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BBEdit 4.5
reviewed by Shawn FitzGerald

Simply put, there is no better text editor for MacOS computers, period. The folks at Bare Bones Software have written an indispensable tool for anyone writing ASCII text based files. You know, the type of file you need when writing programming code or HTML.

It should be said, that while BBEdit is full of an impressive array of text manipulation tools, it is not a word processor. It is not going to replace your copy of Claris Works (excuse me, that would be Apple Works now wouldn't it?) or Microsoft Word. That's because BBEdit, as a text editor, is not designed to produce output on paper. If you need a nicely formatted resume, BBEdit is not going to help you much.

I recommend anyone who regularly uses the Net download BBEdit Lite, which is a powerful freeware version of the standard version. Some features are lacking, but the Lite version is filled with enough tools to keep most users happy. Anyone experimenting with HTML for the first time will find this a nice change from SimpleText. In fact, anyone whose ever pulled their while using SimpleText will find reason to cheer when they install any version of BBEdit for the first time. There is even a handy utility included that redirects any SimpleText file to BBEdit, allowing you to double click on all those annoying Read Me texts viewing them with something good.

I'll tell you honestly that SimpleText does load slightly faster than BBEdit, but BBEdit loads faster than you'd expect. The full version takes roughly ten seconds to come up on my 603e/200. You can run it on almost any Mac as well. The suggested memory usage, on a Power Mac with virtual memory turned on, is barely over 1MB. The minimum size to open is only 850K. That makes the suggested size only twice SimpleText's. When you consider the wealth of added features (let's see what SimpleText does...hmmm...cut, copy, paste, find), the memory requirements for BBEdit are miniscule. I run my copy at the suggested 1100K, and have never had reason to increase it.

A good software review should include a list of features available in the application. I'm only going to mention a couple that I like, because few users of BBEdit will ever use all of its tools. I will refer the interested reader to the relevant page of the Bare Bones web site for a complete list. If you don't find something useful there, stick with SimpleText. Maybe some day you can play with the big boys chief.

I've been downloading text files from the Net for close to ten years, and though every one is in ASCII format, all ASCII is not created equal. I frequently get bizarre control characters showing up as little boxes on my screen, as well as a host of irritating garbage. One of my favorite BBEdit functions is "Zap Gremlins" which searches a file for anything that looks funky and gets rid of it. You would expect something like this to eliminate useful data as well, but I've never had that happen when using the default settings for the function. It is almost like magic.

The other encountered text file that I hate is the one that has no line feeds. I've seen 500K text files that exist on one line only. In HTML, this is only occasionally a good practice, because it can actually reduce the size of a large file significantly. After all, every line feed is encoded in the file, and that takes up space. What's more, your browser doesn't even need them. Of course, it creates a nightmare for anyone looking at your file any time in the future. I use the Hard Wrap function in BBEdit to whip those one-liners into a more realistic format.

The hard drive space requirements for BBEdit are also modest. The full installation (minus the documentation, which is available in large PDF files in a variety of formats) takes only 8.5MB of drive space, and that is likely to include a ton of stuff you don't need. Make no mistake, BBEdit is not bloatware by any definition. That's because it uses a plug-in format for many of its advanced functions, and you can easily remove anything you don't need. I personally don't need to format Codewarrior code, but I do use the array of HTML tools.

There is no excuse not to download the freeware version of BBEdit now. Bare Bones is betting that you'll like it so much you'll buy the full version, and I'm betting they're right.

b i o
Shawn FitzGerald is perhaps best known for his counter espionage work during the Cold War, placed in deep cover behind the Iron Curtain, and known only to the East Germans as der Raumdrache. While crediting Mr. FitzGerald solely with the collapse of International Communism may be stretching things, it is certain that you can thank him for the current revival in the preparation and eating of spaetzel.

The writer of this article welcomes your comments: shawn@mindjack.com