BBEdit 6.1, by Bare Bones Software
Posted: 10-June-2001

5 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Bare Bones Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bob Kenyon Class: PRODUCTIVITY

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 the web.

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.

Pros

  • Built in FTP client
  • Powerful find and replace
  • Pay version includes HTML tools
  • Free version


Cons

  • 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


Overall Rating

5 out of 5 Mice