Saturday, September 03, 2011

Getting Down With Markdown

Recently I've been looking for an alternative to docbook, which I've used for most of my tutorial handouts and internal developer documentation at Thinkcube. But the more I used it docbook the more I wanted a simpler solution which didn't require me to make sure my XML was in order.


Naturally, at first I thought I'd try Latex since it had a pretty good wrap with geeks and has even surpassed usability expectations set forth by some of the mainstream wordprecessors :). What I loved about Latex was you could concentrate on the content first and formatting later. Its legendary ability to output desktop publishing quality documents and convert to a variety of formats such as html, pdf or odt was a killer.


Just as I was about to dive into Latex, Chanux suggested Markdown as an alternative. Hmm, Markdown, I pondered... I even liked the sound of it. It turns out Markdown is even better! You could think of it as a simplified wiki syntax but a better description would be to call it a WYSIWYG wiki syntax.


I've always endorsed the KISS philosophy. There is nothing more simple and satisfying than to write a text file using vim and track its progress via git. After briefly going through the syntax, I realized this is exactly what I needed. I also realized that I had already used Markdown without actually thinking about it as part of using github for a pet project. Everything about Markdown was all good and the whole controversy around Markdown's html compiler names were exactly the kind of celebrity gossip it needed to grab attention!


It was around this time, I was due to create a note for a tutorial for the ICTer workshop myself and Dr. Ajantha from UCSC was to deliver. By now, I had decided on Markdown with upskirt (yes this is one of the controversal names) to create the notes but what about the slides? Could I use Markdown for that as well? After a little looking around, I found a wonderful system called Landslide which enabled me to compile Markdown syntax into a beautiful html5 slide show presentation. After a little playing around I managed to build slides as well as the note using a single markdown source code! How cool was that? I will write a separate post soon on the HOWTO details but for now enjoy the slides, if thats your cup of tea. My Markdown adventures don't end there. This post too was written using Markdown and converted to html using octopress.


2 comments:

Gaveen Prabhasara said...

Markdown is surely nice. I too prefer it on many cases because I can then use Vim + Git combination easily.


Also have a look at Pandoc. Their native format is a Markdown flavor and they can produce output in a load of formats including PDF, RTF, DocBook and LaTeX among others.

Pandoc isn't aimed for presentations though. I usually use Beamer (LaTeX) or simply stick with something like Impress where PDF export is easy.

Bud said...

Yup I've got Pandoc installed but on the mac I'm having bit of an issue compiling pdflatex but the odf export worked great.

Actually pandoc can also be used for presentations but requires slidy or s5. I found s5 and slidy a bit more boring compared to landslide with the exception slidy supports introducing slide elements one by one where landslide shows everything at once.

Its certainly not a silver bullet and I would't use this for business presentations. I will use for geek presentations and perhaps for team brainstorming sessions.