Hands on: BBEdit 12 is the Swiss Army Knife of text editors for the Mac

Posted:
in Mac Software
The more of a programmer's kind of brain that you have, the more you will get from this app but the sheer range and power of its tools is compelling. AppleInsider dives in.




Everything looked so easy. We wanted to explain how to pick the best writing tool in the spectrum of options from text editors to word processors -- and we did. Yet there was one example that just stubbornly refused to slot neatly into one spot in that mix of purpose, features and usability. Also there was one developer who suggested that their app has broader, deeper and perhaps more specific appeal than we'd said.

For BBEdit 12.1.5 from Bare Bones Software can be the most basic note taking app you'll ever use but in the next moment it can do the most powerful text manipulation.




That power makes this compelling for any writer but it is definitely designed with programmers in mind and that can be a barrier.

You just can't touch it for little geeky features, either. So if you type an opening speech mark in BBEdit, the app immediately adds a closing one just the other side of your cursor. It's the tiniest thing but it's a treat and there are bigger delights.

Our favorite is particularly simple. but we haven't seen it in other text editors. If you copy a lot of text before you open BBEdit then you have the option to create a new document with that text already in it. This saves you just about no time at all compared to opening a new document and pasting the text in, yet in practice it makes a huge difference.

The speed and convenience of it makes BBEdit feel fast and responsive.




Then you can get BBEdit to compare two documents to find the differences in them. If you can't remember where you wrote a certain phrase or referred to a certain person, you do a search -- but BBEdit will look across all your documents rather than just the present one.

Speaking of searching, BBEdit supports regular expressions.




You're used to Find and Replace, you've done that a thousand times, but every once in a while it's not good enough. You've been landed with someone else's academic paper and it constantly cites author names the wrong way. It has them listed throughout as Shakespeare, William and you want William Shakespeare.

That might be okay if he were the only author mentioned in the paper or if he only came up twice. What you've been saddled with, though, is countless authors mentioned countless times.

Find and Replace won't cut it -- but regular expressions will. You have to learn the codes and symbols of regular expressions but when you do, you can tell BBEdit to search in certain parts of the document for these names, find the comma between them and then effectively reverse the order.

The first time you do it, you'll spend longer figuring out how to use regular expressions than it would take you to do the work by hand. However, the second time it comes up, you'll fly.

There is a chance that you'll actually fly back to Word, though. The niceties of word processing that you may be used to such as having Styles don't strictly speaking exist here. It's actually hard to definitively say BBEdit can't do something because you can add or alter features in it yourself through the right Terminal commands.

Yet if you want to write 100,000 words of book and be able to move every chapter around at will, you should be looking to Word or Scrivener.

However, if you're writing shorter pieces for online use then BBEdit is better than either of those. It's a boon because normal word processors add invisible characters to your document which make sense in that app but result in your online text looking peculiar.

BBEdit doesn't insert any of these hidden codes so what you write in it, you can post online immediately.




We say that the app is laden with features. Given that it has that number, and range, and adjustability of options that it does, BBEdit 12 presents its tools well. It's just that sometimes there is a logic that isn't exactly universal.

BBEdit is that Swiss Army knife that we alluded to in the headline up there. It has that toothpick, the spork, the seven blades, the screwdriver, and 15 other pop-out things. This is all good, until you want that one specific saw blade to pop out in the kit and can't find it.

For instance, BBEdit 12 introduced a dark mode and naturally you'd expect to find that option in the app's preferences. It is there, but you'll search through different sets of preferences under headings such as Appearance, Application and more before you'll think to look in Text Colors.

Once you know, it's fine, but when you're used to more traditional writing tools you won't be used to how you have to search for options and features. Because of this, it's not right for everyone and will actively turn off some. But if it is right for you, you'll think that it is nothing short of magical.

BBEdit has been around forever. The current version is 12.1.5 costs $49.99 direct from the developer and requires macOS El Capitan 10.11.6 or higher.

You can download a trial version which runs for 30 days. It's a generous trial because after that time, the app just switches off certain of its extra features and leaves you with a completely workable text editor.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    ElCapitanElCapitan Posts: 128member
    I use it for software development every day, and it is pretty good and performant even for a software repository of over 10000 files in the project. 

    It is not so hands on like working directly in Xcode, but also Xcode slows down with such large projects, and not everything can be built and tested directly in Xcode. Much of the time edits in BBEdit and compile with xcodebuild is faster than waiting for Xcode's re-indexing and other quirks. 

    The initial release was on Apr 12, 1992, and it is still going strong! Recommended!
  • Reply 2 of 11
    Visual Studio Code > BBEdit.
    dewmewilliamlondon
  • Reply 3 of 11
    ElCapitanElCapitan Posts: 128member
    bleaknik said:
    Visual Studio Code > BBEdit.
    It depends.

    Visual Studio Code has a tendency to get annoying over time like most Microsoft products do.
    It is getting over engineered.
    It installs stuff all over the place, and even simple menu items like Check for Update breaks just about every Apple UI interface guideline and convention there is.
    For a company with the resources of Microsoft a minimum effort to support the macOS guidelines are expected. Like Skype and VS, it does not even bother to ask if you want to download a new version, it just crams it down on your disk even if you want it or not. 
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 4 of 11
    I use UltraEdit on Windows, Linux and MacOS. Ok, a tad more expensive that BBEdit but I've been using for more than 10 years. Kinda difficult to change now.
  • Reply 5 of 11
    ElCapitanElCapitan Posts: 128member
    I use UltraEdit on Windows, Linux and MacOS. Ok, a tad more expensive that BBEdit but I've been using for more than 10 years. Kinda difficult to change now.
    I used to find there were certain types of edits I couldn't do with BBEdit so I also paid for UltraEdit. But with the last few updates of BBEdit I find I don't use it any more as they have added features. 

    You do of course get a license you can install on both Windows, Linux and MacOS. I suppose you can do the same with VS Code for free. So I may not pay for the next version update. 
  • Reply 6 of 11
    jasenj1jasenj1 Posts: 908member
    I like VS Code, too. But I haven’t used BBEdit.
    I tend to edit various formats - markdown, XML, JSON, PlantUML, and on and on.

    VS Code has a large developer community with lots of plugins available.
  • Reply 7 of 11
    tokyojimutokyojimu Posts: 384member
    vi does everything I need and it’s free on every Mac. 
  • Reply 8 of 11
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,864member
    My favorite free text editor on the PC is Notepad++ and I’m always looking for an equivalent Mac alternative. Atom and VS Code aren’t bad if you don’t overload them with add-on packages. I’ve tried TextWrangler which was a stripped down version of BB Edit. Still, nothing quite compares to Notepad++ in terms of speed and features. I particularly like its block (row + column) editing capability and plugins like Document Monitor for tail functionality. Still looking...

    The reality is that developers tend to be very loyal to a very small number of text editors, typically one, through many years of use and after learning all of the subtle nuances of the tool for every conceivable text editing workflow, including writing code, generating scripts, viewing log/trace files, taking meeting notes, rough draft document generation/editing, outlining, etc. Once a developer has bonded with a particular text editor, no matter how primitive it may appear to nonbelievers, the probability of them changing to a new text editing tool is pretty slim. The challenge for new text editor tool vendors is to capture newer developers before they form a permanent bond with a particular tool. Supporting Wordstar line editing and block editing commands doesn’t hurt either.
    rotateleftbytearthargrazorpit
  • Reply 9 of 11
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,639member
    I've never had a job that required me to do much writing so word processors have always been low on my list of apps to learn in detail. This one seems to have a lot of features that, like the author says, could turn off many people, but will greatly please others. This is why we like to have small developers offering options to the mass market apps by Microsoft and even Apple. Seems like a nice app - good work Bare Bones.
  • Reply 10 of 11
    odinsdadodinsdad Posts: 12member

    It doesn’t suck.®


  • Reply 11 of 11
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,195moderator
    dewme said:
    My favorite free text editor on the PC is Notepad++ and I’m always looking for an equivalent Mac alternative. Atom and VS Code aren’t bad if you don’t overload them with add-on packages. I’ve tried TextWrangler which was a stripped down version of BB Edit. Still, nothing quite compares to Notepad++ in terms of speed and features. I particularly like its block (row + column) editing capability and plugins like Document Monitor for tail functionality. Still looking...

    The reality is that developers tend to be very loyal to a very small number of text editors, typically one, through many years of use and after learning all of the subtle nuances of the tool for every conceivable text editing workflow, including writing code, generating scripts, viewing log/trace files, taking meeting notes, rough draft document generation/editing, outlining, etc. Once a developer has bonded with a particular text editor, no matter how primitive it may appear to nonbelievers, the probability of them changing to a new text editing tool is pretty slim. The challenge for new text editor tool vendors is to capture newer developers before they form a permanent bond with a particular tool. Supporting Wordstar line editing and block editing commands doesn’t hurt either.
    Sublime ( https://www.sublimetext.com ) is pretty good for performance and has packages, as does Brackets by Adobe ( http://brackets.io ). Block edits are done using command-select for separate selections or alt-select for columns. You can do tail a couple of ways, there's a plugin for Sublime ( https://github.com/gitter-badger/SublimeLogTail ) but you can also just loop tail into a buffer and open the buffer (or the original file but a smaller buffer is easier to load), the editor will keep reloading the file as it updates:

    while :; do clear; tail -n 1000 /var/log/system.log > ~/Desktop/tailed.log; sleep 2; done

    Open ~/Desktop/tailed.log in Sublime and it will show the system log updates like the console log does, TextWrangler/BBEdit does too. Showing white space and tabs is a preference setting ("draw_white_space":"all") that can be commented out. There's a plugin to show line endings. Plugins are here:

    https://packagecontrol.io
    https://packagecontrol.io/installation

    It would be nice to have all the functionality there by default instead of having to patch things to work how you want but usually the extra functionality only applies to a small portion of the userbase.

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