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Discovering the wonders of plain text

I've been playing around with plain text editing and editors and for the first time discovering their simplicity and power. I knew that it was possible to create formatted documents using LaTeX processors, but had always assumed it was something that would be technically beyond me or more trouble than it is worth.

Now, after learned a little about Markdown, I've seen how easy it is to create from an uncoded plain text document perfectly formatted documents in .odt, pdf, .html or other formats. Complexities like structured headings, page numbers, tables of contents, other tables, captioned images and many other things can all be included. The secret is to add a few tiny formatting marks, which do not in any way disturb the readability of the text, and then to run the document through a script called Pandoc which is in any Linux repository and may already be included in the distribution. The command required can be as simple as "markdown2pdf test-pandoc1.text". For most of my needs, this combination of Markdown and Pandoc is adequate.

Text editors are a joy to use. They are quicker to power-up and less distracting to work with than word processors. There are no complicated commands, ribbons or tool bars to worry about. They use few of the computer's resources. Depending on the editor, the background can be made colorful, monochrome or transparent. And one can use the same editor to produce any type of document.

I've played with a few editors over the last couple of weeks. My current favourite is Cream, which is a simplified version of GVim (one of the most powerful editors on Linux). One thing I like about Cream is that it is easy to wrap and unwrap text. This means that the program can fill the screen, but lines will wrap where I want them to. It has syntax highlighting for Markdown. Another good distraction-free editor is Scribes. It looks great, and is very powerful. One can even run Pandoc without leaving the program.

An advantage of text editors is that from the point of view of a writer with simple text editing needs, there is little real difference between using one or another of them. The text they produce can be opened and will look identical in any other text editor or wordprocessor. Finally, plain text files are lighter than anything produced by LibreOffice or MS Word, and the format is never going to change.