When people think
of text editors on the Mac (or any other PC for that matter), they usually think
of programs like Microsoft Word, or Nisus Writer or WriteNow, which went through
several owners before winding up at its present owner, Corel. What distinguishes
these programs from Bare Bones Software's BBEdit is that the word processors process
text for printing. BBEdit just processes text.
BBEdit was first written to provide programmers with an alternative to editors provided
in the programming environments of the time, usually Symantec or Codewarrior. Although
the text editors in those environments got the job done, there was a market for a
program that provided just a little more. BBEdit has a Plug-In feature, similar to
Adobe Photoshop, where third party software solutions can be made to work seamlessly
with the program. Many third party Plug-Ins were developed to help software programmers
do what they needed to do. There are plug ins that columnize text, convert high ascii
codes to ascii, provide smart quotes, add line numbers, add and take away comment
characters--the list is endless.
At some point an enterprising programmer even developed a plug-in to add HTML text
tags to text. When the web took off and everyone was writing web pages (this was
before the advent of graphical solutions like Claris Home Page or Netscape's Composer)
the addition of this little bit of code to BBEdit, already fast and small, caused
BBEdit to become one of the most popular ways to edit HTML pages. Soon, instead of
having to track down the HTML plug in, it was just supplied with the program.
Combine this with Bare Bones Software's business model of supplying a "Lite"
version of BBEdit for free, and charging for a more complete version, and soon this
program became a very popular choice indeed. The Lite version has nearly everything
that the pay version does except the HTML plug in, which you can find for free on
I've been using the latest 6.1 version of the program on Mac OS X, so I'd expect
a lot of problems from using that operating system, but BBEdit is one of my best
behaved Mac OS X programs. I've been using it since before the 4 version, and it
is one program that I do not hesitate to upgrade immediately.
Another really cool feature is the FTP client built right into the program. You can
open files on an FTP server as if they were on one of your hard drives. Instead of
having to log on to the server, start up some arcane unix editor, edit your file
and log out, you can just open it from inside of BBEdit. Passwords are seamlessly
controlled by Apple's Key Chain, if you want.
Another problem that cross platform users run up against in working with "plain"
text files is the annoying differences between the end of line character on different
platforms. You've seen this if you open a plain text file from your friend's PC in
SimpleText. At the end of each line is a little box, which represents the extra end-of-line
character in all PC text files. Well, BBEdit automatically detects these and keeps
track of whether your file is a PC file, a Mac file or even a Unix file. You can
convert easily between each format so that your friends won't see boxes on their
boxes either. You can also tell BBEdit to mark your file to be opened in whatever
program you want, as well. If your original file is a Microsoft Word text-only file,
and you edit it in BBEdit and save it, it will remember that it's a Microsoft Word
file, unless you tell it otherwise.
One of the things that people editing text need to do is make changes globally across
a document. When opening the find dialog for BBEdit, you will find a dialog box packed
full of options ranging from searching for previous strings to using grep, a powerful
string manipulation language familiar to most unix users. You can even find and replace
in more than one file at a time, and even if they aren't open. A separate but just
as useful feature called "Find Differences..." lets you compare two files
and examine the differences one by one, electing whether or not to apply the changes
to either of the two files.
But, as mentioned earlier, editing HTML files is where this program really comes
into its own. After the HTML tools were integrated more fully into the program, many
more features were added. There is an HTML tools pallette, which contains buttons
for adding nearly any tag to an HTML document, or even starting a new one. DTDs can
be specified, so that the documents will be compliant with any specific DTD. Plain
text files can be converted into HTML, giving the webmaster a quick cut at HTMLizing
a page. And once all the tags are specified, the document can be checked for syntax
errors, and even formatted in one of several different formats, like Hierarchical,
gentle Hierarchical, and even Compact, which jams all the HTML into one line, supposedly
to aid loading speed. The document can then be previewed in any browser just by pushing
a button, which will either preview in your chosen browser or all browsers on your
machine. And if you're stuck with an HTML file from someone's graphical editor like
GoLive, PageMill or Home Page, you can select a menu item that will clean out all
the non-compliant gunk.
There are an amazing number of hooks built into this program to allow it to live
with programming environments like CodeWarrior and for writing AppleScript. There
is an included set of Perl tools that I haven't even tried yet. And I've learned
more about grep from the help tools in BBEdit than I have from any other source.
Amazingly enough for a straight text program, you can look at your work in any font
installed on the machine, but I really don't know why you'd want to do that.
All in all, I think that BBEdit is not only a useful program, but it is one of the
best written programs out there. If you have any need to process text, not necessarily
for printing but for programming or HTML, BBEdit is the program you need.
- Built in FTP client
- Powerful find and
- Pay version includes
- Free version
- No HTML tools included
with free version (but free plug-in on the web)
- Preview HTML feature
requires you to save before previewing
- Complexity of menu
and preference choices can be overwhelming
5 out of 5 Mice