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FoldingText – Plain text productivity for Mac users (foldingtext.com)
153 points by sndean on Dec 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

One of the developers of Foldingtext here. Man, I was blown away to find Foldingtext on the front page of Hacker News today :)!

We're working hard behind the scenes to release the next major version in beta. It'll add a bunch of things that we feel will take FoldingText to the next level. Follow us on twitter (@foldingtext | https://twitter.com/foldingtext) if you're interested to hear about FoldingText development.

P.S. For the Vim enthusiasts, I'm really pushing to get vim support in the upcoming FoldingText beta ;)

I’m really excited to hear it’s still under development. I’m a user and honestly thought it had been abandoned for TaskPaper. Looking forward to see what’s coming!

I write a lot of documentation in markdown. If you could make this product handle images and file management (so I can make multiple pages and link them like a wiki) you'd have a lifelong customer.

Vim support would certainly get me to purchase this. Are you planning on using nvim as a backend or are you going to roll your own emulation?

Emulation probably. Haven’t looked into nvim as a backend, will check it out.

I may be a bit late to this, but I used to have a kind of cool Textmate extension that would let me write comments (like this one) in Textmate. The extension wouldn't save to a local drive, but I thought it a nifty feature.

I bought FT ages ago, but if you add vim support i'll use it _much_ more.

How much of FoldingText was inspired by org-mode?

Jesse can speak to that, and while we did take a look at org-mode, I believe it was much later on. One of Jesse’s main inspirations was the Canon cat (ftp://ftp.apple.asimov.net/pub/apple_II/documentation/misc/jef_raskin/DTCJefRaskinDoc060.pdf) IIRC. Also, FoldingText was developed as the next generation platform which could be used to develop other text based applications, like TaskPaper by modifying the parser and other simple tweaks. So, in some ways it was the logical successor of TaskPaper.

How many paying customers does an app like this have? Seems cool but niche.

FoldingText isn't really a "minimalistic live Markdown focus mode" app, it's a productivity app, closer to something like Emacs' org-mode. I have no doubt that org-mode is more powerful, if you're already living in Emacs. (I can use Emacs, but I just can't get into it as a way of life.)

But FT isn't really being actively developed anymore, AFAICT. The developer switched from working on TaskPaper to FoldingText and then switched back to TaskPaper. Before TaskPaper he was working on WriteRoom, which was a minimal Markdown app, and sometimes it comes back and sometimes it doesn't. TaskPaper is pretty neat, but when push comes to shove it could be implemented as an extension/package for nearly any competent text editor. (And in fact has for several, including Atom. Folding Text also existed as a plugin for Atom at one point.)

We're still working on FoldingText :)! However, a lot of that has been behind the scenes as we're working on a new version from the ground up. We're hoping to start private beta in a couple of months.

Would that be a paid upgrade? I like the idea of FoldingText, but paying twice would be a bummer :)

It will be a paid upgrade. I'm sure we can work out how to migrate our customers who have bought FoldingText recently, but, honestly, we still have to figure out these aspects. Right now, we're heads-down on getting the beta out :).

Also, while FT is in beta it will have a significant discount.

This looks like iA Writer meets org-mode. It looks nice but the platform limitation is a bit discouraging for those of us that work across multiple platforms on a daily basis.

Re: the platform limitation.

This is something we're trying to address with the upcoming beta. You can follow us on twitter: @foldingtext, to get news about the beta when we start rolling it out.

As someone who uses Windows at home, iOS to "run my life", and Linux at work, I'm very interested in things that can run across multiple platforms. And as someone who regularly uses Workflowy, what are some things that FoldingText brings to the table that WF doesn't? (aka: why might I want to switch if I were able to use it across the platforms I need to have available?)

Yes, very curious how this compares/contrasts with Workflowy. Cool app!

Out of curiosity, are you "trying to address it" with an Electron app?


I'd be interested to know where folding editors first originated?

We have org-mode now of course.

My first encounter was 28 years ago now - December 1989 - an in-house editor called Teddy written by "Burkhard" that we had running on Vax - for Parasolid development in Cambridge, UK - think it dated from 1987 or earlier.

I'm think Engelbart's "Mother of all demos" included folding headings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_All_Demos

I think the first "popular" ones were made by Dave Winer (http://davewiner.com). Here's a list of some (http://outliners.scripting.com)

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transputer says that the Inmos D700 Transputer Development System had a folding editor. That would have been in the early 1980s I think?

Then I remember David Lavender joining Parasolid in 1992 - not liking Teddy that much - a little bit of elisp later he had folds working in Emacs. *

So folds in Emacs date from at least 1992.

* It could occasionally create corrupt folded files though, which was annoying if he checked them in to the SCM.

Yes, 1992, by a classmate friend of mine Jamie Lokier!


Dave Winer's http://outliners.scripting.com/ site has some interesting history. You can download the old programs there.

I remember using MORE on the Mac in the late '80s.

I haven't used org-mode, so I may be a bit unclear on exactly what is meant by folding editors. However, if we're talking about collapsing sections of text, I wonder if the oN-Line System (NLS) would qualify, as shown in Douglas Engelbart's 1968 "The Mother of All Demos" [1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJDv-zdhzMY&t=5m48s

Wikipedia claims IBM’s SPF in 1974 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_folding#History), using indentation to identify blocks (one may call that cheating, as folding would break down if the code wasn’t indented consistently, but for 1974, I wouldn’t hold it against them)

Really cool project!

I'm a heavy org-mode user but one of the disappointing aspects of org-mode is that non-emacs users have a tough time contributing to documents; especially if I use advanced features like org-babel, spreadsheets, and the like.

I hold out hope that one day there will be a standalone org-mode editor for non-emacs users.

Folding Text seems to have many of the same features... I might have to check it out. :)

What do you mean "non-emacs users have a tough time contributing to documents"?

I would be surprised if FT has more than, say, 10% of the features of org-mode. If you want to restrict yourself to the basics (e.g., the 10% that FT does) then org-mode is quite simple to use.

Of course, org-mode is in Emacs, and that will turn some people away. For others, the flexibility and power of Emacs may be the main draw. I myself am someone who migrated to Emacs from Vim, primarily because of org-mode, and I now use the Evil vim emulator, which makes things quite good.

> What do you mean "non-emacs users have a tough time contributing to documents"?

If I use org-mode files for anything more than markup such as org-babel, ditaa, properties, spreadsheets, scheduling, etc it requires all of the org-mode baggage that only exists in emacs but is what makes org-mode more useful than markdown.

But even some of the more advanced org-mode features have to be manually managed if you're trying to contribute to an org-document project and are using something other than Emacs.

Wow this exactly the app I want :) I've been using IA Writer for as long as I can remember as my developer todo app. Having some more developer oriented features in the same format is perfect!

Currently in love with typora.io

Less features but an excellent markdown editor for Mac, Windows, and Ubuntu

I'm using vim with text files already, and Pandoc for converting markdown into other formats as needed. Hard to imagine paying $30 for a worse editing experience that only works on Mac. Maybe I'm not representative of the target market?

You know this is Apple culture. Pay for crap you get elsewhere for free.

It's like org-mode for normies.

Really neat, especially focus mode. I don’t think we’ve problem space of note taking plus outliners yet, so anything with a new twist is welcome (and all the more so if it doesn’t use any weird formats).

This reminds me of TaskPaper, an excellent plain text todo list app for Mac that worked the same way. It's evolved since its early years, but you can still use the original v1 for free.



After downloading FoldingText, the user guide states that the author of FoldingText also made TaskPaper.

This looks like a small sub-set of org-mode to me. I like their homepage design and the logo very much.

I watched the demo and realized I didn't know how to collapse all org branches but current, so I glanced at the documentation but didn't see it. That would frequently be useful to me. I suppose you could cycle global to collapsed and then reopen the current?

so.... org mode? but you have to pay for it?

not sure org mode is a superset of it, now it can and probably will absord the ideas demonstrated there; the timer thing was more than great.

Seems to be a far less capable version of org mode, and it's in Markdown.

Makes me think of the way Bear.app inplemented Markdown mode into its note taking experience. Looks similar.

Having compared the two, I prefer Bear. It's great; I highly recommend it. Looks good and has some thoughtful touches.


I had huge problems with Bear. It repeatedly lost files and text and behaved in several other totally unacceptable ways. Have you ever had this problem with it?

OK, that's really good to know. I haven't had that experience but perhaps it occurs when syncing? I've never used that feature (don't need it; free is fine for me).

This app looks pretty good, but this thread got me looking into org-mode, which got me wondering if there was something similar for Atom. It turns out that there is Organized, which is pretty damn close.

In a world where there seems to be a new to do list coming out every week, I've never been able to simply replace a plaintext file. Organized gives a handy little sidebar with a todo list (simple do [TODO] blah blah) and also an agenda.

For relatively light / non-coders like me, who don't spend their day in emacs or vim, this looks to be the perfect solution.

[1] https://atom.io/packages/organized

It would be cool if this used MindNode documents as a backend. This way I get a org-mode like view of the notes in my mindmaps through FoldingText, while retaining the ability to view/edit mindmaps in MindNode.

Love it. Use it daily. I even use it with iA Writer and nvAlt.

I just use vscode with markdown preview. Similar experience

Not sure how this is different from the million similar "clean minimalistic live Markdown focus mode" apps.

FoldingText is minimal only in terms of its UI. Behind the scenes, it parses your document, allows folding, focusing, builds an internal structure that can be queried using a query language based on XPath, and allows modes (think plugins) like todo lists, calculator, and schedules.

Would be happy to answer any questions you have, and FoldingText comes with a trial so give it a shot to see how different it is.

I wish the screenshots and video showed the window chrome. Is this a normal Mac app with normal windows, etc.?

Thanks, from your second link it seems to use https://codemirror.net/

Any similar alternatives for Windows ?

I built https://fromscratch.rocks which has a lot of the features, and is free :)

Hi, this is Jesse. I am original designer/creator of FoldingText. Mutahhir has since taken the project over while I continue to work on TaskPaper and WriteRoom. I see a number of FoldingText history questions. I'll try to answer all of those here.

The idea of FoldingText evolved from:

1. Out of college I got to work on the Jazz ZUI (Zooming User Interface) toolkit and then build it's successor Piccolo. http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/piccolo/. For me this was a super cool project to work on. I liked to take notes and tried/build various ZUI notes apps. Great fun but I always ended up using plain text files on my desktop instead of fancy ZUI app.

2. I gave up on ZUI for notes and decided instead to build Hog Bay Notebook, a Mac app for notes. Similar concept to Evernote (but a few years before I think). Database of text files with a full text index for searching. After a few years I was making my living selling this app, but I would still tend to go back to keeping my notes on desktop in TextEdit.

3. Around this time https://ulyssesapp.com added "full screen mode" to their app. Was a popular feature, but Ulysses was a big app with lots of other features that I didn't really want. So I spent a week making WriteRoom 1.0. WriteRoom was a very basic text editor with one feature... that it could zoom into a nice fullscreen mode. It originated the term "Distraction free writing"... so yeah for that! :) This quickly sold better then my notebook program which had at that point I'd put years of work into.

4. This lead me to the conclusion that there's a market and need for simple text based alternatives to "major" apps. Many people saw WriteRoom as a MS Word alternative, even though it was much, much, simpler.

5. At the time 2005/2006 "Getting Things Done" apps were becoming popular, but they were pretty complicated. Lots of chrome surrounding a simple list of tasks. I created TaskPaper as a simple text alternative to OmniFocus. The original versions were just a little syntax highliting built into TextEdit. But over time I wanted a better solution for handling large complex todo lists and so started building in outlining and filtering into the app. After a few years the end result is that TaskPaper is an outliner data model presented/edited through a plain text editor.

6. At this point we get to FoldingText. I didn't want to keep bolting features onto TaskPaper... I wanted it to stay "Plain text todo lists". But TaskPaper's underlying outliner model with a text UI seemed like it would be good a many other things. FoldingText was my attempt to generalize the outline mode/plain text UI into a platform that other's could extend. Along the way I decided to use Markdown as the plain text format that would define the underlying outline structure. I regret that decision. It added a lot of complexity (keeping markdown parsed into runtime outliner model) and made most people think of FoldingText mostly as a markdown editor. FoldingText become a good markdown editor, but the Markdown focus clouded the bigger goal for me.

7. By this time there were 4 of us working at Hog Bay Software. Mutahhir and I worked mostly on FoldingText. And then Mac apps stopped selling so fast and we didn't' have money to continue. Hog Bay Software had to shrink down to only me again. And I didn't have resources to keep working on all the apps. So I've refocused to work on TaskPaper and WriteRoom again. While Muthahhir has taken over the FoldingText project and is working on a big release soon.

Along the way I've looked to lots of apps for inspiration.

Early outliners in particular. But while I like them, they are problematic on how constraining they are when editing... they are field based so you only edit one line at a time. That's why I prefer using the outliner data model, but presented as unconstrained plain text editor.

Besides the history described above FoldingText was most inspired by the Cannon Cat. Maybe not so much in every feature and implementation, but in the large idea of a text based user interface.

very interesting history, jesse. been observing your work for a long time. loved the reference to the canon cat (not "cannon"). also tickled by the idea of downloading a .pdf from "ftp.apple.asimov.net" with "jefraskin" in its name; 2017 giving props to the past. never really understood the benefit of "folding" per se, since anything not shown on the screen is "out of sight" anyway. albeit an outline view is great, especially when you can click into any section. nonetheless, love the fact that you (and others) continue experimenting with the plain-text writing interface. keep on keeping on.

"Free Download" - but it is actually a time-limited demo, and has a $30 license. Dirty Pool. If I can't trust you to not bait-and-switch, I can't trust you.

Sorry, that wasn’t the intention of that link, but I can see how it can be misleading. Will change it to ‘Try for free’ or something clearer, soon.

That looks really good. Already downloading to test it out.

The price seems a bit steep. Is there support for copy-pasting images? Where are the timers as shown in the video?

There is currently no support for adding media to documents, as they’re just plain text. It might be something we’ll consider moving forward with the new version.

The timers can be started by using the ‘schedule’ mode. Just add ‘.schedule’ to the end of a heading and then start adding time lines underneath. The video is getting dated now, time to re-record :)

Looks promising. How would one deal with attachments or images ? Is that possible with foldingtext?

Not yet, but hopefully we can add this ability moving forward with the new version.

What benefits does this have over Atom, Sublime and Textmate?

The intro video at http://www.foldingtext.com does a pretty good job of showing what's unique about FoldingText.

The apps you've listed all do "folding". But I don't think they can hoist/focusing a particular section. Or filter the view. Or have modes such as schedule mode. Also general the look/feel is quite different between the apps.

Thanks, I did watch the video but I just don’t see it being any better outright. I’m only in a phone right now so I guess it will have to be a test drive to really see it.

org mode + workflowy?

Similar to this is the PlainTasks plug-in for Sublime.

org mode cloned

vscode + some plugin.

Do you even emacs bro?

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