Kevin Lipe has a nice little post about Markdown being the “new Word 5.1”. To put it another way, Lipe is arguing that Word 5.1 (which was released in October 1991) was the height of word processing. Everything since then has added unnecessary cruft to the writing experience.
For those who lament the state of word processors today, and aren’t satisfied with the spate of so-called distraction-free programs, Lipe says that Markdown is the way to go.
People have been saying for years that Word 5.1 needs to be ported to Mac OS X; that having that program running on current hardware would be the ideal solution to all of these problems with writing tools.
The truth is, there’s a solution now that’s most of the way there: Markdown and a good text editor. That’s the new Word 5.1. Think about it: a program like TextMate has almost no window chrome, and opens almost instantly. You start typing, and that’s all you have to do. I bring up Gruber because he invented Markdown, which lets you do basic formatting of text without really having to sweat much else. The types of formatting you don’t need aren’t even available to you when writing Markdown in a text editor, so you never have to deal with them.
Markdown will never be unreadable by a program, because it’s just ASCII text. It’s formatted, but if you’re reading the raw text, it’s not obscured the way a raw HTML file is. Any decent editor will give you a word count and can use headings as section and chapter breaks.
I find myself mostly in agreement with Lipe, here. Markdown is fine - and far better than most of the word processors on the market, which I find infuriatingly over-helpful and distracting.
Where I disagree is this idea that HTML is so obscuring. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing HTML since the mid-90s, but I find Markdown is about the same as writing in HTML. For me it’s actually less intuitive, because I keep having to look things up that I already know in HTML.
But, if you’re agonizing over programs… do check out Markdown and a decent text editor. I can suffer through using Word or equivalents when necessary, but I do avoid it whenever possible.