When Bare Bones Software announced the latest version of BBEdit, I was, quite literally singing its praise in my head. Now, it is no secret I am a big Bare Bones fan (and an unpaid one, I fully assure you) but even that may seem a bit extreme, eh? You see, I had just been asked by a client to alter 151 pages of XHTML code on a site of theirs, namely perform typographic operations ranging from basic quote curling to the updating of a product naming scheme. I do cooler stuff but hey, it pays for the backlit keyboards. Thanks to SFTP browsers, grep searching and a couple of Unix filters — including good old SmartyPants –, I was able to do all that without leaving BBEdit itself — or keeping an anxious client waiting.
Being a long term Mac user and BBEdit enthusiast, I expect version 8.5 will have most websites rambling about its new icon, so let’s get that one out of the way. In a word, it’s superb. It’s edgier, a lot crisper and, overall, a lot more distinguishable in the Dock than its previous, flatter counterparts. Beyond aesthetics however, it embodies what BBEdit is all about: quiet, reliable, unstoppable change. You see, it, fundamentally, is a BBEdit icon: black “B”, blue and white chequers, square in square. Yet, it is definitely in line with the Tiger look we all love with a crisp gloss, a slight slant and bolder colors - which, if you look closely are more like gradients as they should be. Also, beyond any visual considerations, its new shape makes it a lot easier to click, especially in a crowded Dock: despite all my efforts, I’ve never been quite the clicker and the little angle that stick out of the icon often ends up catching the click that would otherwise have gone straight to the desktop. Oh, and it scales well too.
The biggest shock however, at least to long term BBEdit users, will without doubt come from the application window itself. Indeed, while BBEdit windows have always put a lot of great little tools at the user’s fingertips, there were times where their spartan interface could keep some of them a secret. That, I am happy to report, is now a thing of the past.
The toolbar is still here but sports fewer, bigger icons, focusing on editing essentials: text wrapping, gutters, line numbers… The info and crayon buttons still fulfill the same functions (providing information on a document and allowing for on-the-flight authentication while editing system files). The real magic, however, at least in my humble opinion begins below: the little glossy bar between the tool bar and the actual document features markers, counterparts and allows for fast document switching, even with the document drawer closed - since BBEdit does feature tabs, in its own way. The menus smoothly adapt to reflect the actual status of the document so double as indicators.
Now, if, like me, you deal with a few different languages, file formats and character encodings, you are likely to have a love-hate relationship with BBEdit’s three corresponding menus. You rely on them, you have to have them and yet, you wish they went away. In that case, your wish is almost granted as these have been moved neatly out of sight at the bottom of the window and, again, double as indicators: set and forget, such is their new motto.
All in all, all windows and dialogs feature a myriad of little changes and touches that update and streamlines their look - they look a lot cleaner - without disrupting an existing workflow - I just switched to 8.5 and haven’t so much as paused for a second.
Since we’re on the topic of windows, let’s bring up for a second what is the application’s most feared one, shall we? Of course, long time users will know I am talking about the preferences window, that treasure chest of customization that hides so many wonders - and sometimes hides them so well… Here, I am happy to report everything has been overhauled. Windows are bigger and brighter, options fewer and more logically organized… If you’re capable of handling, say the Network Preferences Pane, that one should be a piece of crumb-free coffee cake.
The real kick, of course, is the “Spotlight-like” preferences search feature. Wanna change colors? Simply open the Window’s drawer, type “Colors” in the search box and watch as BBEdit suggests a list of all panes that may interest you. Yes, BBEdit is pulling a System Preferences on us, only without the questionable visual effects and wait times - and for the record, yes, I know this has nothing to do with Spotlight. It is, nevertheless, very cool.
Now, everybody has a BBEdit favorite of his own so I certainly wouldn’t be able to cover it all. Version 8.5 has a great many tricks up its sleeve from the biggest feature to the smallest detail so you are bound to find something to your liking there. Here, however are a few of my own:
- Code folding. Added automatically through the language bundles (of course), and customizable by the user. My long XHTML pages are now a thing of the past.
- Autocompletion, coming to us through the revamped Clippings feature.
- The streamlined disk browsers, which I kept forgetting about in previous versions. Of course, BBEdit will not replace Transmit any time soon, nor should it have to. When one wishes to only update the content of a site, or a style sheet however, being able to open a file on a server as if it were on the drive is pure bliss. And yes, it works for site wide find and replaces with autosave too! Enterprise users will appreciate the available Bonjouring of the process. (Is that a word? No? It should be.)
- The ability to disable menus (or menu items) through preferences. It sounds silly but I have never, in all my life, used any of the Hex Dump features of BBEdit. You know what? Chances are I never will so being able to take them out of sight is comforting. Less menus, more intelligent buttons: we are starting to feel a pattern here, aren’t we?
- My favorite, the coolest of all: the ability to save files as gzip. Simply do a “Save as”, enter the .gzip extension and you’re good to go! Of course, you can keep editing that Gzip file live and updating it. Silly I hear you say? I have four words for you: “Please see enclosed document”, especially in a multi-platform office.
- On a side note, I would feel very bad not mentioning the one feature I know many of you were clamoring for but that I, personally, have little need for: macros - which, by the way, is not new. They are called, of course, Text Factories, but the streamlined graphical interface turns them into a full-blown built-in Automator for your documents. And if you feel like the Bare Bones-provided options are limiting, the system can be expanded with UNIX and AppleScript filters of your choice. Nifty, eh? Of course, when it comes to interacting with other applications, actual Automator compatibility is assured (including BBEdit’s signature search and replace) as well but factories can be an important component of semi-scripted workflows.
Streamlining is the operative word for this BBEdit release. It has some great new features, of course, but the application has reached the level of maturity where avoiding bloat should be a priority - lest it wants to become a new Office - and this is exactly what Bare Bones is doing. Features keep being added to keep up with new workflows, formats and languages but the core application itself has been reviewed, re-evaluated and redesigned, by small, sharp touches. In my eyes, the perfect balance. Oh, and all these changes are also documented in true Bare Bones fashion.
Now, is BBEdit perfect? No, no application is. It does not cook organic ratatouille, I wish SFTP browsers were improved still and I am longing for the ability to remove colors from the interface, à la OmniWeb. But these are minor details. BBEdit is here, is strong and has once again leaped ahead with I want to call a subtly groundbreaking release.
Will it squash all other text editors and establish a monopoly on the Mac text processing market? Probably not and it’s for the best. There always has been and always will be place for healthy competition in the field: it fosters creativity and, in the end, benefits everyone. But any wonderings I may have had about the future of the application are well cleared. Rock on BBEdit, we love you.