Eight Questions For Hiro Sawane


Welcome to another edition of Eight Questions For …, where I pick the brains of plain text enthusiasts from around the world and around the web.

This time around, I chat with Hiro Sawane, a web developer from Japan. Hiro and I have been via chatting via email for a while, and we share similar philosophies and approaches to living and working in plain text. A couple or three months back, we both (at around the same time!) had the idea for Hiro to do an interview. Here it is.

Let’s hear from Hiro:

When did you start using plain text?

I began using plain text daily in the late ’90s when I first started building websites. The idea of plain text code (HTML, JavaScript, etc.) being used to build the entire internet fascinated me.

I eventually began using plain text more when I moved to the Mac and discovered BBEdit. It showed me the power of plain text, and I was hooked.

But I didn’t go all the way in the productivity realm until three years ago when I finally got sick and tired of fighting a variety of quirks and lock-in that come with commercial solutions after trying all sorts of everything bucket apps such as Evernote, OneNote, and the like.

Why did you start using plain text?

I quickly became aware of the potential danger of vendor lock-in when I began using a computer. I wrestled with file incompatibility among various software I used at the time, but I tolerated it for the most part.

The real I’ve had it moment came when I tried to bail out of Evernote and ran into all sorts of export errors. It made me realize that I needed to eliminate software/platform dependency in my workflow to maintain all my personal data in an accessible way without relying on any particular third-party tool vendors. Plain text and web-based technologies are the only approaches that satisfied my requirements.

Besides that, I became more subscribed to what I would call computing essentialism and simplicity. A plain text workflow fits that computing philosophy perfectly. It’s ubiquitous, small, compatible, and reliable. It doesn’t depend on a particular platform or app to view and edit.

What do you use plain text for?

Everything.

I keep notes and journals in plain text. I log communications with various people. If I need to save some documents in PDF, I always make sure it has a plain text version as well. And, of course, I use it for all my web development work.

What keeps you using plain text?

These reasons:

  • It’s simple and light.
  • It’s future proof.
  • It’s compatible.
  • I don’t have to worry about what a particular software vendor might do to the data format.

Do you use any markup or formatting languages? If so, which ones and why?

My default writing syntax is Markdown, but I’ve been writing JSON for some of the notes in some cases because JSON is readable enough and allows me to import it into various tools.

What are your favourite plain text tools or applications?

On the Mac:

On iOS:

Is there one tool that you can’t do without?

Visual Studio Code on the Mac at the moment. I’m flexible, though, and I can adjust to a few other text or code editors as I need. I try not to be attached to a particular environment too much.

Is there anything you can’t do with plain text?

Multimedia stuff (images, videos, audio, etc.). But then again, to me, plain text is the way to string them together (using HTML/CSS, etc.). I try my best to maintain multimedia in open or widely-accepted formats like JPEG, PNG, and MP4 (although I avoid the WMA codec for video).


At the moment, Hiro’s building up his web presence. When it’s ready to go, you’ll find a link to it here.