps, it would seem to make the most sense if web apps would just let you use your own cloud storage. Instead, web apps often make your online creations more locked in and proprietary than Microsoft Office ever dreamed of. That’s why it’s so nice to see web apps that actually work with real files, and make it easy to download the files you’ve created online.
TextDrop excels at this. It’s 100% built around Dropbox; you actually have to sign in with your Dropbox account to signup. It’ll then let you view and edit any .txt file, or actually any file in plain text format (such as HTML, CSS, Markdown, or almost anything else you throw at it). You can search through your files, and create new plain text files with any extension you want. And, of course, you can edit the text right there in the browser. In many ways, it looks like Notational Velocity for your browser, and by extension, any platform on earth, and that’s something I’ve wanted for quite some time.
You’ll need to signup with a Dropbox account, so use your existing account or get a new free one if you don’t have one. After all, with Dropbox’ free limit, you could store a ton of plain text files, so space will never be a problem. You should note that TextDrop will have access to all of your Dropbox files, but they promise to never store or use them other than to let you use the app.
TextDrop is a paid web app, and will cost around $5/year, depending on when you sign up, using a pricing scheme similar to Pinboard. The only problem is, the pricing isn’t obvious until you’ve already authorized it with your Dropbox account. It’d definitely be nicer if they showed the pricing before you signed up. Still, the price is very reasonable, and while perhaps not as cheap as Pinboard with a one-time fee, it’s way cheaper than most apps with monthly subscriptions.
Editing Your Dropbox Text Files
Once you’ve paid, you’ll be sent straight to the app. You’ll see all of your Dropbox folders and files from the top level of your Dropbox account in a browser view on the left, a search bar with a few text buttons on the top, and a preview field on the right. It’s very basic, and again, looks similar to Notational Velocity in style. Browsing through files works as you’d expect: click a folder name to see its contents, and click a file to view and edit it in the right pane. Once you’re in a folder, click the … bar on the top to go up a level, again just like in many file browsers. You can also sort folders and files by name or date, and can minimize the nav bar by clicking the |STATUS| button on the top.
If you’ve already been using an app like Notational Velocity to save plain text notes in Dropbox, then you’ll likely have tons of plain text notes to view and edit. You can use the top search bar to find the file you want, though note that the search will only search file names inside the folder you have open. Once you’ve opened a plain text file, you’ll be able to read it in the right view pane. Then, just click anywhere you want, and start editing.
The writing experience is the same as you’d expect in any plain text editor with a monospaced font. The difference is, you’re editing real text files from your Dropbox, right in your browser, and they’re automatically syncing with your Dropbox account and all of your devices. You’ll notice a small pink square under the date on the file’s name while you’re editing it. It’ll turn fainter pink as it syncs changes, and moments later you’ll see your computer’s Dropbox icon start syncing the file to your computer. I live-previewed a files I was editing in TextDrop today with Marked App on my Mac, and changes showed up in Marked within 5-10 seconds after I’d typed them in the browser. It’s seriously impressive, and you can quit worrying that notes you’ve typed in your browser will disappear or get corrupted by the app.
More Than Meets the Eye
TextDrop has more impressive features hidden away with a few handy shortcuts. You can create new files by typing a new file name in the search bar and pressing Enter. You could even create, say, an HTML or CSS file this way, just by entering the file name you want and adding .html or .css to the end before you press Enter. Then, you can edit a file’s name by double-clicking on its name in the left sidebar. Press Ctrl+Shift+Backspace (or CMD+Shift+Backspace on a Mac) to delete a file, and TextDrop even lets you undelete the file if you pressed it accidentally. Best of all, you can enter the path to the Dropbox file you want to open after the textdropapp.com/dropbox/ in your browser address bar, and can bookmark individual files that way to easily open them.
While TextDrop might not provide as sleek of a writing space as some newer writing apps, it still provides a nice way to write in your browser. You can drag the left sidebar to shrink it, or click the dividing bar to minimize it on the left. Then, take yoru browser full-screen, and you’ve got a nearly distraction-free writing space. TextDrop works great with Markdown formatting, too, and you can even preview your Markdown formatting by pressing CMD+Shift+M. What else could you ask for?
TextDrop isn’t for everyone. For many users, a simplified note app like Simplenote, or perhaps even Typerighter, might be better. But if you like to manage your own files and keep your text notes synced everywhere, TextDrop might just be what you’re looking for. It’s great for writing and editing plain text notes in Dropbox from your browser. And since it works great with Markdown and plain text code files, it’d be great to use in conjunction with a Dropbox powered blogging system like Calepin.
There’s dozens of ways I can think of TextDrop being useful. The only think I can think that’d make it better would be if Dropbox bought it out and integrated it into their web app! It’s that good.