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BBEdit 9 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £125
inc VAT

To use the company's seriously understated motto, 'it doesn't suck'.

Put simply, BBEdit is a text editor. But as its myriad users will agree, it is more than just a text editor, it is also something of a religion. For years it has been one of the most powerful text editors available anywhere, and BBEdit 9 aims to take things even further. The developers have always made a point of listening to requests and considering the varying needs of its different users, and this new release contains features that should impress just about all of its different users.

To start with, Projects, a development of the previous File Group concept, is particularly helpful for those using BBEdit with multiple related documents. This combines a custom file-listing view with the regular editing window for single-click access to files; add files from anywhere and you lets you access them from the Projects list. This is in addition to the Documents sidebar; that shows files that are open in the current editing view, whereas a Project is a permanent list of files regardless of whether or not they’re open. It allows items to be renamed within the Project and grouped into package-style collections. It can seem a touch quirky at times, but it’s likely to make a significant difference to anyone who uses BBEdit in earnest.

The default for single and multiple file search and replace is to work in a modeless manner, which means you can leave the Find window open while you edit and copy text from document windows. Additionally, the interface of the different search variations has been simplified, making things easier to understand. More subtle but decidedly useful is the fact that your search and replace history is preserved even after quitting and relaunching the application.

The new auto-completion feature supports a range of different languages and even offers words gleaned from open documents, the Mac OS dictionary, BBEdit clippings and ctag files, showing context-sensitive suggestions as you type. It can be a little odd at times, but it can be configured on a language basis or disabled altogether if you don’t get on with it.

BBEdit 8 introduced syntax-coloured code display, marking different elements in HTML, XML, PHP, C++ and other languages in different hues to make it easier to work with. Now there’s a way to show this colouring to others; the new Save as RTF and Copy as RTF options produce rich-text versions of the code that render in word processors, rich email, DTP layouts, and so on. If you’ve never needed to show code to non-BBEdit users this may seem frivolous, but it can be rather useful.

In our tests, BBEdit was as stable as a rock, but even so the autosave feature has been improved. This now saves the state of all open documents and windows once a minute, particularly welcome to anyone working on application programming tasks where computer stability might be compromised from time to time.

There are a host of other new and improved features both big and small. If you use VMWare Fusion 2.0 you can use its Unity feature to preview HTML documents in Windows browsers without the usual ‘save, switch, open file’ dance, and text shown in any browsing window can be edited in situ.

The integration with Apple’s MobileMe service keeps your BBEdit preferences and add-ons in sync across multiple Macs, while the new character-level Find Differences harnesses the Mac OS’s command-line diff tool. We particularly liked the Scratchpad window, which provides a place for working on text before pasting somewhere else; it behaves like a normal document, including full autosaving of state and contents, but it doesn’t require saving to disk when quitting or closing. Downsides? Well, the Projects panel starts eating up screen space, and it lacks tricks such as validation of CSS. Other tools such as Coda have slicker interfaces, but this is the ‘big daddy’ of the text-editing crew. BBEdit is aimed at anyone who works with any kind of code, including web designers and developers, XML-wielding data managers, application developers and others. It can seem a little daunting, but the expanded feature set is balanced by improvements in organisation and interface.

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