The Plain Text Tools I Use (2019 Edition)


People constantly ask me about which plain text tools that I use. I’m not sure if they’re just being digital voyeurs, or if they’re hoping to find the perfect tool for them. Usually, I don’t reply. Why? It doesn’t matter what I use, to be honest. And what I use might not be right for you.

But with a new year upon us, I thought I’d take a page out of Steven Ovadia’s book and share the plain text tools I use with the wider web.

Here goes:

Even though I’m not a techie, my main editor is Emacs. I started using it in the mid to late 1990s, and I’ve always come back to it when other, younger and sleeker editors have temporarily pulled me away. The Emacs package I use most is Org mode, which I use for outlining, writing, and lists. I also use Flyspell mode (an on-the-fly spelling checker) and Markdown mode (for obvious reasons).

My go-to utility for converting between markup languages is Pandoc. It’s so flexible that I can’t begin to describe how useful it is. I’ve even written some (very lame) scripts that handle the types of conversions I do most.

For taking notes, Standard Notes is where most of mine go. While I don’t use the desktop app very much, the web interface and the mobile app get daily workouts.

While it’s not a plain text tool, Nextcloud is how I synchronize my plain text files between my laptop, phone, and tablet. On my phone and tablet, I use the Nextcloud mobile app and have the Notes app installed as well.

Speaking of mobile, when I want to write on my tablet I use an editor called Markor. It supports plain text and Markdown, and I can use it to collect bookmarks and create task lists. I’ll be looking at Markor in a bit more detail in an upcoming article.

If I need to view, create, or edit my Org mode files on my phone or tablet, I use Orgzly. While it doesn’t quite mimic the Org mode experience in Emacs, Orgzly does a good job as an editor. Plus, I can synchronize my Org mode files with Nextcloud, which makes a world of difference.

Do you read The Monday Kickoff (my weekly collection of links to interesting articles)? If you do, then you know that it’s published using Write.as. I discussed Write.as in a recent article, but I have to say once again that it’s a simple and fast way to publish a no-frills blog or website.

Finally, there’s Gitlab Pages. Again, it’s not a plain text tool but it’s where I host this site and my personal website. GitLab Pages publishes my sites using Jekyll, and Gitlab Pages does all the heavy lifting of compiling and deploying the sites.

To be honest, I don’t use all that many tools. Why? The ones I listed above do about 98% of what I need to do in plain text. There are other desktop, mobile, and web-based tools that I turn to when I need them, but it’s not often that I do.