There’s plenty of plain text writing apps on the web. If you need a place to bang out some text, there’s plenty of options. There’s even starting to be a selection of collaborative writing apps, and blog engines that are focused on plain text. It’s a nice time to be a plain text geek on the web.
But what if you want to do more with your text? Perhaps, make outlines, collapse sections, display markdown as you’re writing, and move lines of text around? Then you’ve got to check out Oak Outliner.
Folding Text, Reinvented for the Web
If you’re a Mac user that loves trying out writing apps, then you’ve likely heard of FoldingText. It’s an insanely powerful writing app that, at its core, is just a plain text app that supports Markdown formatting. But it does so much more than that: it lets you quickly create outlines, then collapse and reopen them easily to help you organize your thoughts (thus, FoldingText). And, it lets you keep track of todos in plain text. Oh, and you can make timers, again in plain text. And so much more. It’s one of those deceptively simple yet powerful apps that you have to try yourself to see how useful it is beyond just writing your thoughts down.
Oak Outliner is the first hint of a text editor that powerful on the web, bought to you by the very same team that made FoldingText. It doesn’t do all of that, not yet anyhow, but it’s got the folding part down perfectly. And the markdown part down half-way. At the very least, it’s one of the nicest ways to write up a document online.
It’s also perhaps the simplest web app to get started using. Just go to oakoutliner.com, select all of the welcome text and delete it, then start typing. Close the tap, and then visit Oak Outliner again, and everything you typed will be there as it’s automatically stored in your browser’s local storage. No accounts needed, and you don’t even need to be online to keep writing. It’s in your browser, but saved on your local computer.
But if you’re just writing without using Oak Outliner’s special features, you’d be missing out. All you need to do is hit tab to indent a new line and start writing. Hit enter, and the new line is indented as well. You can add number, dashes, asterisk … or just write in plain lines of text without anything special specifying your outline. You can even press tab again to indent further, adding subpoints or notes to your outline.
Now, it’s time for the magic. Press CMD+, or CTRL+, to fold your outline, condensing it to just your outline heading. Press it again – or the small … icon – to reveal everything again. Want to move stuff around? Press CMD+U to move a line of text up in your outline, or CMD+D to move it down. Press CMD+R to indent a line further, or CMD+L to un-indent a line.
There’s even more. You can include Markdown formatting for bold and italics, or add links that’ll automatically turn into hyperlinks. You can select parts of your outline using Option+CMD+up or down. And when you’re done writing, a quick copy/paste will get your text into the app you need.
There’s an awful lot of nice little touches as well. There’s the built-in right-click menu for quick access to Oak Outliner tools, as shown above. There’s also formatting marks that’ll show up when you select text, but will be invisible normally, just like in the new Ulysses III for Mac. And then, even if you have text hidden (or should we say folded), it’ll still be copied if you select the folded area when you copy from Oak Outliner to another writing app.
The fun thing is, this is just what’s ready for us to use today. Oak Outliner technically isn’t even fully released to the public yet, even though it’s already open for you to go try out today (and you absolutely should). According to the FAQ, there’s a paid version with extra features coming in the future. And that’s not all.
Oak is one part of our bigger goal.
The most interesting thing about Oak Outliner is the team behind it: the same team that made the legendary WriteRoom full-screen writing app for the Mac, that’s perhaps the biggest reason minimalistic writing apps took off in the first place for any platform. Led by developer Jesse Grosjean, Hog Bay Software is easily one of the most innovative teams for plain text writing apps. Their stable of apps includes the aforementioned WriteRoom, as well as TaskPaper (a plain text todo list app), QuickCursor (to let you edit text in in app with your favorite text editor on your Mac), and most recently, FoldingText (a writing and outlining powerhouse app that also includes todos, a timer, and so much more).
That’s the legacy behind Oak Outliner, which itself is only the beginning of Hog Bay’s web presence. They’re planning a “group of productivity apps that work together and all use simple plain text formats”, along with a major update to FoldingText — and Oak Outliner is the place where they’re testing their ideas.