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Leafnote: A text editor that's powerful in its simplicity


Bloggers and writers have one very bad habit -- we love to try out different tools for putting words onto blank pages. For me, that means that just about very time a new text editor comes on the market, I end up trying it out. Many of the text editors and writing tools that I've tested have been extremely powerful, loading things up with multiple document panes, Markdown support, themes, and all sorts of things that I end up never using. That's why I was intrigued with Leafnote (US$9.99), a new OS X text editor that's designed to let writers do away with fancy features and just focus on organization and getting words out of their minds.

Developer John Plewe of Nevercenter Ltd. (also known for the popular CameraBag 2 and Silo Mac apps) says that he wrote Leafnote for his own use. Plewe says that "I'm a developer and wannabe author, so it's mostly designed from the perspective of keeping my ideas and half-finished stories around, or letting novel projects slowly grow over time." And that's a good description of how Leafnote works; it has an easy organizational tool for focusing on parts of an overall project.

Leafnote uses some analogies from nature -- a tree is the complete project, made up of a number of "leaves" that are "children" of the tree. For example, let's say you're writing a novel. The novel would be the tree, individual chapters would be leaves. Each of those leaves can have child leaves as well; Plewe says that there's no limit to how "deep" you can go, although in the current version you might run out of screen space since there's no horizontal scroll in the tree (that's coming soon).

The writing space is likewise quite simple; there's no ruler, just a blank piece of virtual paper. On the left side of the paper is a graphical representation of your tree, showing every leaf you've created. Each leaf can be named separately, and the icon changes from pure white to "lined paper" once text has been added to a leaf. Four buttons are visible at the top of the sidebar; one for adding an item, another for adding a child item, a third for duplicating an item, and the last for deleting an item.

The organizational tools are about as difficult as Leafnote gets. When it comes to formatting text, you have your choice of bold, italic, and underline, as well as having the text right, left or center-justified. That's it. Want to add links? Nope. Want to add footnotes? Nope -- unless you create them as leaves for future formatting with another tool.

If it sounds like I'm being critical of the simplicity of Leafnote, I'm not. In fact, I've found over the years that when I begin using more advanced editors like Ulysses, I start paying more attention to how to use the tool than just sitting down and writing. Leafnote reminds me of TextEdit in that it is simple to use, and the addition of the tree-and-leaf structure makes it possible to easily organize even complex projects.

Once your draft is done in Leafnote and you want to move the document to more advanced publishing tools, the app can currently export in .rtf and .odt rich text formats as well as the .txt plaintext format. If you want to print a copy of your document, that's possible too -- I saved a copy of a project as a PDF file and it looked quite nice. Leafnote also lets you save projects as template files for future use.

Exporting and printing can be done by leaf or by tree, so whether you want to share just a chapter or a complete novel, Leafnote makes it possible.

Since Leafnote is in its infancy, there is plenty of room for growth. I'd like to see support for iCloud or Dropbox syncing, a way to change the default font size and type, and ... that's about it. Add any more features, and it might start getting too complex. Right now, the power of Leafnote really lies in its simplicity.

Leafnote requires OS X 10.6.6 or later and a 64-bit processor.

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