I didn’t use to be a fan of Markdown, a plain-text syntax that’s designed to be easy to write and read while letting you easily publish to HTML. I write to HTML for several blogs and websites, but I’ve been fluent enough in that language over the years to be comfortable typing the code directly. (I also use a number of TextExpander shortcuts to handle some of that code for me, so I don’t need to remember the details of certain tags.) In addition, Markdown handles only a subset of HTML tags for styling text, and I often need other, more-complex tags. But if you’ve read my reviews of Mac writing apps here at Macworld, you may have noticed that I’ve slowly been coming around to Markdown—for much of what I write, it does what I need with little complication.
These days, many Mac writing apps support Markdown, though they handle Markdown code in different ways, and they offer different approaches to HTML previews—from showing a preview in a separate window, to showing text and previews side by side in the same window.
The Soulmen’s $45 Ulysses III (Mac App Store link) takes a different tack, showing styling right inline with your text: When you apply styling to a bit of text—such as the italics on the word “with” just above—Ulysses shows the text in the style you’ve applied, with the style-syntax characters displayed in a lighter or darker color (depending on which theme you use).
Roman has covered technology since the early 1990s. His career started at MacUser, and he's worked for MacAddict, Mac|Life, TechTV, PC/Computing, and Windows NT Systems. More by Roman Loyola
Whenever the fans in my MacBook Pro suddenly rev up, I use the built-in Activity Monitor app (Applications > Utilities) to see what’s going on. But I’ve often wished for a quicker and easier way to check my Mac’s activity than having to open Activity Monitor.
The free System Lens (Mac App Store link) offers a compromise: It resides in the menu bar, and when you click its icon, you see a snapshot of which apps are actively using your computer’s resources.
Shawn Blanc lives in Kansas City with his wife Anna, their sons Noah and Giovanni, and two green couches. He is a creative-director-turned-full-time-writer who works from home publishing several tech- and design-centric websites. More by Shawn Blanc
LaunchBar, the keyboard-based app that offers a faster way to open the applications and files you use most, started 20 years ago as a folder full of shell scripts that could be triggered by a specific abbreviation typed into a Terminal shell. It was clever, but clunky. It didn’t take long, however, for the developers behind LaunchBar, Objective Development, to realize that their folder full of scripts would be much more powerful as an actual launching application—as a bar that helps you launch things—with an index of everything on the computer, thus allowing the app itself to figure out what it is you’re searching for.
That’s how LaunchBar was born, and it was immediately useful. Today, however, LaunchBar, recently updated to version 6, is the single most important utility I have installed on my Mac.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. Since then he's covered most of the company's major product releases and reviewed every major revision of iOS. In his "copious" free time, he's usually grinding away on a novel or two. More by Dan Moren
These days, though I seem to get more and more of my news through Twitter, I haven’t yet been able to ditch RSS, in large part because there’s something about it that still feels comprehensive. Still, I’ve been looking for a better RSS experience on my Mac, and I’ve alit upon Silvio Rizzi’s new Reeder 2 for Mac ($10; Mac App Store link), an update to the original Reeder for Mac.
Built around a multi-paned interface, Reeder presents a logical hierarchy of RSS: At the far left are your accounts—you can connect to one or more feed-syncing services such as Feedly, Feedbin, FeedWrangler, and Fever. (You can also, if you prefer, use Reeder without using a sync service, as long as you don’t need to sync between multiple devices.) For each account, you can specify settings such as the frequency of retrieval, how items are marked as read, subscription sorting, and more.
I’ve written about a number of “focused-writing apps” for Mac—text editors that let you focus on your words, shutting out other computer-based distractions. Tanmay Sonawane’s new $10 Write (Mac App Store link) brings that same philosophy to a note-taking app. With Markdown support and the capability to share texts in a wide variety of formats, Write offers some powerful text-editing features wrapped up in a note-taking context.
Write offers a single-window interface. Along the left-hand side of the window is a list of locations where you’ve stored files. If you want to use the companion iOS app and sync your documents between iOS and Mac, you’ll want to opt for Dropbox or iCloud, but you can work with files in any folder (including folders that sync with other cloud services, such as Google Drive or Box). You can also work with files in multiple locations, so you can maintain separate folders for, say, work and personal notes.
The middle (Notes) column lists the notes in the selected location, along with a short preview of each and information about its size and when it was last saved. The large editor pane on the right-hand side shows the text of the selected note. (You can open a note in its own window, by right-clicking it in the Notes column and choosing Open in New Window, but doing so is purely optional.) Write also offers a full-screen, distraction-free mode that you access by right-clicking a note, or by using the View menu.
At the office, I have a MacBook Pro hooked up to an 1TB LaCie drive. I’ve partitioned that external into two volumes: one for Time Machine, the other for maintaining a bootable clone of the MacBook’s hard drive.
Such a setup is not particularly unusual. Nor is the minor hassle of disconnecting that drive from my MacBook whenever I want to take the laptop to a meeting or home: I switch to the Finder, scroll down to the Devices section of the sidebar, click the Eject icon next to one of those external volumes (or, if I remember, press Command+E), then click the Eject All button in the subsequent dialog box. If I forget to do all that, I’m rewarded with two more dialog boxes chastising me that the volumes were not ejected properly.
As I say, in the grand scheme of things, the process is a minor hassle. But I unmount (or forget to unmount) those two volumes frequently enough that the hassle turns into a headache. I’d like a quicker, easier way to unmount external volumes without giving OS X fits.
Serenity has been writing and talking and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, writes, acts, sings, and wears an assortment of hats. More by Serenity Caldwell
When I chatted with Adobe a few weeks back about the Adobe Voice app, an Adobe engineer noted that the frustrating thing with presentation software such as Keynote or PowerPoint is the sheer amount of customization you feel like you must do before making your very first slide. Like Voice, Unsigned Integer's $20 Deckset (Mac App Store link) aims to remove this obstacle while making it easy to create clean, attractive presentations. But unlike Adobe’s iPad creation, this Mac app goes about the task in a very different—and delightful—way.
Though it offers eight beautiful themes for your presentations, the majority of your visual work with Deckset is done outside the app, in your favorite plain-text editor. That’s because Deckset uses basic Markdown syntax to style your text to your theme. Deckset’s formatting will be easily familiar to those with Markdown experience, and for those unfamiliar, the app offers a great tutorial—in, of course, slideshow form.