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Markdown, you beauty!

When copy pasting from browser into editor messes up the fonts, when there is very little scope for version controlling documents, when the looks and content of documents are so unfortunately sitting on top of each other, you know you have the wrong tool. I ripped my hair apart and sweared by God; I was never to touch rich text again. No Microsoft Office, no Libre Office, no Pages. But I had to write, and write a lot. He listened, and sent Markdown on Earth. I have been in love ever since.

I use Markdown for formatting emails, technical documentation, personal notes, this blog's content, and everything in between. If you have not heard of Markdown yet, you are missing out on a revolution. Go read about it; I would be waiting here. For me, the killer advantages of using Markdown are these

  • Version control: Most rich text documents are binary files and have a lot of meta data along with the actual content. Putting it short, it is difficult to use a tool such as git to version control rich text documents.
  • Portability & Future proof: If you use Microsoft Word for maintaining your documents, you would almost always have to use Microsoft Word. Its a proprietary format => you are locked in. I feel sorry for you.
  • Ecosystem: At its core, Markdown is simply a markup syntax. What's the big deal? Even you & I could have come up with something similar. The crux is its universality; many smart people use it and they found it worth their time to build some amazing tools around it. Its these tools which makes Markdown the ultimate markup syntax. Read on to know the tools which have enriched my writing experience; you might just want to try them out!

Markdown Logo

Pandoc

Pandoc is a command line tool which helps convert files from one markup language to another. It is super powerful, though I typically use a small subset of pandoc's functionality: converting Markdown to Latex (and eventually to pdf). Pandoc has its own dilect of Markdown, (similar to Multimarkdown) which adds certain goodies such as tables etc. Give it a shot:

pandoc hello.md -o hello.pdf

Pandoc is way more versatile. If you are an extremist, you can also make presentations in it. If you were to write a book, give Pandoc a serious thought.

Markdown Here

Reading (long) emails has always been laborious, mostly for the monotonicity of raw text. I exchange dozens of emails everyday at work; most of them being technical, and these mails often contain small code snippets. The plain text in the mails would have otherwise made my life very dull. Luckily, I stumbled upon Markdown here, a browser plugin which renders markdown formatted emails.

Static Website Generators

Simple websites don't really need the multimedia support of Tumblr or Wordpress. Most websites simply host static HTML, Javascript & CSS. This site, for example, runs on top of Jekyll (one of the popular static website generators) & is hosted on github pages. Jekyll takes in markdown formatted files and renders them into neat HTML pages. Static site generators seem to be getting quite popular, especially for hosting blogs. There are several static website generators out there; to name a few: Jekyll (implemented in Ruby), Pelican (implemented in Python), Hakyll (implemented in Haskell).

Sublime Text

I am a recent migrant from Vim to Sublime Text. Two plugins have made sure I stick along with Sublime Text for at least some time to come:

  • MarkdownEditing: For beautifully formatted Markdown text
  • Table Editor: For nice shortcuts to create tables, which otherwise are pain to build by hand

I had heard great testimonials about Byword some time back. Sublime, along with its plugins, provides a similar text editing feel. Here is a screenshot of some text written in Sublime Text in distraction free mode.

Sublime Screenshot

Run, write in Markdown!


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