My Quest for the Perfect Text Editor

I started my career making mediocre websites with clunky WYSIWYG tools from Macromedia and Adobe. Everything looked and felt horrible. But I didn’t know any better.

“Ignorance is bliss.” — Thomas Gray

In 2007, I bought my first iMac and started using Textmate as my main text editor. Before long, I was enjoying every line of code I wrote. A good user interface goes a long way in making software delightful to use.

Textmate was simple by design. It didn’t have auto-save, smart undo, or autocomplete—features that have become standard in other editors at the time. It was getting harder by the day to not jump ship. I started by taking Coda and Espresso for a spin. I was fairly impressed with their obsession to make Web design as seamless as possible. Inconveniently, their main selling point is also their biggest snag: they suck as standalone text editors.

My quest for the perfect text editor had to continue on Google. The first result page suggested BBedit, Vim, and Emacs, among other lesser-known alternatives. At the time, Vim and Emacs were too keyboard-centric for my taste, not to mention their unappealing user interfaces, or lack thereof.

Eventually, my next stop was the two-decades-old BBedit, which coincided with the release of a big update for OS X Lion. Recommended by many pundits, I was almost confident that BBedit would fit the bill. Alas, the intrusive toolbar, the nebulous syntax highlighting, and the poor support for CSS preprocessors left me disappointed.

The only options I was left with was to wade through an unhealthy number of Textmate 2 wannabes. Some came out of the lot, such as Sublime Text, while many others were too unstable for doing any serious work. What they all seemed to have in common was a noticeable lack of third party extensions and community support.

At the end of this fruitless search, I kept Sublime Text 2, BBedit, and Espresso 2 installed, and used them in rotation depending on the project and the mood.

To be continued…