capsule review

BBEdit 8.5

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BBEdit has long been the go-to text editor of choice for Mac-using geeks. But as it aged, BBEdit started to show its years, with new features piled on top of old features, which had been piled on top of still older features. In version 8.5.2, Bare Bones has given the old star a face-lift, restructuring and simplifying the interface to make BBEdit look like a hot new app. Along the way, they’ve added in some handy new features, giving this version a full set of enhancements.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

BBEdit’s previous Preferences window was an example of how a decade of interface additions could make adapting to changes confusing for anyone but a long-time user. The current Preferences window has been massively simplified: obsolete options have been removed and the entire window expanded, making the remaining items easy to find. Not easy enough? Open the search drawer, type in enough to give BBEdit a hint of what you’re looking for, and you’ll get a list of possible options. Click on one, and that pane opens.

The tool bar has also been reworked; rather than containing several pop-up menus, there’s now just one. Some options have been moved into the navigation and status bars, where they’re more easily viewed, found, and changed.

While Bare Bones has streamlined BBEdit, you can also make it leaner and meaner yourself. Go into the Menus pane of the Preferences and turn off any options that you don’t use. You live in C++ and don’t touch HTML? Turn off all HTML items, and you’ll never see them again. You’re a Web designer who has always been annoyed by the compiler choices? Turn them off. The end result is that BBEdit suddenly feels like a much lighter, svelter program, without actually losing any of its power.

Along with making BBEdit easier to use, Bare Bones has also made BBEdit easier to buy. There’s no longer a confusing cross-grade option from a free product or for owners of some competing products; it’s now $125, with affordable options for upgrading users.

Even more power

For those who want power tools, they’ve been added in abundance. Applications like TextMate and Dreamweaver (   ) have long had code folding, which lets you close up sections of code and markup that you don’t want to see, and now BBEdit has this feature. You click the new disclosure triangles in the left-hand gutter to close up blocks that BBEdit can identify; for those it can’t automatically identify (such as JavaScript for loops and if/else blocks), you can manually select a range of code and close it.

BBEdit’s language support has been enhanced to include SQL (including MySQL, PostgreSQL, PL/SQL and Transact-SQL), Ruby, and YAML (Yet Another Markup Language), and its JavaScript support has been improved. One limitation of BBEdit is that it must be updated with new language support, rather than relying on a plug-in model. For instance, BBEdit doesn’t currently support either Apple’s canvas HTML tag or its Dashboard-region styles, limiting its usefulness for writing Dashboard widgets. It is possible for third parties to add some missing pieces: for instance, John Gruber’s CSS Syntax Checker adds a much-needed syntax validation feature that I wish shipped with BBEdit.

BBEdit’s CSS functionality has long been one of its weakest links, and it hasn’t improved much in this version. For instance, Apple includes some CSS 3 properties in Safari such as text-shadow, but BBEdit only supports CSS 2.1. My testing also came across a bug that rewrites and changes some border style values; Bare Bones has acknowledged this and expects to fix it in an upcoming release.

If you use BBEdit as a super-charged writing tool, you haven’t been left out. Its new spell-checking features include Check spelling as you type , allowing you to know immediately when you’ve made an error. And while BBEdit has been rock-solid in all the years I’ve used it, its new auto-save feature now keeps you from losing data when your Mac crashes.

That’s not all: Bare Bones has also enhanced the Find Differences feature to show specific changes within lines, so you no longer have to stare at two lines of code trying to figure out the differences between them. Also new is the ability to read and write gzip-compressed files. While a long-time strength of BBEdit has been its ability to handle huge text files, it’s nice to be able to read and write them without having to expand them first and re-compress them afterwards.

Macworld’s buying advice

It’s been more than two years since BBEdit 8.0 (   ) shipped, and based on the added features, it would have been perfectly reasonable for Bare Bones to call this version 9.0. Rather than doing that, they’ve ramped up to 8.5, with a lower upgrade price than you might expect from a full version upgrade. If you use version 8.0 to 8.2, the $30 is well worth it. If you’ve got an older version of BBEdit, it may be the best $40 you’ll spend on software. If you have never tried BBEdit, check out its freeware little brother, TextWrangler (   ); if that makes you want more, BBEdit will likely be able to handle your more advanced needs.

[ Dori Smith is co-author of JavaScript & Ajax for the Web: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2007) and Macromedia Dreamweaver 8: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

BBEdit has radically revamped the application’s Preferences menu, allowing for numerous customization options.BBEdit’s simplified menus and toolbar make editing and writing easier.
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