Why use a dedicated Markdown Editor?

I often get asked why anybody would need a dedicated Markdown Editor like Markdown Monster, which I am the author of. After all, just about any of the many multi-purpose editors out there today provide decent Markdown editing support with basic previewing and syntax highlighting.

So why would you need a tool like Markdown Monster as a dedicated Markdown editor?

That’s a fair question. I use multi-purpose editors most of my developer day. I use Visual Studio Code as my primary text and project editor and I have it open almost continuously throughout the day for editing code and all sorts of text documents. It serves as my project browser, terminal, development tool and general purpose text and script editor. And yes, I even use it to edit Markdown text quite frequently, because frankly the Markdown support in VS Code is pretty damn good — for a generic editor.

So why use a Custom Editor like Markdown Monster?

Editor support for Markdown is great, but in essence editors are just that — generic editors that provide text editing with some additional previewing of rendered Markdown. If that’s all you need — that’s great — an editor will serve you well.

But if you’re using Markdown for more than just writing a short Readme.md in your favorite Github repo, you may find that there are a lot of things that can be optimized while writing Markdown text. Even though Markdown is text centric and can be entered almost entirely via keyboard entered text, that doesn't mean that there aren't a host of optimizations that you can apply to provide a better editing workflow.

With Markdown Monster I’ve optimized what is an optimal workflow for me, which is for the most part is writing lengthy documentation and blog posts that contain lots of image content, code and basic markup.

It provides all of the basic editing features you have in your generic editors so you get syntax coloring for markdown and code snippets, editor text formatting, selection, find and replace etc. But Markdown Monster also provides a host of features that you’re not likely to find in a plain editor.

Here’s a list of a few things that go beyond basic editing features:

Rich Image Support

You can embed images into MM in a variety of ways: Using markdown text, using a smart image dialog that can detect clipboard images and image Urls, pasting images directly from the Clipboard or dragging and dropping images into markdown document directly.

Capture and Embed Screen Shots

MM comes with a built-in Screen Capture tool that lets you select windows to capture. You can run delayed captures to capture mouse cursors and actions (like dropped down menus). If you use SnagIt MM can use it to capture screen content, or you can use trusty old Ctrl & Alt PrtScn to capture a Window or the Screen and then simply paste it into the Markdown document.

Inline Spell Checking

If you’re writing Markdown content you likely are writing text, and that text should be spell checked.

Embedding of Links

MM includes a link dialog that lets you highlight text, click (or press Ctrl-K) and automatically create a link to a URL on your clipboard or by typing in the URL. This often is much faster than manually typing the Markdown link syntax. With MM this becomes Select Text/Ctrl-K/Enter.

Dedicated Markdown File Management

Like editors Markdown Monster remembers last documents open, position etc. But unlike generic editors you are only working on Markdown or documentation in the editor which means you end up ‘remembering’ appropriate files you were working on. This is more critical with writing documents — at least for me.

With generic editors I find I have to constantly re-open documents or folders because I use the editor in all sorts of different contexts all the time. A documentation document I worked on yesterday has long scrolled off my recent list when I get back to it. In MM having a dedicated document editor keeps my recent documents in ready reach either as open docs or at least on the recent document list and I can jump right back to where I was.

Publishing Content to a Weblog

If you’re writing blog posts and you are using a service that uses Wordpress, MetaWeblog API or Medium, you can directly publish your Markdown to the Weblog using the built-in Weblog Addin.

Paste HTML as Markdown

MM lets you convert HTML to Markdown. If you pick up lightly formatted HTML that uses Markdown supported HTML constructs, you can turn that HTML into Markdown simply by selecting some HTML in a browser and using the Paste Html as Markdown menu option to paste it. To be clear, this won’t work with all HTML — any HTML that doesn’t fit within the limited confines of Markdown’s support HTML set is pasted as raw HTML.

Create PDF and HTML Output

You can easily create PDF and HTML output from your Markdown. MM can save rendered HTML as an HTML document either in raw form without custom styling or provide the full content used to render the preview which includes Preview styles. PDF output is statically generated from rendered HTML and makes for an easy, self-contained document that includes all formatting and images. You can also easily see the rendered HTML output or preview output in an external browser.

Customize the HTML Preview

MM uses Web based templates to render the HTML preview. Several different styles are provided and you can easily create your own template that matches whatever target your final Markdown rendered HTML has to be deployed in. Templates are plain HTML and CSS and can be created in minutes to provide you a custom preview template that formats the Markdown output the way you want it.

Templating Support using C# and Razor

MM has support for a C# based Templating Addin (Snippets Addin) that lets you create text expansions for Markdown, including full support for C# scripting via Razor. This lets you create sophisticated scripts to embed content into your Markdown document dynamically.

Extend Markdown Monster via Addins or Commander Addin

Want to enhance MM with your own functionality? Need to do something special in your Markdown documents or simply want a new UI feature that MM doesn’t provide? You can extend Markdown Monster via .NET based Addins with little effort. Alternately you can use the Commander Addin to create simple automation tasks without creating a full blown addin.

A dedicated Markdown editor like Markdown Monster has an API specifically geared towards extending Markdown functionality and the publishing workflow, so the addin creator doesn’t have to deal only with low level editor APIs but a very specific API that works with the Markdown document as well as the environment.

Summary

Generic editors are great, and they are getting better and gaining features all the time. For many basic editing tasks they are perfectly fine. For some people, no matter what other UI crutches there might be that make life easier, a text editor is all they want and need and that’s great. You’re not going to change that any more than trying to a change a command line guy to start using a rich UI tool :-) And that’s as it should be — to each his or her own!

But to me at least there’s something to be said to have a tool that is optimized for a very specific use case. For me that’s writing of long documents of text specifically. Having a user interface that provides lots of little helpful features and support tools makes my life a lot easier.

If you find yourself writing a lot of text in Markdown you might want to check out a dedicated editor like Markdown Monster or others. See if you can’t improve your productivity with a few helpful features that facilitate an optimized workflow for things like image and link embedding, generating HTML output, and performing tasks that actually do something with your markdown other than just writing it. Give it a try — you may find you end up more productive…