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Smultron is fantastic. All-Cocoa, all open source, and very slick.

Consider one of the big "wow" features of the new BBEdit 8.0, unveiled to much acclaim just a few weeks ago--the Documents Drawer, which makes multiple windows a thing of the past. Well, Smultron offers that as standard and it works beautifully.

Screenshot showing Smultron with a number of open documents Smultron doing its stuff

Sling a load of texts into it, and flit from one to the other with some handy keyboard commands. Smultron remembers your window setup and, on re-launch, will bring back all of the documents you were working on. Since it's Cocoa, it does all the neat things you'd expect, like checking spelling as you type, and working with the Services menu, and generally it behave well on Panther.

I like it because it has the BBEdit feel without the price. Sure, it only has a fraction of BBEdit's features, but not everyone needs all of those features. Certainly for someone like me, wanting to work mainly with .txt and .html files and not much else, it's a delight. The added bonus of the documents drawer, which makes all that messing around in the Finder so much less of a deal, is the icing on the keyboard.

The features it does have--a huge list of syntax colors, built-in HTML preview, a detailed status bar, and a drawer for keeping often-used snippets of text--are well implemented and just plain useful.

It's also one of those rare apps with a sense of humor. In the preferences, you can tick a box marked "I hate brushed metal" to make the app more like an app, and less like something you'd plug into the stereo.

Smultron is only now at version 1.0.1, so there's still a long way for it to advance. Go grab a copy today, and send the creators an encouraging email.


NEdit is probably best described as an Emacs alternative; a powerful editor designed for programming, but built as a GUI application so that (relative) newbies don't have to know everything about X11 to make it function.

It runs in the X Windows environment, and obviously has been made for use on Unix and Linux computers. It runs very happily on a Mac, under X11, and makes for a capable and flexible coding space.

Screenshot of NEdit at work There's not much NEdit can't handle

By default, NEdit looks outdated on OS X (and even on modern Linux systems, too), but it's configurable to such an extent that many of the GUI features can be spruced up and brought into the G5 era. The NEdit team have written up some helpful guidelines for users wanting to do this.

For any long-standing Unix users looking for something that will let them do programming, but free them from the tyranny of the command line, NEdit is a worthy and speedy option.


No review of Mac text editors is complete without a mention of the superb and much-loved SubEthaEdit. Beloved of conference-goers, coders, and people who have to write with other people, it is special because it's unique.

No other editor is designed for the sharing of documents, in real time, across networks or over the Internet. SubEthaEdit allows people in far-flung places to have their say over the conference agenda, the seating plan, or the family holiday arrangements. Oh, and it's quite helpful if you're writing code with a bunch of other programmers, too.

Screenshot of SubEthaEdit in use SubEthaEdit lets you work with other people on the same document, in real time

SubEthaEdit has earned many loyal users because it works as described, without fuss, and with all of the grace and elegance of a much more mature application. While it has all the text-related features a programmer or writer might need, it also combines helpful collaboration features that you might never have realized you were living without.

Simply by including various ways for users to follow what their collaborators are doing (through use of color-coding of text, and following other people's selections and edits), the creators made sure that SubEthaEdit worked as a way of watching what other people were writing, as well as adding text of your own. Collaboration becomes clear. This is an outstanding editor, all the more so given the price--it costs nothing.


I have something of a soft spot for TextForge, an app that started out as shareware and is now free of charge.

For quite a while, it was my best friend and my primary writing tool. It's fast and stable and has a very comfortable "feel" to it. This is almost impossible to describe to anyone who finds the attraction of text editors hard to fathom, but trust me; when using it, I was able to churn out more words, and faster. I just liked the feeling I got while typing within it.

TextForge keeps things simple
TextForge keeps things simple

It's another Cocoa app, written from the outset for OS X, and so is very nice to use. The features are few but all of them useful. It can handle any kind of text very speedily, and uses a limited selection of pre-assigned text/background color palettes, and transparency, to good effect. What it lacks is support for syntax, and this was what eventually drove me back to the loving arms of BBEdit. I was writing too many bits of HTML, editing too many Movable Type templates, to get by without some syntax to help me spot errors.

I keep it around because sometimes, when I'm feeling like I need to get a lot of words out of my system, I like to use it for creative writing, or to maintain a diary. It still brings out the productivity monster in me, and for that I remain very thankful.


Typically, just as we were putting the finishing touches to this article, someone went and released a whole new text editor for us to play with, so we had little choice but to drop everything and try it out.

TextMate is the application in question, and not a shy one at that. Its makers are claiming some of BBEdit's turf, promising something just as useful for programmers and coders, but without the bloat and at a much lower price.

Certainly, TextMate is feature-rich. It includes some useful file-organizing tools, such as a documents drawer (which can be sub-divided into folders), and a visually attractive tabbed windows effect when working with multiple documents.

There's a comprehensive set of keyboard commands to absorb, too. There's a command for nearly every option in the extensive menus, although that means some of them feel a little unwieldy to the fingers - Control+Option+Command+D to show and hide the documents drawer, for example. The plentiful menu options do mean that users with smaller monitors may find some of their standard menu bar controls being masked while using TextMate.

TextMate certainly seems to be a programmer's editor, rather than a writer's editor. It thinks and acts in terms of file suffixes and code syntaxes; the writing environment is weighted heavily toward code creation and file management, both very worthy targets for such an editor to have. It's very customizable, scriptable, and offers users the chance to create a uniquely personalized editing environment to suit their needs.

Screenshot showing TextMate with  several documents open TextMate shows documents available within a project in a drawer to the left; open documents are shown in a tab bar at the top

The decison by the TextMate team to not offer a Preferences box is a controversial one. According to Macromates, this reflects the "simplicity inherent in the application", although personally, I'd find it easier to change application preferences from one central location rather than searching for them among menu options.

While some features (text snippets, text folding, pipe files through scripts without leaving TextMate, extensive automation tools, and column editing -- one of my favorites) have got people raving with delight, other oddities (lack of print support, no Preferences, GUI quirks) provoked some disappointment.

It's clear, though, that TextMate has a lot to offer and may well appeal to developers who find alternatives too expensive, bloated, or out of date. Then again, this is a young application and there are wrinkles to be ironed out. But for some people, that's all part of the fun of using a new piece of software.


  • Wondering what happened to mi? The many-preferenced editor I included in my freeware round-up waaay back in March 2003 is still available for download, but the author is no longer supporting the English version.
  • I confess, I did think of headlining this article "The Joy of Text," but then I thought that a) no-one would ever read it, and b) no one would forgive me, least of all myself. Thank you for indulging me and reading all the way to the end of this.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at

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