[Review] Byword for OS X

  • [Some perspective][]
  • [What’s good][]
  • [What could be better][]
  • [Bugs][]
  • [Would I recommend it?][]

Some perspective

I purchased Byword because I think Markdown is a spectacular way to write and was looking for an app that would allow me to create new documents, easily preview them and grab either the formatted preview text or the generated HTML.

Until now, I’d been using Marked for previews while I typed in Vim. Now, Vim’s great. I love coding in it, but it’s really not the greatest when it comes to writing text, and I’m not really a fan of any of the other apps that handle plain text well. So, I went off in search of an app specifically designed for creating documents with Markdown.

What’s good

It does what it claims. Easy markdown editing. It also supports Rich Text and Plain Text.

It’s nice to be able to bold or italicize with Markdown using traditional key-combos instead of having to manually type the asterisks.

Full Multimarkdown support.

You can use it in conjunction with Marked. No need to stop writing to preview the formatted version. Below we have Byword on the left in edit mode and Marked on the right reloading a preview of the changes whenever you save.

Byword and

It’s only $9.99. Totally worth it. It’s nearest competitor iAWriter is almost twice the price at $17.99

What could be better

The default file format is Rich Text. You can change it to Plain Text or Markdown in the preferences, but I get the feeling that the creators were making a minimalist text editor and then decided to add on Markdown support rather than making a Markdown editor that also supports the other formats.

Preview can be a little slow sometimes.

If you look at the screenshots on the site you’ll see a little popover menu for text styling. That’s there, but only on Rich Text documents. In their defense most of the options there aren’t supported by Markdown, but it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be nice to have a version of it for Markdown.

Its main competitor iAWriter has “reading time” as one of the running counts along the bottom in addition to the standard word count. I really wish Byword had this.

Like most apps that partially format your markdown while you’re typing it (making *foo* italic in between the asterisks, etc.) it bolds the headings, but there is no difference between a #, ##, or ### heading. They’re all just bolded. I really wish that apps like Byword would make the # headings larger than the ## headings, and so on.


At the time of writing (Aug, 14 2011) there are a few bugs that I’ve encountered in my first few thousand words of writing with it:

If you like to balance out your heading tags with octothorpes at the end (e.g. # foo #) you can’t have any trailing spaces afterwards or the final octathorpes will be treated as text not formatting.

Clicking on footnotes in the preview has an odd quirk. The first time you click the footnote number (in preview mode) it opens in the default application associated with the document’s extension. Ditto for the first time you click the return link at the end of the footnote itself. The problem arises when the default application is not Byword. For me clicking the footnote opened it in Vim, but only the first time. Very strange.

Sometimes the traditional keycombos for making text bold and italic simply stop working. For some reason they no longer work in this document but do in others.

The documentation claims that “If you drag images into the text, they will automatically be replaced by a Markdown reference to the file.” Like the key-combo problem this seems to not work all the time. And when it does work it’s missing the initial exclamation point. When you drag an image from the browser you get a link in the markdown, and I don’t mean foo. I mean a blue underlined http://www.foo.com/img.jpg thing that you can click on in Markdown editing mode, which should never happen. When you drag an image from the Finder it gives you file name which ends up being a link instead of an image (because it lacks the inital exclamation point) and it’s a link that won’t work on any computer other than your own.

Saving a file with the .mkdn extension instead of the expected .md makes it cease to display correctly in editing mode (markup is no longer greyed). It still previews correctly though.

Searching for a word or phrase will highlight it, but hitting the delete key will not delete it.

Would I recommend it?

Yeah. Byword is a decent app. It doesn’t wow me, and the bugs are frustrating, but infrequent. The drag-and drop image linking that it promotes simply doesn’t work in any useful way, and I’m annoyed by that because it’s one of the reasons I bought it over iAWriter. With that said though I don’t feel particularly disappointed by it either. Full *Multi*markdown support is nice, especially when you consider that iAWriter doesn’t even support full Markdown, and really, at $9.99 you’re still getting a lot of value for your money.