Professional publishing with UberWriter

Author's Delight

Article from Issue 158/2014

The UberWriter text editor, which is optimized for Markdown, includes a number of interesting features and does some amazing things. We show you how it works.

An abundance of text editors are available for Linux, and new software really needs to stand out from the crowd to have a chance of being discovered by users. For example, Gedit on Ubuntu means that a solid editor is always just a click away. When a configuration file or text file is processed, the system calls this editor as the standard tool. So, if everything works, why change?

The UberWriter text editor has a number of good things going for it. You can, of course, use UberWriter to edit the configuration files of your software or shell scripts; however, the developer doubtless did not have this kind of work in mind when designing the application. The program is aimed more at users who decide a word processor is not a good choice for certain kinds of paperwork and tasks. For example, scripts, documentation, and wiki articles are often based on simple text files. When working with such documents, traditional editors work much faster than any word processor. What is particularly striking about UberWriter, however, is its very plain but elegantly designed interface.

Premium Product

UberWriter is special not only because of its interface design but also in that its developer offers the software in two versions. If you search the Software Center on Ubuntu for UberWriter, the latest version is available for purchase at US$  5. This modest price means that you can actively support the ongoing development of the program and express your appreciation at the same time. However, the developer does not receive the full purchase amount. The company behind Ubuntu also takes its share. In other words, your purchase also supports the ongoing development of Ubuntu.

If you do not want to do this, or just do not have the money, you have the option to install UberWriter directly via the developer's personal archive [1]. To do this, open a terminal and enter these three commands in succession.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:w-vollprecht/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install uberwriter

Then, run the software as usual via the Dash.

Focused Work

After you launch the program, UberWriter welcomes you with its almost spartan interface. Whereas other editors show off with toolbars and icons, you will only find an unobtrusive footer here. As is to be expected of an editor for files in plain text, you will search in vain for a function to modify the font. Instead, you can start writing immediately in a plain font.

UberWriter has three different modes of operation; you switch between them using the three entries on the left side in the footer. Focus Mode hides all other text passages on the screen, with the exception of the sentence that you are currently writing. This mode helps authors focus even more on the next sentence in their manuscripts.

Focus Mode can be combined with a second mode. If you click Fullscreen or press the F11 key, you can switch to a full-screen view of the program. The editor is then superimposed on all the other elements on your system. You no longer see messages or other program windows, but have your own text in view. This particular form of presentation and operation has been dubbed "distraction-free writing" by developers and authors. What appears to be just a gimmick is a useful tool for many authors to protect themselves from distractions and temptations. The idea is that, if you do not see the browser showing your Facebook page, you are less likely to check out the latest posts.

If you type a word between two asterisks, UberWriter suddenly changes the display: The text passage is now displayed in bold, because you just marked the text as "bold" in the Markdown markup language.

Markdown – A Special Format

Markdown is a markup language. The most famous of such languages is, as you no doubt will be aware, HTML, which is omnipresent when surfing the Internet. Markdown files are based on simple text files in which a few combinations of characters take on the task of assigning a meaning to specific formats and passages (Figure 1). You need a small program to evaluate the markup in the text file and interpret it when converted to other formats (e.g., HTML) where the formatting then becomes visible. This utility is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows alike.

Figure 1: An article in Markdown format in the source code view.

The advantages of such an approach soon become apparent. Although file formats of other programs are more or less subject to fashions and development processes, the plain-text format has survived through the years. Text files that were written 20 years ago are still easily read by humans on any computer platform. Text files also occupy very little space. Even a novel takes up only a few kilobytes on your hard disk.

Markdown includes information about how the highlighted passages are to be displayed, and because the command set is fairly straightforward, the text still remains readable by humans. Although Markdown is a big topic on Apple computers, for which a number of editors and additional programs are offered, the markup language has found it hard to assert itself on other platforms, although UberWriter could change this.

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