Birch 0.1.0 "Dev" release

Birch is the name of the new outliner tech that I’m working on. Still early, but I think ready for some testing and feedback.

This download includes:

  1. Open docs/index.html for installation instructions and API docs. I think must open in Chrome or links don’t work because files don’t have extensions :frowning:.

  2. The birch-outline-editor-package folder contains the Birch outliner package that needs to be installed into Atom as describe in the docs.

  3. The Birch.bml file contains background and basic instructions for using the outliner. Open it in Atom once you’ve installed the Birch package and it should open as an outline.

It’s a big change. Still long way to go. But I hope interesting and fun to try out. Please let me know how it goes, any problems you run into, and what you think.


Downloaded and checking it out.

Thanks for letting us see this Jesse !

It looks very promising – a good fast and fluid outlining editor, with a light html markup that displays clearly in browsers, and can carry both unique ids for each line, and a rich set of key-value pairs for nodepaths and querying.

I very much like being able to directly apply existing Atom themes like Solarized light/dark.

.bml seems a good extension.

I wonder if it would be worth adding to the distribution notes that to reopen a file as an outline, rather than as an HTML text file, you can add the .bml extension, having registered Atom as the default application for opening that ?

(I assume that at some point adding .bml automatically might become a default ?)

Some basic ability even to paste in text lines from another text app (newline delimited?) would be good, but assume you are working on something like this? Current paste just joins everything togther into one outline entry.

Looking forward to exploring. Is the next FT update (based on Birch) to be a point release or a major revision? I’m presuming the latter…?

Also, is there anything specific you want feedback on, Jesse, so we can save you from having to wade through our thoughts on things you’re already considering?


  • saved a .ft and a .md to experiment with how things might work in relation to my current workflow. Files contained the following:



      some text here @something 
      - tasks yet?
      - no. 

After reopening, contents of each file were are displayed as raw html. Intended, at this point in development?

Hi… forgot to mention in documentation. You need to rename the file to have the file extensions “.bml”. Then when you open it into Atom it should load as an outline.

Will be major update of some sort.

There’s nothing to specific. I’d welcome pretty much any type of feedback.

At a very high level I’m committed to this direction… I think a full syntax highlighting approach (as taken in FoldingText) didn’t work for what I wanted to do, and so I’m taking more traditional outliner UI and command approach in Birch. But beyond that high level there’s not much sacred in the current release. So if you think something could be improved by a rethink please bring it up.

Beyond that some areas where I’d be looking for feedback are:

  1. I hope to get some of you using this for real work as soon as possible. So first I’d like to hear of any roadblock that’s in the way of that happening.

  2. Once I can get it to the point where you can use it for something real then I’d just like general feedback, where would you like it to go. How can it be better.

  3. I’m also hopeful that I can eventually get some of you trying out (and validating, finding bugs, etc) the API to write extension packages.


Just had a minute to play around with this. I think some of my initial feedback is just unfamiliarity with Atom, but I’m not really sure. At any rate, this is what I personally would be looking for to move to Birch for daily use:

  1. has anyone found a theme that approximates the original FT theme (or Jamie’s customizations)? i.e., the grey background with blue accent text? Is it possible to port any of the LESS stuff from FT directly over to Atom? Will it be possible to style top level headers differently from children headers? With the li tags instead of h1/h2/etc. tags, I’m not sure how this might work–I think it’d be nice to differentiate h1/h2/etc. (None of this CSS/LESS stuff is really in my day-to-day wheelhouse. I can muddle through, but I don’t really have time for that until summer).
  2. Support for more of the filtering aspects of FT: filter by tag, header, also Jamie’s filter plugin. I see that’s on the roadmap, so I suppose you already know this is a priority :smile:

I’m really liking certain new aspects of this version, including the outline/text edit mode separation. Typically not a fan of modes, but I also work with FT documents in both of these ways sometimes–moving stuff around and organizing, or just opening a section and writing. Nice to add more efficient support for the moving stuff around activities.

I am a bit sad to see the more “free form” aspects of FT go by the wayside. There was something kind of magical about having a blank window that could be a regular text document and could then be lightly transformed into an outline and filtered via tags. But, I also appreciate the new areas of functionality that the new code base affords, so I’m cool with the tradeoffs.

Side question:

Does this new codebase make it more or less likely to have some kind of iOS editor? With FT, it was not optimal to read/write texts on iOS since none of the features of FT were available, but at least they could be read/written (say, adding text to an inbox file). Much of my workflow revolves around capturing on iOS, then writing on OS X. If Birch files can’t be written on iOS easily (without lossy Birch>MD / MD>Birch roundtripping), then that may be a big stumbling block. Maybe there’s an equivalent HTML editor that could be used (in the way that I used Editorial to work with FT docs on iOS rather than a native FT app)?

I realise this is early days then but what exactly is the target market you are after? It looks very much to me like a tool for developers, not an end user or a consumer user that wants an app to be simple and effective but has some key functionality not in a plain text editor.

I have used OmniOutliner, Things, OmniFocus, all sorts of UI apps but none of these have come close to the simplicity of Taskpaper or FoldingText for writing and getting stuff in and out that displays some structure and has useful things like tags , projects , tasks , notes etc and also can be exported to other editors easily.

The simple outline structure shown in Birch does not have any of these, so who would want to use it or is it just a development shell that needs plugins to give it added functionality?

I’m also curious about the considered primary uses for Folding Text, moving forward. I use FT as a task/project manager and “expansive thought platform” (aka note-taking, planning and document drafting, with outlining).

That said, seeing as Birch will likely be the codebase for both Folding Text and Taskpaper, I’m fairly confident that most of the things I currently enjoy about Folding Text will eventually carry through. I appreciate that what we currently see is probably nowhere near the kind of polished end product you’re working towards (and thank you for the opportunity to support the development of an application that is now a hugely important part of the way I work).

With Birch, if/when I can:

  • manipulate tags in the way we’re currently used to (filtering etc)
  • fold independently of indents (in FT2 I appreciate being able to fold on MD headings and subheadings as well as on lines with indents)
  • hack my own page styles (as per styling via FT2’s user.less)
  • easy round-tripping between BML and plain text

… I might be able to start using it to get real things done. Obviously there’s a lot more that I’d like to see before I could attempt to use it in the way I’m currently using FT, but with those points in play, I’ll really be able to get my hands dirty.

I second @derekvan’s sadness in missing the “free form” aspects of FT. Like @MarkLikesText, I’m also an OmniOutliner/Things/Omnifocus/etc migrant, and FT makes sense to me in a way that those apps never really did, partly because it combines the freedom/simplicity of a text document with all of the organisational power I need.

NOTE: for anyone who uses Editorial as a partner for FT on iOS— I’m currently trialling the next release. It’s going to make us pretty happy.

My understanding is that a core goal is actually to increase simplicity – create an outliner which anyone from grandparents to kids can use.

(MD outlining is a bit tricky – is this level a hash ? A bullet ? Changed your mind ? Now change all the indents, … etc)

As Jesse says at the bottom of the Birch.bml file in the demo package, tags, filtering, and editing of TaskPaper and Markdown files are all planned for the next stage: