Why I switched from MultiMarkdown to Pandoc

Posted by Dave Tucker on Wed 12 June 2013

For the last 6 months I've been using Markdown where I can. Since embarking on the path towards a more Agile approach to writing, it has been necessary to use Markdown more and more. This has led me towards using Pandoc Markdown rather than MultMarkdown as my dialect of choice and I hope to explain why.

So what's so good about Markdown?

If you haven't used Markdown already, you might be wondering what the fuss is about. Basically it is a way of writing markup in an easy-to-read, easy-to-write fashion. It decouples the act of writing from formatting/layout so the same source text can be used to produce multiple formats.

Barriers to Markdown adoption

So what are the barriers to Markdown adoption? Personally I have found only two.

While I use Markdown, the rest of the company uses Microsoft Word - All of our corporate templates are in MS Word format - Neither Markdown or MultiMarkdown reliably export to MS Word format (yes MMD does ODF, but it doesn't handle images well)

The next issue is that Markdown to PDF conversion uses LaTeX. Unfortunately I neither have the time nor inclination to learn LaTeX. While it can be a powerful typesetting language it would require a Herculean effort to convert the corporate templates over for easy PDF generation.

I do however know some CSS, and to get over this PDF export hurdle I'm starting to experiment with using CSS print stylesheets, printing from the browser direct to PDF and making the finishing touches in Acrobat Pro.

MultiMarkdown vs. Pandoc

So docx export is a major requirement for my Markdown needs. As it turns out, there is a Markdown dialect called Pandoc that actually has stable docx export as well as a wealth of other features.

Perhaps one of the most attractive features of Pandoc is the expansive list of export formats. EPUB is the one that I am most looking forward to trying out.

There is a full comparison of MultiMarkdown vs Pandoc here.

The only thing that Pandoc doesn't do is MultiMarkdown style tables. MultiMarkdown tables allow cells to be merged/grouped which is a technique I've used in the past. It seems Pandoc can convert between MultiMarkdown and it's own Markdown although I've yet to see if it works for tables.

I tested the Microsoft Word docx output and it works like a champ. I could copy/paste the text in to our corporate template and 90% of the styles were automagically updates (tables styles were little trickier). Perhaps the coolest thing about the dock export is that I can use an existing Word doc as a template, and Pandoc automatically applies the styles!

Conclusion

Using Pandoc gives me the flexibility I need to export to Microsoft Word docx format. This allows me to work 100% in Markdown and publish in the format I'm expected to use. It also opens new possibilities like publishing to EPUB and I don't need to compromise on any of the features that I've become used to in MultiMarkdown.

@dave_tucker


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