I am often asked which application, of TextMate and BBEdit is “best”. My heart incontestably goes to BBEdit but, truth is, both are good. Here is why we should stop fighting over it.
BareBones software is well-known among the circle we could call “Mac geeks”: indeed, thousands of people have come to rely on and appreciate the completeness and stability of BBEdit, their flagship text processing software. From code to lists, through configuration files and quick notes, there is nothing BBEdit doesn’t handle smoothly, reliably and quickly. In fact, for years, BBEdit was highly respected as being a prime example of what a Mac application should be.
Then came TextMate, the “other” text editor. At first, it was made fun of and mocked. Then, it started impressing the community. Today, it is commonly thought of as “the other editor”, the one that will overthrow BBEdit’s reign, maybe even put an end to Bare Bones Software.
As a text geek, I own licenses on both. It is no secret that I am a fan of most things Bare Bones — and no, I don’t get a discount, nor am I asking for one — but I like to stay on top of what’s happening in my little field and, hence, routinely use both applications. For this reason, I am often asked which one I prefer and how long I think it will be before TextMate wins.
My reply to this, as of today, would be: neither will win. And not for the reasons you might think. In fact, speaking today on, March 6, 2006, TextMate is, compared to BBEdit, a bit of a joke: full of promise, brilliantly thought-through, but definitely not ready — nor is it supposed to really be and its developers are working full speed to improve the application, something I admire and applaud. No, when comparing both, one needs to imagine what they will become, an admittedly risky endeavor. When I say neither will win a battle, I do take TextMate’s “just out of beta” status into account: neither will, in my mind, win a battle, even in the long run, because there is no battle to fight.
BBEdit is a truly Mac application. It has windows, buttons, preferences, documentation, and a company to back it. TextMate is a UNIX application. It has commands, plugins, configuration files and a community to back it. Of course, I’m simplifying a bit but, at much every level, from feature set to interface through support, both applications come from two very different worlds. In that, they will appeal to different users.
I am a Mac user. I know a bit of grep but I don’t want to study Python to add functionalities to my text editor. In that, BBEdit ravishes me: there is a button for everything, a menu item per function but that comes at the cost of limited extendibility. I know many users who hate that and prefer an extremely supple text editor, à la emacs, vi or whatever, allowing them to plug and tinker to their heart’s content. BBEdit has the most sinfully boring interface on earth because it works and it has come to make sense — Rich Siegel has already commented on how BareBones constantly reviews interfaces but is careful not to “break” anything. TextMate adds buttons, menus and options with each release and its users love the feeling of responsiveness they get from developers. It feels Cocoa in its preferences pane, X11 in its Tip of the Day and KDE in its bundle editor.
Thinking of text however, both applications are pretty much capable of doing similar things: they open text files, manipulate them, highlight code, run relatively smoothly and allow for plenty of UNIX or regular expression wizardry through their respective interfaces. Speaking in terms of actual use, I don’t believe BBEdit or TextMate are fundamentally different — even if, of course, they each have stronger and weaker points. Both get the job done. But both are also fundamentally different, in their own right and fashion. Brownie points go to BBEdit for its AppleScriptability but then TextMate has macros.
For now, and probably for years to come, I’m definitely a BBEdit guy. Give me updates, support and change the icon, I will be in heaven. But I don’t think TextMate is bad or BBEdit’s enemy. And those who like TextMate should give BBEdit a serious look, if only to see whether they may like it as well. For now, TextMate is “cool” and BBEdit is “out” but five years from now, this will no longer matter.
A closing remark, if I may. Many people often email me asking me why I accept to pay the BBEdit license and why I don’t wait until Bare Bones comes to “its senses”. Why? Because 39€ for TextMate is as much as a rip-off as 99$ for BBEdit: I could have editors as powerful, if not more, for free through X11 or the command line, much like I could be running Linux instead of Mac OS X, for pretty much the same feature set — at least as far as a text addict is concerned. There is much more to a choice than price and those who meet the requirements to run either application have already agreed on that, consciously or not.
Time for a new theme song, maybe?