Markdown: Case Closed (For Now)

Hey, I promise I will stop posting about MarkDown.

In final news, the most obvious of solution presented itself – online MarkDown editors.

You will need a Power Mac G5 (or other PowerPC machine) with enough oomph to run TenFourFox. Once you have that though, you are good to go.

The first site I recommend is Dillinger.io. It is sleek, elegant, and quick. I have no problem writing in TenFourFox, and the web app lets you export to html, pdf, or even native markdown format. In the column on the left, you write our your code, story, or journal, and the left showcases your work with the appropriate formatting. I like it a lot. The PDF export looks particularly good. You can even integrate it with DropBox and other online repositories. I’m also curious about how you might save sessions across computers.

Another option is Markable, which is also pretty slick and fast. It might even be faster than Dillinger, but there is one downside – no PDF export. You can however export to html. It has a login system, so you can presumably setup a static sort of work environment across different computers.

StackEdit is another nice option that produces really pretty looking documents. On TenFourFox, it is a bit more sluggish though. It seems to have some nice options to create a persistent writing environment, but PDF export is a paid feature ($5/year).

One more – MarkDown Editor is the fastest in browser one I have found so far. It runs very smooth in TenFourFox and would probably run just as smooth on older G4s as well. It’s pretty simple too. There is only a single option to export to HTML, the look of the app is nowhere near as slick, but the thing flies.

There are appear to be others, so if you come across one that works great on your Mac, post it here in the comments so we can share the wealth.

For now, the case is closed. PowerPC machines do have options for MarkDown, offline or online. Now get to writing that great novel and/or code.

— Nathan

Another MarkDown option

My MarkDown search has led to one more possibility, until I can port or develop a more full-featured “Byword” type editor. It’s called TextMate, and it’s pretty decent.

If you need a good free text editor for coding projects, you can’t go wrong with TextWrangler as I suggest on this site. But TextMate is another great option, except that it is shareware. You can still purchase a license for it, maybe even get one free if you work in the academic field. I ended up with a license from an old MacHeist contest sometime ago, so I was excited to be able to give it another go.

The good news is that when you download version 1.5.10 for Tiger or Leopard, it comes with a MarkDown bundle pre-installed. As you write your MarkDown, you can pull up a nifty preview window with a few different styling options to see how your writing looks. You can then export it to html or possibly use other TextMate features to send it to a blogging engine of choice.

Text Mate Screenshot

There appears to be a newer version of the MarkDown bundle, but I am guessing it is only compatible for the newer beta version of TextMate, which is intel only. However, we at least have two legitimate options for writing using MarkDown for the time being. That’s better than nothing.

My mythical search is really for something more like Byword, less a text editor and more of a distraction free writing tool. Stay tuned.

— Nathan

A Fresh Look at LibreOffice Alpha for PPC

I have always had a love/hate relationship with OpenOffice/LibreOffice.

First, a note about the terminology – LibreOffice used to be OpenOffice. A few years ago though, OpenOffice had a change in leadership, and many coders and community developers didn’t like the result and struck out with a new fork. Both software suites are still around, but LibreOffice is the only suite that still offers a build for PPC, even if it is alpha and via a community member.

Back to the love/hate: OpenOffice has existed in several flavors for the Mac, including the somewhat decent NeoOffice (which is no longer available for PowerPC either). I’ve tried to use it, since I generally support the philosophy of open source software and dig free stuff. I did write a big paper in OpenOffice once for grad school and managed through some problems. It wasn’t perfect, but I survived (and graduated). The best thing about open source software is that it keeps alive possibilities for those of us who use these older machines – TenFourFox is the clearest example.

But there is a downside – sometimes, you get what you pay for.

I have always found OpenOffice/LibreOffice to be one of the least visually appealing software suites around, littered with overly complex sets of options, burdened with a less than pleasant (albeit functional) user interface, and offering little that Microsoft Office and Pages ’09 can’t do better in a shorter amount of time. Still, if you needed something free and with a mature feature set, it is definitely worth a shot.

I’ve linked to a set of Alpha builds that I discovered a while back. The most recent is an alpha version of 4.4.0 compiled on the 21st of August. Why not give it another shot?

The download weighs in as a 159 MB dmg file. The suite itself copies over at about half a gigabyte. Not fun, but it’s less than Microsoft Office I bet.

Here’s the start screen that greets you after a brief loading bar:

screenshot of Libre Office

Right off the bat, you can tell this is not the most Mac friendly interface. It is functional and self-explanatory. It picked up an older install of LibreOffice and a single file that I had worked earlier in the year. I’ll focus just on the word processor for now, as I don’t have much use for the other apps in the suite.

Opening up a new text document, we get a fairly familiar looking window:

A basic text document in LibreOffice

LibreOffice doesn’t get high marks for its originality, but again, it is functional. Anyone with any experience with another Office suite will typically understand what is going on here and be able to get to work. The icons and user interface don’t look particularly good on a Mac, but maybe looks aren’t everything. There is always one nagging issue that greets me on every version of LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and NeoOffice that I have used – typing your first word is also greeted with a few seconds of lag. It’s like the app is surprised that you are actually going to type, and it takes a few seconds to catch up and display the words. After that though, things get more responsive.

I hate to harp on a theme here, but the icons and overall look and feel of LibreOffice just don’t do it for me, especially compared to the elegance of Pages ’09 or Mellel. Microsoft Office even looks better than this. There used to be some options to change icons, but I can’t find them in the maze-like preferences pane.

Seriously, just look at this:

Preferences hell

This is why open source software can often be painful. There is just way too much here – way too many options, way too many fiddly things, repeated entries for the same preference sets, and so on. There are literally three “View” groupings under three different headings, which all seem to be the same thing. Clicking on the wrong one crashes the whole app too. Is this a bonus feature?

I am being sarcastic, but I think packages like this would be far more useful to seriously drill down to the few things it can do well and focus on those. NeoOffice made an attempt to produce a more Mac-like LibreOffice by dealing with some of these annoyances. I think the community developers should take some cues from them.

Is it usable on a PPC Mac? Sure, I guess. The thing did crash at least 3 times on me, but it is alpha software. Maybe if I didn’t fiddle with preferences, I could get by just writing what I needed. It’s an option, and it’s good that someone is trying to keep this viable for us few Power Mac users. In the end, though, I do think part of what makes the Mac unique is a sense of design and cohesion. Not that it has to be perfect, LibreOffice misses on that account.

— Nathan

MarkDown for PowerPC?

Recently, I’ve begun to use MarkDown as a way to speed up my writing and make better use of distraction free tools.

If you don’t know what MarkDown is, it’s John Gruber’s attempt to make an easy to read, fast to write markup language that can be used to quickly produce documents for the internet. It’s great for blogging, for instance. Check out the link above to get a feel for it – it’s sort of an easier and limited html.

MarkDown editors, mostly glorified text editors, are all the rage on the Mac App Store and in other places, but is there one for PowerPC? Initially, I thought not. That led me to the attempt to create my own. I do have a very rough beta in process, as you can see from the screenshot below. I mocked it up in RealBasic 2009, which leaves a lot to be desired. If there is interest, I will touch it up some more and offer a beta version from this site.

A rudimentary version of markdown for powermac or powerpc

Luckily, my web search pointed me to Notational Velocity. If you have seen this app before, there is an older version that is available for PowerPC, and it’s pretty intriguing in its own right if you need a decently polished note taker and organizer. It has not been updated for a while however – enter nvALT, the spiritual and ancestral successor to Notational Velocity. It adds features and moves this quirky note taker into the future. Best of all, it adds MarkDown support. Awesome!

Here’s the bad news – the newer builds are not PowerPC compatible. I am going to offer my help to see if I can help them create more compatible builds, but in the meanwhile, you will need to stick to Version 2.0. MarkDown support is included though. You can download 2.0 from here. Ignore the offer to upgrade – 2.1 and up do not work on PPC as far as I can tell.

nvALT has MarkDown support

Look for more updates to the site in the coming days.

Note: Our RSS feed is hopelessly out of date. I had a manual process in place to up date it, but it’s pretty bad. For now, I am going to take it down until I can get it fully updated.

— Nathan

A Burning Question: What about IDE SSDs?

The most common question I have gotten from old Mac enthusiasts is the possibility of IDE SSDs to speed up their machines.

Here’s the good news – I have an answer.

But there is bad news too – the common brands you might find available on NewEgg or eBay are generally not recommended. These brands include Transcend and KingSpec. They will work, but the companies that make them are generally not well regarded. You end up spending your cash on slower products with possibly sketchy support.

The good news is that you can follow the advice on my website. Pick up a solid Sandforce drive, like the nicely priced Intel 530, and pair it with an SATA-to-IDE converter. Buying an OWC IDE SSD drive is essentially the same thing, but you might save a buck or two by assembling it on your own. You will want to over-provision the drive to extend its life and performance.

The bonus is that if you do want to move that SSD to a SATA equipped machine, like your recently acquired bargain bin Power Mac G5, you can reuse it as needed.

For older G4 Macs, this gives you an opportunity to get a long lasting, speedy drive to keep your machine a little more relevant for the time being.

I picked up an old G4 Mac Mini, and I’ll update a post or two with how the process of rehabbing that machine goes.

– Nathan