This popular article was updated in 2017, covering the newest Markdown editors for Windows and reviewing how some older ones have fared over time.
Markdown has become the standard text markup language on the web. It is commonly used in modern CMSs, forums, and authoring tools. It’s cross-platform, easy to understand, and easy to collaborate on.
There are many “flavors” (variations or extensions) of Markdown, with varying names, due to the creators not wanting anybody to use the “Markdown” name for their projects. Forks include PHP-Markdown, PageDown, Parsedown, and Pandoc, to name a few.
Large websites tend to tweak it with additional customizations, and so you’ll also hear names like “Vim-Flavored-Markdown” and “GitHub-Flavored Markdown”. The Stack Exchange network uses Markdown known as Pagedown, and MarkdownSharp on the server side, with bits of PHP-Markdown thrown in.
In this article, I’ll use “Markdown” or “vanilla Markdown” to refer to the original Markdown spec, and I’ll refer to the names of specific flavors when describing extended features.
Looking for more on Markdown? Check out these great links:
- The Best Markdown Editor for Mac
- Grab Our Free Printable Markdown Cheat Sheet
- Make the Most of Markdown in WordPress
- Spicing up Your Emails with Markdown
- 7 Atom Add-ons for Running Code and Previewing Changes
- Creating PDFs from Markdown with Pandoc and LaTeX
Check out SitePoint Premium for more books, courses and free screencasts.
No single program covers every style and syntax of Markdown, but you’ll always get the basic Markdown syntax as a starting point. SitePoint itself asks authors to use classic Markdown for article submissions and links to the main project’s website here for learning it.
An initiative to make an official specification comes from CommonMark. A couple of the editors below support it, and I have hopes we’ll get a common universal standard some day to avoid having so many flavors.
The point is, make sure the editor you choose supports the specific syntax you want to work with most!
Multiple Editing Styles
These apps are quite different from each other in how they look and feel. During my testing of these seven tools, it became clear that no two did things the same way, leaving me with little more than general opinion on which I like best.
In this article, I won’t be reviewing online editors such as Dillinger, Markable or StackEdit. My focus here is just on apps you can run on your Windows machine.
I found these to be the primary feature differences in the editors:
- supported syntax and extensions
- syntax highlighting and/or WYSIWYG features
- live preview window (split screen)
- export options
- syntax helpers, toolbars, shortcut keys, etc.
- free and/or paid options
In no particular order, here are my opinions after using each editor for some time.
Texts is a Windows and Mac editor that looks a bit like the Windows editor Notepad. It has a clean, single-pane interface with no live preview. There is one simple toolbar that can be toggled on or off.
You don’t see raw code in Texts, as it formats the code in traditional WYSIWYG style. This is the only editor in this lineup that hides the syntax code from you.
Texts isn’t free. It starts with a trial and then costs $19 for each user in a team or as a single license. This is down from $30 in my previous review.
Texts uses Pandoc, which means Pandoc must be installed for certain features to work.
Texts caters more to WYSIWYG users who want to export their documents into PDF, Word, HTML5, ePUB, etc. It includes Tex for math formulas, and some special handling of ad-hoc hyperlinks, footnotes, and tables. Other advanced features are support for Unicode, OpenType fonts, and presentation mode.
Exporting to PDF also requires an install of XeLaTeX.
Personally, Texts did not fit my preferred writing style and was quirky to me in how it processes styles and hides the raw markup as I type it.
If you want a vanilla Windows or Mac app, a WYSIWYG writing style, and good exporting options, Texts could be just the ticket. It also has some interesting features like shifting paragraphs, “paste-as” options, and an “insert bibliography” feature.
WriteMonkey focuses on the “clean” and distraction-free UI. The interface has almost nothing on it, and it’s designed to be used full-screen. A right-click will pull up all the program’s extensive options, including file and folder view, table of contents, bookmarks, and so much more. It’s a single-pane editor that doesn’t hide the Markdown source. Minimal syntax highlighting can be enabled if desired; otherwise you see plain text.
Supported syntax includes Markdown Extra, Textile, and WikiCreole.
This editor is best for Markdown experts who don’t want or need WYSIWYG styles to get work done, but who also like to tinker for the perfect editing experience. Anything from precise margins and zoom to typewriter sounds and scrolling effects can be changed. It counts just about everything in the document, even your top used words.
You can set timers for how long you want to edit, or character or word limits so you don’t write too much!
Other cool features include text replacements, auto-backups, and word lookups.
WriteMonkey is a free, Windows-only, standalone application that requires Microsoft .NET 4.0. You can, of course, run it from a USB drive, and this is the only editor in the lineup which is standalone.
It supports extensions as well as language packs for many different translations. Extensions are only for people who donate to the project and include things like a thesaurus and Pomodoro timer.
The left/right margins can be adjusted within the window. As shown in the image below, I shifted the writing area to the left:
Below are pictured some of the available features in the main right-click menu:
Even looking at my progress, there are many options to play with:
WriteMonkey might have been my top editor, if not for the fact that I enjoy having a bit more in the visual styling of the Markdown itself, and I’m not as big into the endless tinkering and advanced features. If you’re on Windows and want a standalone app that’s free, this is for you.
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