Terrence Dorsey

Writer. Editor. Nerd.

Cross-platform Text Editing in 2013

posted by Terrence Dorsey on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 @ 01:48

Update 2/22: Revised to address bug fixes in TextDrop. See my notes below.

In 2011, I wrote a post about Crossplatform Note Sync with Dropbox. For the most part, the workflow and apps I wrote about still work well. However, times change I thought it would be a good idea to go back and check on some new developments, both platforms and tools, that may give you some new note-syncing options.

In a few cases, new features make this workflow even more flexible. For example, Elements now allows you to select which folder it uses for syncing files.

Dropbox has much more flexible options for sharing files and folders. There's also a revamped iOS client and a client for Windows 8, but not for Windows Phone 8.

One new development the deserves a look is TextDrop, an online text editor for Dropbox.


TextDrop is a web app that lets you access your Dropbox folder and edit, in the browser, any text-based document there.

I learned about TextDrop from Gabe Weatherhead of Macdrifter, who's written some great introductory posts about it, most notably here and here (plus an interview with TextDrop developer Sam Nguyen that's worth a read).

There's not much to the app: one pane shows the contents of the current Dropbox folder, the other lets you view and edit the selected file. It provides minimalist text-editing features, plus MultiMarkdown preview.

There are options for enabling hard tabs, non-text file previews and full-text search. That's pretty much it.

The good news is that TextDrop works fine in some popular desktop browsers, specifically Chrome, Firefox and Safari. TextDrop also works in Mobile Safari on the iPhone and iPad, though the site is a bit too cramped for regular use on the smaller phone screen.

The not-so-good news is browser compatibility. IE 6 and 7 are not supported by design, and I couldn't get the site to load in IE 9. Google Chrome Frame might help. Windows 8 is not supported. No joy in Opera, either. The site does load on Mobile Safari, but it's marginally useful at such small screen sizes.

Update: After a recent update to TextDrop 3.8.3, the site loads and works correctly in IE9. I haven't tried IE10 yet.

TextDrop is priced on a sliding scale, the actual subscription price rising a small amount with each new user. This is similar to the pricing scale used by Pinboard.in. You lock in a yearly subscription fee based on current price when you sign up.

I purchased a subscription (at around $10) because TextDrop does add some helpful flexibility to my writing work and I want to support Sam's continuing development of the app. The price recently jumped to almost $30.

Is TextDrop valuable at the current price?

If you work mostly within the toolset currently supported — namely, Chrome, Firefox and Safari — TextDrop can be quite useful. Once authorized, your documents are just a browser bookmark away, wherever you may be working.

Although TextDrop has some missing spots in its compatibility checklist, it does cover the most popular platforms. Expanding compatibility to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 could win TextDrop some vocal supporters. On the other hand, improving mobile compatibility and expanding the editing capabilities probably addresses the needs of a larger user base. I'll be watching with interest.

Update: It's worth noting that Sam is making regular updates to the service and making changes in response to user feedback. Not only did he fix the IE9 loading issue within a week of my pointing it out, but he also fixed a minor tab-spacing bug as well, among other things. This is the kind of service where your subscription dollars are really going to support the work of an independent developer, who in turn is working hard to address the needs of his paying customers. I like it.

The State of Things

TextDrop aside, how has the cross-platform document editing scene changed since I wrote about it in 2011?

Not much.

Dropbox seems to have become the most reliable and flexible service for syncing your data, reinforcing the reasons I settled on it in the first place.

Apple's iCloud service still isn't ready for prime time and is, anyway, currently restricted to Mac and iOS.

Microsoft's SkyDrive service offers cross-platform syncing, including Android, iOS, Mac and Windows/Windows Phone clients.

There are two reasons I'm wary of this service. First, given the history of support for now-defunct sync services like FolderShare/LiveSync and Live Mesh, I wonder how long SkyDrive will stick around.

Second, you have to wonder about support for competing platforms with Apple reportedly rejecting updates to Microsoft’s SkyDrive iOS app.

Text editing apps have proliferated. I run Sublime Text 2 on all my desktop systems — Linux, Mac and Windows. For iOS devices, Brett Terpstra has compiled an extensive list of iTextEditors - iPhone and iPad text/code editors and writing tools compared. I'm still happy with the latest updates to Elements.

I'm less familiar with the Android text-editing scene, but LinuxLinks has a roundup of the 8 Best Free Android Editors. Here's another Minimalistic Text Editor for Android, though I've seen a few forum posts recommending vi. Seriously.

Code-focused editors are another, more specialized category. I'll be looking into that soon...