At a Glance
Despite its version number, Bare Bones Software's TextWrangler is not a conventional "1.0 product" -- a new product with new and untested code. Instead, it's a $49 text editor based on Bare Bones' $179 BBEdit (; March 2003), a product that's been around the block a few times. This useful, low-cost application will appeal to hobbyists and aspiring geeks, but TextWrangler's curious feature set needs some fine-tuning before it will appeal to a broader range of users seeking powerful text-editing tools.
Born from BBEdit
Like BBEdit's, TextWrangler's text-editing engine is first-rate, featuring a variety of built-in text-manipulation tools for editing and sorting document contents. TextWrangler supports multibyte and Unicode text, and it's Unix-savvy: you can open and save files remotely via FTP, and you can even write to permission-protected OS X files via an authentication dialog box.
If those features don't make you sit up and take notice, TextWrangler may not be for you. TextWrangler is not a word processor. It doesn't support styled text, so italic type, boldface type, and multiple fonts are out of the question. Bare Bones says that it expects TextWrangler to appeal to database and system administrators, students, and programmers who are beginning to outgrow the text editor that comes with Project Builder (part of Apple's free development-tools package) and who want to take advantage of two TextWrangler features: syntax coloring for C programs, and the ability to act as an external code editor for ProjectBuilder.
For that audience, TextWrangler offers plenty of interesting tools. It allows you to strip duplicate lines, to base sorting on regular expressions (so you can sort by items within a line, not just by the first character of a line), to create hard wrapping, to select rectangular segments of text (useful for modifying tabular data), and to compare two versions of a document.
Although TextWrangler doesn't offer the HTML-editing features (including syntax coloring) that BBEdit does, it can be a useful tool for Web developers on a budget. Consider TextWrangler's most powerful feature, its search-and-replace engine. With support for grep pattern matching and the ability to search hundreds of text files at once, you can massively alter the contents of a folder full of text files in just a few steps.
Besides HTML tools, TextWrangler lacks several other BBEdit features. Most of these features are so specialized that their absence from the low-cost TextWrangler makes sense, but a few omissions are puzzling. For example, TextWrangler doesn't support AppleScript, thereby preventing the scripting community from generating productivity-enhancing tools for TextWrangler users. TextWrangler could also benefit from a feature like BBEdit's Glossary, which allows users to save snippets of text in a palette for later reuse.
Macworld's Buying Advice
TextWrangler is a moderately powerful tool for sorting, processing, and editing text files. If you spend a lot of time looking at Unix config files or exports from a database application, or if you simply can't afford the $179 BBEdit, TextWrangler is a good option. But for TextWrangler to build a broader audience, it will need more flexibility and some features -- such as AppleScript support -- that it currently lacks.