The Writing Application Conundrum

While I’m actively procrastinating on my backup application and finishing my MacBook Pro review, I was pondering on what tool I should continue to use or start to use for writing my blog posts. I’ve tried a few things in the past, one of them being Markdown in Byword way back in the early stages of my blogging efforts, Libre Office and the ODT file format sometime after that and more recently Microsoft’s Word using its DOCX format. To generalize it a bit: 

  • Markdown using any capable editor.
  • A full featured Word processor.

Both tools have their pro’s and con’s, but none of them are the perfect solution and I’m finding myself doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but never being really satisfied.

Right now, I’m writing this post using Word because I know there won’t be any code in it. And that is the biggest issue I have with it. It requires too much effort to add code snippets that look like code, not prose. I created a style template, but it’s simply not as nice as a neatly syntax-highlighted excerpt in a proper editor. It’s always a little pain to deal with that. Word is a good word processor for writing texts because that’s its main task and what it is being optimized for. It is also a decent “what you see is what you get” editor if I do something fancy and add an image (what a definition of “fancy”). I don’t do any crazy layouts or whatever else it supports because I don’t do that on my blog. It’s text, interspersed with code or images and that’s it. I don’t even let the text flow around the images. It’s all block based.

Thinking about it this way I have to say that this is nothing that I can’t do with a decent Markdown editor. In fact, a Markdown editor makes a few things simpler because I don’t need to remember keyboard shortcuts to do formatting, like bold or italic or inline monospaced fonts for highlighting the name of a class. I can simply type away and the Markdown syntax is so simple to adopt that it doesn’t require me to think about it anymore. Editors like Visual Studio Code, with their focus on code, even support nice code block features with syntax highlighting. A small downside of Markdown comes to light when adding images or links. It’s a lot of square brackets and those are not fun to type. In cases like this I do actually prefer using the mouse and some menu items to turn text into a hyperlink or use drag and drop to add an image in Word.

There’s one thing in Word that I really miss in VS Code as a writing tool and that is its proper spell checking and basic grammar checking integration. This is a feature I really rely on. For Visual Studio Code there exists a pretty good spell check extension, but that is only half way what I get from Word. Additionally, since it is not a word processing application, the window layout and display of text is not optimized for writing. What I mean by that is, when I’m in full screen mode I have a very wide window and VS Code uses the whole width of the window for displaying characters before wrapping the line. In Word the text is neatly centered in the window, like writing on a piece of paper. I like that, it helps me focus and it facilitates proof-reading my own stuff because it’s the optimal width for that.

I am writing the MacBook review in VS Code to try it out on a bigger project and I must say, the overall experience in Word is more to my liking. As stupid as it may sound, some of it has to do with visual appearance and some of it is the aforementioned spell and grammar checking. It’s all there out of the box, whereas I have to fiddle with VS Code to get a decent experience.

In the beginning I mentioned Byword, an app I had bought many years ago and of which I also own a copy for iOS. The presentation to the user is much like in Word, but it also falls short on syntax highlighting and spell and grammar checking. 

Overall, I’m a bit torn on this with a strong tendency to stick with Word. Maybe I have to combine the best of both worlds and use Word to write the text and copy’n’paste code from VS Code to get the nice syntax highlighting. Formatting and colors should be retained by Word. Or I could just keep the code snippets in a separate file altogether. This would make proof reading more tedious though and importing to WordPress too. I don’t want to have more than one source to take the content from.

Anyway. It’s probably the most boring topic to write about but I just had to get it out of my system. I needed to write something spontaneously, if not Java code for my backup tool 😅

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