BBEdit 8

by Joe Gillespie — Oct 1, 2004

When I first started designing Web pages way back in 1993, there were no HTML editors and only one browser – NCSA Mosaic. I was a hand-coder from the start and at that time I used Microsoft Word as my HTML editor because it had a lot more going for it than SimpleText. It only took a couple of days to learn HTML in those days, there wasn't much of it and it was considerably easier than scripting Director or HyperCard.

Although I've flirted with various WYSIWYG editors since then – Adobe PageMill, Claris HomePage, Macromedia Deamweaver and Adobe GoLive, I keep returning to BBEdit. For the kind of work I do, only a good text editor gives me the scope and freedom I need to realise my ideas and I have yet to find one that suits me better than BBEdit.

Version 8 has just arrived. I wondered how Bare Bones could possibly improve on something that was as near perfect as I could want – well, they have! There are over a hundred improvements, some of them very minor, but two of them are very significant and one of those I'd even describe as 'devastating'.

The first major new feature is 'multi-document windows'. You now have the option to open your documents in a tabbed window and use the document drawer or a navigation bar to flick between them. The idea is to cut down screen clutter – and I like a disgustingly tidy, minimalist desktop so this is much better than a screenful of overlapping windows! I still use overlapping windows to be able to access other programs' documents instantly but having all my BBEdit files rationalised into a single window is a lot cleaner – most of the time. Comparing or copying and pasting between documents is probably still better down with two separate windows – but now I have the choice.

In version 7, the new feature that blew me away was 'live rendering'. Being able to see the fully rendered page as I edit the HTML or CSS without having to launch other browsers or click on buttons is fantastic.

The killer new feature in version 8 is called 'Text Factories'. Text Factories are a bit like Photoshop Actions but they apply a sequence of 'filters' to text – in single or multiple documents. I have often used BBEdit's unbeatable 'Search and Replace' to change text or markup across a whole site. The trouble was, that it would only do one search and replace at a time, so each replacement had to be done individually. I could write an AppleScript to apply a set of separate actions, and have done on many occasions, but setting that up takes time. Text Factories allow you to build-up a series of replacements along with any other modifications like changing case, educating quotes or modifying line endings. They are added in the new Text Factory dialog box by just clicking on a plus sign, choosing the type of modification and setting the individual options. The Text Factory can be saved to disc for later use. It would be nice if the actions could be 'recorded' in real time as they are in Photoshop – maybe that will come next time.

Once you have set up the sequence of filters, you choose which files you want to apply it to and click 'Apply'. The whole thing happens in one or two seconds and I can tell you, this feature has already saved me the full price of the program inside a week on just one job!

Other new features include comprehensive UniCode support, new CSS 2.1 tools, built-in HTML Tidy Tool and a HTML Syntax Checker that can operate on marked sections of a page. The spelling checker now uses Apple's system level checker and dictionaries so you don't have to teach it all those new words again.

I won't list all the other new features, there are so many, you can see them here...

All I can say is that if you use a Mac and are serious about Web design, you just have to have BBEdit 8. Unfortunately, if you don't use the latest OSX (10.3.5) on which many of these new features depend, you won't be able to.

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