Multiplatform Text Editors and the Cloud

Updated 20-Sep-2023

> Note: These days it comes down to Atom on the desktop, on the web, and Writebox on iOS (this app is no longer in the appstore, but still works great).

Editing code, text bits, and larger documents is a bit of a pain these days with multiplatform and cloud synchronization becoming more important. In addition, there is the whole editing layer, including access control and revision tracking, not to mention distribution of the final (or draft) bits of content, including RSS, social media, and commerce/fulfillment (selling ebooks and printed books).

Gone are the days when Microsoft Word is good enough, and tools such as Google Docs/Google Drive have limitations (though Google Drive and Dropbox are indeed useful in certain contexts).

What is a writer/editor/publisher to do? Make some decisions, as follows.

Other Articles on Editors

Requirements for Editing and Editors

As with this post on notetaking and to do lists, the requirements are similar:

  • Multiplatform: OSX, Web, iOS, Android
  • Ease of use: Fast to use/access, no advertising (willing to pay for this)
  • Future proof: Cloud syncing, plaintext files
  • Affordable: Under $60/year ($5/month) total (all apps and any subscriptions)

As well, need to be able to run the editors on multiple computers simultaneously and be aware of changes so there is no overwriting. Though a manual reload is ok for now, there should be no corruption of files, and everything needs to be plain text.

In addition, a major goal is combining editing features so that random text and configuration files, full-blown documents and books (in Markdown), as well as programming source code editing is done by a single editor. Obviously the editor on OSX, Web and mobile operating systems can have different functionality, but there should be some kind of compatibility or cross-platform user experience that is pleasant, or at least not unpleasant.

This has been achieved in Simplenote, nvALT and FlickNote in the case of notetaking/to do lists. Finally, some way of easily browsing between files and within file fragments, including dragging and dropping paragraph or chapter-level chunks. A tree view of documents would help a lot with the interface of Calibre as well, which should be ultimately replaced with the editor of the future.

Best Editors

This of course is a contested space but a reasonable discussion can be found, which at least provides the proper list:

(Note: Xcode and Eclipse are venerable standards, but have gotten long in the tooth, and frankly are not as interesting.)

  • Coda 2 with a useful iOS app as a test display as well as a lite version of the editor
  • Sublime Text 2 with the Sublime Text 3 in private beta as of June, 2013 with a public beta to be released soon.
  • Update 20-05-2014 I've now completely moved off of Sublime Text (after paying for a license) as the zero support for Indic Fonts aka South/Southeast Asian Fonts such as Myanmar, Thai, Lao and Khmer. Also there are just too many warts on that toad, and the developers simply do not have the same goals. The increasing stability of Atom and Brackets (mentioned below) and other options such as Zed as well as the venerable MultiMarkdown Composer for text (not code).

Note the use of Marked an OSX App for building markdown files. As well, the various additional Markdown tips and tricks for Sublime Text and unofficial documentation.

  • Update 20-05-2014 The need to have something liked Marked, which costs money, because a text editor can't display rendered markdown or even print, is absolutely ridiculous. I'm looking at you sublime text.

I already use TextWrangler as the go-to editor and also MultiMarkdown Composer.

  • Update 20-05-2014 No more TextWrangler. Atom is primary these days (though that tends to alternate with Brackets and I am trying out Zed.

Cloud and Mobile-centric Editors

There is also the cloud-only option, as well as mobile and web/mobile:

  • Web-only Cloud9 integrates nicely with Github, is code-editing focused - Update, Zed replaces this (and better as open source and free)
  • Byword has iOS and OSX with Markdown support
  • is a promising multiplatform (OSX, Windows, Linux, iOS with Android in beta)
  • WriteBox has iOS and Web App (and WriteBox Chrome App)
  • StackEdit Web App and StackEdit Chrome App is a Markdown editor.
    • Note that there is a new Stackedit Beta which has more functionality (updated 20-05-2014)
  • Hashify simple web markdown editor
  • Draft Android markdown editor with Dropbox support (but can see only one directory from inside the app, though can open any file from Dropbox into Draft), another is LightPaper Pro, again with some limited Dropbox support.
  • CodeEnvy IDE
  • Edity
  • jsBin supports markdown as well as other collaborative options, looks to be fantastic for the code-editing-centric crowd (updated 20-05-2014)

Doing Cloud Right

The cloud is a big pain point these days. Even for things like Dropbox on iOS, most apps do not do cloud correctly. The cloud should be transparent (aka a cloudless sky, or invisible clouds). From a cloud service, such as Dropbox, the app should be present (as in Open With...), and from inside the App the cloud should be present (aka browse Dropbox, open, create files and folders, navigate files and folders, etc.).

The cloud is also across other cloud applications, such as Github. And the cloud itself should be web enabled, namely cloud services available through browsers.

Decisions, Decisions

Actually, I've got to postpone this decision and spend more more time with Sublime Text, Coda, and all the rest...

  • Update 02-Sep-2013 there is now an enormous list of 78 tools for Markdown Editing on Mashable
  • Update 30-Apr-2014 there are two more editors of note, both non-cloud but excellent at their niche:
    • Atom is a replacement for SublimeText (Github public source project)
    • Brackets is a replacement for Dreamweaver? (Adobe open source project)
    • Note especially that Atom is for OSX only (currently) which is curious, but ultimately makes sense, as the target market for this is not the vim/emacs crowd but the OSX folks trapped in textmate/sublimetext
  • Note also that by cloud integration these days, besides browser/chrome-based apps and web apps, everyone really just means Dropbox integration (or in some cases, Github integration)