If you’re looking for a great markdown-powered plain-text writing app, there’s dozens of apps out there — native apps for your device, or web apps that’ll run anywhere. There’s awesomely minimalist writing apps like Typewriter, or newer apps like Draft that make it easy to track your document’s revisions and get others to check your work.
But even if you love web apps, and need something that’ll work on any platform, sometimes apps that run online aren’t the best option. And native apps … well, chances are they won’t run on all the computers you use.
How about something that combines the best of both worlds? That’s exactly what Textdown — an offline Markdown writing app for Chrome — is. Spoiler: it’s really great, too.
Clean Writing, in Your Browser — Even When You’re Offline
Textdown isn’t your normal writing web app. It’s a web app that runs in Chrome, but otherwise, it’s every bit your normal native writing app. You can use it when the ‘net’s down, and you don’t have to worry that you’ll loose anything. It’s the perfect option if you have a Chromebook and want an app that’ll let you write when you’re on the go without an internet connection, but it’s also great for your Mac and PC as a free Markdown writing app that just happens to run inside Chrome.
If you’re already using Chrome, it’ll just take a few seconds to get Textdown running on your computer — in fact, on all of your computers if you have Chrome sync your extensions. Just head over to the Textdown page on the Chrome Web Store and install it for free. Then, click the Textdown icon on your Chrome New Tab page, enter a name for your document, and start writing. That’s it.
It’s great for jotting down some quick notes while you’re browsing the ‘net, or for writing full-length documents. Switch Chrome over to full-screen mode, and you’ll have a focused writing app that’ll rival any native writing app.
Textdown is aimed at making writing with Markdown simple, and it’s truly great for that. You’ve got a clean area to write in plain text, and when you add in Markdown formatting like asterisks or dashes for bulleted points, Textdown will help you out, adding the ending asterisk to the end of your italicized text, or automatically adding dashes to the next line when you’re entering a list to make writing simple.
While Textdown works great with Markdown, and the keyboard shortcuts included make it simple to do everything from entering quotes to setting text as bold, it down’t preview Markdown formatting in-line like you might expect in native apps like iA Writer or Byword on the Mac. But that’s not too uncommon for Markdown editing apps, and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem since you can see a rich text preview of your document — formatting intact — just by hitting CMD+P. It’ll auto-update as you’re writing, giving you the flexibility of a two-column writing app, or the simplicity of one writing window that still lets you see your previewing when you need it.
And with the rich text and HTML export options only a keyboard shortcut away (all of which can be viewed by hitting CMD+D), along with formatting options and more, you’ll have just about everything you could want.
If Droid Sans Mono at 16px and a light background isn’t your idea of the perfect writing experience, no problem. Textdown has settings for everything you could think of, and more. You can set it to you any font you want, change the font size and line spacing, have it open in full-screen mode by default, tweak the preview CSS and HTML export template, and so much more.
There’s more features here that we haven’t even mentioned yet. You can add word shortcuts to Textdown — similar to TextExpander snippets — that’ll speed up your writing in Textdown by letting you enter something short that’ll expand to a longer text you have to write often. There’s also a built-in calculator so you can perform calculations right inside your document, and you can add your own custom scripts to the calculator. And if you want even more, there’s an extra Textdown Utilities extension that’ll let you open an online file in Textdown, copy images and links into Textdown with Markdown formatting, and let you open documents directly in Textdown on a Chromebook from its file manager.
It’s almost Perfect…
Textdown works great; it’s actually never crashed or lost data in the time I’ve tested it over a number of betas. But, there is one major thing you do need to watch for: you must save your documents to your computer. Before closing your Textdown tab, you’ve got to hit CMD+S or CTRL+S and save the file to your computer, or copy the text out and save it in another app. Otherwise, your writing will be lost.
That’s not a bad requirement, per se, and if you’re writing in Textdown to then paste into your blog’s CMS, you should be good. Or, if you want to write and save your text for later, you can just save the file to your computer with one keyboard shortcut. It just makes it more like a legacy desktop app, and we’re so used to auto-save nowadays that it’s easy to forget. Just to be safe, I’d recommend turning on the Confirm Tab Close option in Textdown’s settings so you don’t accidentally lose work.
There’s two other little things I noticed. First, opening documents in Textdown is a bit awkward: you need to start a new document first, then press CMD+O to open the text file you want to edit. Then, changes will be saved to a new file, not to the original file. Again, not a deal killer, but something to keep in mind.
If you’ve been needing a new plain text or Markdown writing app on any platform, then I’d recommend giving Textdown a shot. It’s free, works great aside from the caveats above, and over the months I’ve been testing it, it’s consistently got better. It’s got none of the downsides of most web apps — like, requiring an internet connection — and none of the downsides of native apps — like requiring a specific OS — which makes it especially useful.
Something else rather cool: it’s opensource, so you can dig in and see what makes it tick at Github, or fork it and make it your own.
Give it a shot, and let us know how you like it. I happen to bet you’ll find it rather useful!