Moving work towards Birch


For my workflows (gathering and shaping thoughts in outlines, generating structured output with queries and perspectives on dates and other tags) I can see that Birch is going to work well.

In particular:

  • I will gain stable links to particular lines (from other texts, and reports)
  • I’ll be able to use the outline-aware querying and reporting of xpath and xquery (built into OS X)
  • outlining will be simpler, more solid, and finally disentangled from formatting
  • and my work will be in a standard text markup which any browser can display directly, and which can quickly round-trip in and out of other text markups, like Markdown, OPML, Textile etc

I’ll also gain a number of built-in things from Atom, which has a lot of people working on it, and is clearly on a good course.

What will it take to make that transition ?

I thought I’d record the issues as I bump into them, share any scripts or solutions I find or make, and exchange notes with others who are doing the same.

I’ll gather a short check-list of the current issues/solutions for me now, and post it in this thread.


First three things for me:

  • nvAlt functions
  • tags
  • appearance


the issue
Text files of any kind (bml, txt, md, html, opml) need a home, and they need rapid cross-file search.

For years I’ve been jumping back and forth between FoldingText and nvAlt to get quick search and archiving.

A very welcome strength of the Atom platform is that we can get folder views and cross-file folder searches (much like nvAlt) without leaving the editor.

what I’m doing at the moment

  • I’ve set Atom to be the default editor for extensions like .txt
  • I can see my whole existing nvAlt folder (or any other folder) in Atom’s ⌘/ Tree View panel
  • and I get an immediate display of cross file search results with ⌘⇧F Find in Project

In other words, I can use Atom for both MD and Birch outlines, and get quick cross-file search for each.

( nvAlt does have MD preview, but it seems to go into a spin and need the fan on a 2015 MacBook Pro if I start keeping HTML files in it )


the issue

Key-value pairs are central to the way I structure and schedule projects. At the moment, I can export @key(value) and @tag elements from FT to .bml attributes, and I can even use xpath and xquery on them if I want to, but I can’t yet view them or edit them in Birch outlining mode.

Visible and editable node attributes are the key thing I’m waiting for.

Appearance, themes, .Less

No Birch-specific themes or .less files yet, but they will come.

In the meanwhile, you can already:

  • Experiment with existing Atom themes (built in, or downloaded from the community resources) (through Atom > Preferences > Themes)
  • or, from the same panel, choose ‘your stylesheet’ to add some .less adjustments of your own.


I second Rob’s identification of these benefits.

Also: I hadn’t thought to use Atom to replace nvALT–this is clever and useful. The Tree View is particularly handy and a feature I had hoped to see in FT. Given nvALT’s end of life status (Brett is working on some kind of successor as mentioned on recent episodes of Systematic) this is also worth considering anyway.