I’m a Plain Text Fan


I’m very much into plain text at the moment. Plain Text[1] is a universal format. Plain text files works on any computer or device operating system.

You can start working on a text file on your Mac at home, continue working on it on your iPhone or Android[2] phone, and finish working on it on your Windows PC at work for example.

Plain text just works.

And plain text files can still be really advanced. Look at the task management app Taskpaper for example. You can do highly advanced GTD[3] with that app and it uses just plain text files.

Or if you know MarkDown[4], you can format a document, blog post or webpage totally in MarkDown. With images, links, bold, italic, lists, tables, paragraphs, blockquotes and much more. All using plain text files.

Plain text files is fast and very small. Hardly takes no storage space at all.


I bought the really beautiful app called ByWord for both my Mac an iPhone. With that app you can type in MarkDown code in plain text and preview the marked up formatting. You can export your finished text as auto converted HTML[5] that you can just paste as a finished complete blog post for example. You can also export the finished article as a PDF[6] file if you like. Or to a formatted email that you can send.

All the short commands and buttons to make the MarkDown writing easier on both Mac and iPhone is a huge plus too. And the app(s) is very robust and has never crashed on me. The DropBox and iCloud[7] syncing works flawlessly. You can choose where you want to save it and it autosaves the files on both Mac and iPhone. I prefer using Dropbox[8] because then I can open the files in any app.

I can highly recommend ByWord. It’s the best MarkDown plain text editor I’ve ever used.

Musings & Thoughts:

Summer Seale
I haven’t tried MMD yet, but it’s on my list to learn, actually. But as you know, I use Byword all the time, so it shouldn’t be a problem. =)

I use normal Markdown. =)
I don’t really know what MMD is yet.

Stefan Svartling
MMD is an extension of MarkDown. Supports Footnotes, Image formatting and much more.

Jonas Petersson
I always (well, since the 80ies) use emacs and plain text for taking notes and similar. You can always add markup later if need be.

+Stefan Svartling
The easiness of MarkDown or MultiMarkDown makes it so easy to format plain text and the files still looks really beautiful and easy to read.

Jonas Petersson
To be picky, plain text files these days should by definition be in UTF–8 encoding and there are (minor) issues with newline encoding between UNIX/Windows/Mac. Windows Notepad tends to write files in UTF–16 which is typically twice as big - very silly.

As long as you stick to ASCII characters it doesn’t matter, but I’m 99% sure that the iPhone (just like Android) uses UTF–8 so when you enter say the letter ‘ä’ will turn into multiple bytes. Most modern text editers are clever enough to recognize the correct encoding an the good ones will keep whatever it was. You can try starting a brand new file on WIndows and enter a few ÅÄÖ style characters. Count them and then compare the exact file size. If it is twice of what you expected it is most likely UTF–16…

Jonas Petersson
For most situations it will be fine. However, a UTF–16 file that you put on a website may cause confusion. (And it will certainly take up twice as much space and bandwidth compared to the UTF–8. But, hey - it is still a million times better than a typical Word document!)

+Stefan Svartling
By using MarkDown you usually autoconvert the finished document to either HTML or PDF. I don’t think it’s UTF–16 anymore then. But I’ll agree that the plain text files takes up more storage if so.

  1. Files that contain markup or other meta-data are generally considered plain-text, as long as the entirety remains in directly human-readable form, as in HTML, XML, and so on. The use of plain-text rather than bit-streams to express markup, enables files to survive much better “in the wild”, in part by making them largely immune to computer architecture incompatibilities. Search for more info.  ↩

  2. Android is a Linux-based mobile operating system developed and distributed by Google in conjunction with the Open Handset Alliance. Search for more info.  ↩

  3. GTD is the shorthand brand for “Getting Things Done,” the groundbreaking work-life management system by David Allen that provides concrete solutions for transforming overwhelm and uncertainty into an integrated system of stress-free productivity. Search for more info.  ↩

  4. Markdown is a lightweight markup language, originally created by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz allowing people “to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML)”. Search for more info.  ↩

  5. HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the main markup language for displaying web pages and other information that can be displayed in a web browser. Search for more info.  ↩

  6. Invented by Adobe Systems and perfected over 20 years, Portable Document Format (PDF) is now an open standard for electronic document exchange maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). When you convert documents, forms, graphics, and web pages to PDF, they look just like they would if printed. But unlike printed documents, PDF files can contain clickable links and buttons, form fields, video, and audio. Search for more info.  ↩

  7. iCloud is a cloud storage and cloud computing service from Apple Inc. announced on June 6, 2011, at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference ( WWDC). It stores your music, photos, apps, calendars, documents, and more. And wirelessly pushes them to all your devices. Search for more info.  ↩

  8. Dropbox is a file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc. that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, and client software. Search for more info.  ↩