Software

Pro File: Q&A with Rich Siegel

Changes are afoot at Bare Bones Software, where the long-time developer has just introduced TextWrangler, a general-purpose and programming text editor. But as Bare Bones founder, president, and CEO Rich Siegel recently explained to < >, don't think of the new application as a mere replacement for the discontinued BBEdit Lite. TextWrangler features far more capabilities than the free text editor, according to Siegel, who also discussed other Bare Bones offerings including BBEdit, Mailsmith, and Super Get Info.

TextWrangler was specifically designed for anyone who is no longer a novice Mac user, who routinely works with plain text. Of course, TextWrangler also appeals to power users, by virtue of including several features that take advantage of the powerful foundation underneath Mac OS X. However, the interface and core capabilities are specifically intended for any non-novice user. Its text editing capabilities are both easy to use and powerful, and it also includes specific features for use by students, hobbyist programmers, and anyone who supports multiple networked computers in a LAN environment. BBEdit has the advanced capabilities that professional users need on a daily basis. Although some professional BBEdit customers do purchase and install TextWrangler on machines other than their own, so that they have access to its essential text editing functions wherever they happen to be, we didn't design TextWrangler with such a usage pattern in mind. Rather, we set out to provide a cost-effective and powerful text tool for any non-novice Mac user.

I'd have to definitely say "incorrect." BBEdit Lite is replaced by the free programs available for Mac OS X, either included with the OS installation or available from third parties. Regardless of whether or not you think those offerings are of high quality, it is such software that replaces BBEdit Lite. TextWrangler is a new entry into the area of affordable yet powerful tools.

Absolutely. TextWrangler is a considerably more modern, refined, and capable product, and there is a lot more to TextWrangler than would ever have been in BBEdit Lite. There are too many discrete improvements to list them all here, but they include: PCRE pattern-matching for Grep searches, integration with Mac OS X Services, Unicode support, syntax coloring for supported languages, and authenticated saves, to name just a few. We wrote a Web page which enumerates all of the features that TextWrangler has that BBEdit Lite didn't.

With the increasing age of BBEdit Lite, and the fact that no further updates were planned, we believe that it was not representative of the state of the art of our product line. The BBEdit Lite code base hasn't been touched in over two years, while the rest of our technology has continued to evolve in the meantime. Second, with the release of Mac OS X, the OS itself comes with a text editor. Consequently, we believe that the need for a freeware text editor for the Mac OS is past.

Since TextWrangler is a new offering, not a replacement for BBEdit Lite, we wanted to take the opportunity to introduce a first-class product based on a strong foundation and with a robust feature set at a price that even students can afford. Because TextWrangler is a commercial product, customers who purchase it will get the first-class treatment that they deserve -- comprehensive documentation and online help, free tech support for registered customers, and a growth path that includes not only maintenance updates, but also potential upgrades with major functional improvements.

We don't believe such a possibility exists, unless the need for another freeware text editor presents itself in the industry.

Not really. Our professional customers have always been a rich and continuing source of feature requests and ideas for propelling our products forward. Beyond that, there are technological drivers of product evolution, particularly changes to the underlying OS platform and the introduction of new Web standards and revisions to the existing ones.

We accomplish evolution through a combination of customer feedback and internal creativity. Quite often, a frequently-requested feature or capability suggests a direction for future evolution. Our own staff -- as users of our products themselves -- are never short of good ideas for future development as well. However, customer feedback is crucial, because our devoted user base and stellar reputation have been built by delivering software that meets our customers' needs.

The short answer is yes. We believe that there's room in the marketplace for commercial e-mail products. It's great that a functional client is included with Mac OS X, and we see it as defining such a market -- to move beyond the capabilities of Apple Mail, there are commercial alternatives. Mailsmith distinguishes itself by putting powerful text composition and email processing tools into the hands of Mac users.

In terms of specific features, lots -- a composition environment implemented our best traditions and providing the editing power of BBEdit and TextWrangler; a powerful and flexible mail filtering system, which includes the ability to use Grep patterns in filtering criteria; and an unparalleled scripting interface for automation via AppleScript. Mailsmith 1.5 also provides for e-mail security and personal privacy via built-in support with PGP 7 on Mac OS 9. With a future version we'll be extending that to OS X with integrated support for PGP 8.0.

There's a lot of shared code for the parts of the products that overlap, such as the text-editing mechanics, and various utility functions. However, there are numerous components that are unique to each respective product that aren't used in the other products.

The advantages of such an approach are clear, and in fact, exist for an engineering endeavor of any size. Among other things, you get a common and consistent set of behaviors across multiple applications where capabilities overlap, and you get increased reliability by not having to reinvent the wheel each time.

Historically, we have on occasion released small utility programs that solve focused problems that we or others have needed solved -- for example, Drop*PS, for downloading raw PostScript files to networked PostScript printers, and TextChanger, for changing text-file creators en masse. Super Get Info, which enhances the Finder's built-in capabilities for working with files' properties, is the most recent expression of this genre. Super Get Info fills a specific need -- there are many people who simply want to be able to open multiple info windows for Finder items, and you can't do that with the Finder's own "Get Info" command. There are also those who prefer the simplicity of Super Get Info's tabbed interface as compared to what's provided by the current incarnation of the Finder.

Having done so in the past, I can certainly see us developing specific focused utilities as the need arises. We're always open to ideas from customers, and we have a massively parallel array of whiteboards that we use for generating and exploring ideas in real time.

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