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Text Editors
July 27, 2012 6:51 PM   Subscribe

TextEditors.org: "the largest collection of text editor information on the web" (Because word processors are stupid and inefficient.)

Windows:

For teeny-tininess, there is Win32Pad - which, despite being smaller than Notepad, offers line numbers, text and background color customization, and other goodies.

For distractionlessness, there is Q10 and then there is everything else.

The venerable and beloved Notepad++ is geared towards programmers. But its regular expression searches and ability to unwrap text lines have been invaluable for me in making web pages suitable for e-reading.


Macintosh:

People seem to have complicated feelings about TextMate.

BBEdit boasts that "it doesn't suck.®" It has produced every word Cory Doctorow has written for many years now. This may or may not endear it to you.


iOS:

Go nuts.


Linux:

There is Vi and Emacs - one of which is clearly better than the other.
posted by Egg Shen (123 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
/makes vim gang signs

:wq!
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:53 PM on July 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


Vi is a great editor...until you learn to type with more than one finger at once. And how to write your own extensions.
posted by DU at 6:56 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's also Sublime Text, which is a great editor, and available on windows, mac, and OSX for the same seat license. I'm loving it, as it's almost identical on all three environments, and has a ton of extensions / runs textmate bundles.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:57 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


EMACS FOREVER
posted by koeselitz at 7:00 PM on July 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


You forgot Pico. What is this Vi and Emacs of which you speak?
posted by charred husk at 7:00 PM on July 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


M-x butterfly

Emacs, represent.
posted by Wemmick at 7:01 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


what about android
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:03 PM on July 27, 2012


Bean 4 lyfe, chumps!
posted by sourwookie at 7:05 PM on July 27, 2012


Sublime 2 is getting a lot of love - I'm using it on Mac but I beleive it's crossplatform. If I was on PC I'd probably be using notepad++ though.
posted by Artw at 7:09 PM on July 27, 2012


Or what JenkinsEar said.
posted by Artw at 7:09 PM on July 27, 2012


I've been using vim for a long, long time, yet I don't know it especially well. It is a remarkably powerful program, with oodles of sophisticated functions.

But, while I find it very functional, and it's one of the first things I always install on a new Unix-style machine, I don't particularly like it. I suspect there probably isn't any text editing task out of vim's reach, and yet I don't enjoy actually using the software. It's always been awkward to 'drive', even though things like :wq! are nearly hardcoded into my fingers by now.

I'm trying to think of an editor I do like, and you know what? I can't think of any. I haven't yet run into any software that speaks to me and says, "yes, THIS is the One True Editor, the program you should run when you need to create or modify text." At this point, regular old Windows Notepad works for a paragraph or two, or TextEdit on the Mac, while vim is the tool I reach for when I need to produce more than about a page. I do this, however, not because I love them, but because they're the programs that displease me least.
posted by Malor at 7:10 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


KOD is a completely unremarkable Mc text editor, complete with trendy chalk-on-charcoal eye-friendly color scheme, slow and under-featured - until the first time you open up a Cisco or Juniper config with it, and everything is properly formatted and color coded. IT IS THE BEST THING. It is also now dead, which makes me very sad.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


/pours one out for Allaire Homesite.
posted by Artw at 7:14 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


i used vim when i ran linux 10 or so years ago - and now that i've given up on linux and run windows i STILL use vim

i only know how to type 4 or 5 commands in the program - the beautiful thing is, to just write song lyrics and stuff like that, that's all i HAVE to know
posted by pyramid termite at 7:16 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


EMACS FOREVER

any program that simulates pointless circular counseling with a pinhead is bloated
posted by pyramid termite at 7:19 PM on July 27, 2012


Emacs is a great operating system. You can even use it to install a good text editor, by which of course I mean evil WAIT STOP WHY ARE YOU THROWING THINGS
posted by en forme de poire at 7:20 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, there is grim comfort that no matter how old, strange or alien the box is, vi is there. Use it on random files in /etc/ or /var until the box starts talking to the network again. Most recently, I used it to install a SSL certificate on a layer 3 switch, because the vendor was stupid and didn't think to include one by default, or a way to generate one in versions earlier than the last rev. It's not like anyone would want to encrypt their management traffic to a critical security component, like a switch running the DMZ ACLs, nope-ers. I generated the cert on another box, easy... but how to put it in place?

Forget the GUI, exit the "CLI" shell, get to a bash prompt, and do the deed. vi.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:23 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Slap*Happy: until the first time you open up a Cisco or Juniper config with it, and everything is properly formatted and color coded. IT IS THE BEST THING.

There's probably a vim syntax file to do that.

This is the first hit, and looks promising. Vim is able to detect many types of file based on their structures or their filename extensions, but that particular rule file looks like it might have to be turned on manually each time you want to use it. But don't take my word for it, as I know basically nothing about vim internals; maybe you only have to load it once. Or maybe you can load it in your .vimrc file. I'm not even an advanced user, much less an expert, so don't trust me. :-)

My Emacs knowledge doesn't reach even that far, but a simple search suggests that this might do the trick on that side of the fence.
posted by Malor at 7:23 PM on July 27, 2012


emacs is an incredible powerful program. I just lacks a decent text editor.
For text editors I prefer gedit or jedit...
And vi is a programmers nightmare on LSD.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:24 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny thing is, I love vim... but for serious coding these days, I use eclipse. Even for Python. The Remote System Explorer just can't be beat.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:25 PM on July 27, 2012


Today I learned that there actually is a vi gang sign. Oh, culture of my people, is there any length you won't go to make me feel weird about issues of race and privilege? Nerdcore hiphop ended up with me requiring me to watch an entire documentary during which Prince Paul basically said that nerdcore was weird, but not too racist. I ended up feeling pretty good about that, because I already liked MC Frontalot, and so any squeamishness there was ameliorated by hearing a genuine old-school hip-hop artist say that he didn't perceive it as mocking - which was nice to hear. Also, in the movie it became clear that the artists, at least, didn't intend it to be parody or blackface.

How do I make myself okay with the vi gang sign? White male nerds running around throwing gang signs to indicate their tribal allegiances does not an inviting accepting environment make. On the other hand, who is being hurt or marginalized? There's not a lot of gang members who have made the switch to coding, but gang signs are basically showing yourself to be that one guy from Office Space. Ugh. This whole thing is too complicated.

Still, vi 4eva. Dammit.
posted by pmb at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing I love about Eclipse is that even if you do not know any Java, you can go into Eclipse and start typing and in not that long you will have some Java.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:29 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


vi and emacs are if you're into wasting time on customizations and useless add-ons, but for serious programming nothing compares to word 2007.
posted by facetious at 7:32 PM on July 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Honestly if I could have Word 5.1 forever, with the promise that they'll keep supporting it as the OS changes and never fuck with its functionality, change the user interface, or add any new features whatsoever, I'd happily pay let's say $40 or $50 a year for the privilege.

Like pyramid termite, I am a total VIM non-power-user. Anti-power-user, really. Now that I don't program much anymore, the most complicated thing I ever do in it is edit LaTeX source, and I do that in such a plodding and literal way that I might as well be in Notepad. I use the arrow keys half the time, for fuck's sake, instead of HJKLing around the way you're supposed to.

The biggest appeal is that I'm pretty confident nobody's ever going to change the user interface on me. It's already so perverse that anyone who gives a shit about that sort of thing has run away in terror.

(But seriously, can't I just have Word 5.1 back? I learned how to use it before I learned how to fry an egg, write a check, pump gas or unhook a bra, and we've all gotten along just fine without updating any of that shit.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:32 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, I demand the old plain-text-in-a-terminal version of the library catalog back. This web-based shit is unbearable.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


No SLME? Lame.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2012


And a less crowded lawn might be nice.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


My primary editor is Emacs, but I liked Q10 quite a bit for distraction free prose. Or I did, until one day I had to write a paper for Greek class and it mangled the Unicode. After that happened, I tried darkroom-mode, but that's less than ideal. Distraction free minimalism and Emacs aren't really compatible. Is there another minimalist editor that can handle foreign characters?

For that matter, I wonder if using locally installed text editors is going to look primitive in a few years. Ideally, it'd be nice to have some kind of web-based Emacs equivalent that stores documents and settings remotely. It gets to be a pain configuring your editor every time you use a different machine.
posted by Wemmick at 7:34 PM on July 27, 2012


for serious programming nothing compares to word 2007.
posted by facetious


Eponysterical!
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


What, no love for UltraEdit?
posted by Crease Lambada at 7:42 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why no mention of the standard text editor? If that's not minimalist and distraction-free I don't know what is.
posted by hattifattener at 7:43 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Word 5.1 with red squiggle underlines for typos. Call it 5.2. I'd use it FOREVER.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone was working on a TextMate-like editor that was based off bits of WebKit and Chromium. Sort of like an editor inside a web browser. I wish I could remember what it was called.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:46 PM on July 27, 2012


Oh god no the lack of red squiggle was fucking awesome. You type and type and type and type and type and get the ideas on the page, and then you stop writing and go back to spell check it when you're good and ready.

I mean, I guess I could always turn it off. And anywNO WHAT AM I SAYING THIS IS A SLIPPERY SLOPE STRAIGHT TO HERESY AND PERDITION AND I WON'T ALLOW IT!
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:49 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


You forgot Pico. What is this Vi and Emacs of which you speak?

Pico & Pine would be the greatest girl/guy nerd duo band name ever.
posted by roboton666 at 7:50 PM on July 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


no love for UltraEdit?

It already knows a higher love.

And for $60, it should include at least a neck rub.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:52 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


As an Emacs user, I still can't help but get a kick out of this illustration. Sooo accurate -- I think I'm somewhere in the second spiral myself.
posted by Arandia at 8:00 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I used to work for a gig that would only allow you to have UltraEdit and UltraCompare. On HP laptops. Running XP. And IE 6. I heard a rumor that all interoffice memos needed to be formatted in Comic Sans. Purple Comic Sans.

The next gig gave me a MacBook Pro, and insulted my manhood for not figuring a way around the proxy on my first day. I liked that place better.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:06 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pico & Pine would be the greatest girl/guy nerd duo band name ever.

How about Nano & Mutt? ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:11 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I need a listing like this for audio editors. My beloved Cool Edit 2000 will no longer install, the promising WavePad turns out to be a horrible nagware mess, and I can't stand Audacity...
posted by Foosnark at 8:16 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I use Notepad++ for programming, but there must be something better. Right?

Maybe not.
posted by swift at 8:25 PM on July 27, 2012


No TeXShop? I'm a little surprised.
posted by mixing at 8:34 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The apex of text processing was in 1982, with Wordstar running on CPM-86 on an IBM PC with a green monochrome monitor. It has all been downhill since then.

But I often wish I could go back to the line editors like ATS on the IBM/360. When you edited on an IBM 2741, you really felt like you were writing. ATS had wonderful features, like you could issue a command for the printout to pause while you changed the Selectric "golf ball" type head to a different font, just like real Selectric users would.

Hey come to think of it, I just saw my old ATS manual in a box I was going through last weekend. I should scan the manual, people would just freak at what text editing was like in the early 70s. I mostly used ATS to type up batches of data (like mailing lists) that I'd send to the IBM automatic keypunch. Input useless EBCDIC text on a terminal, output it to useful punched cards. Oh oops, the keypunch doesn't print the text on the top of the card. You have to run them through the UNIVAC Card Interpreter. All it does is read the card and print the text at the top of the card, above each column of punched holes. Oh it made the most lovely buzzing noise. Ah, now I can read the cards and sort them in zip code order by hand. Or if I did a few clever tricks to keep the address cards together (since each address took up two cards) I could run larger batches through the IBM 083 Card Sorter. Computer time cost a lot of money but you could use the 083 for free.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:37 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


How about Nano & Mutt? ;)

That's not an indie-pop band, that's one of those male-bonding type road trip movies.

And then there's Awk & Sed, the classic cult novel from Scandinavia about two misanthropic teenage outcasts who fall in love.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:37 PM on July 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


COOL EDIT PRO 4-evar!

there are text editors that can properly format Cisco config files?!??!

Holy shit my life might have just changed.
posted by roboton666 at 8:43 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I missing something, or is the website largely ignoring the usefulness of text editors for people who make words, rather than people who make code?
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:46 PM on July 27, 2012


Took vi for granted until I hadda install Gentoo a few times. Their installation media only comes with Nano! I'm not a good vi user, by any means, but I know it well enough and love it.
posted by word_virus at 8:47 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone who's searching for a text editor and has tried many candidates and not been completely satisfied with them owes it to themselves to at least try out Sublime Text 2. There's enough blog posts out there gushing over it that I won't do any too much of that.

There's even something in it for you vim junkies. I picked it up at the beginning of this year while searching for a programmer's text editor that I could use on both Linux and Windows. (I hate IDEs and crufty interfaces when I'm trying to write anything give me a case of the block.) But I quickly found myself doing all of my writing in it.

It just works.
posted by yonega at 8:51 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Am I missing something, or is the website largely ignoring the usefulness of text editors for people who make words, rather than people who make code?

In the old days, people had to make code to make words. Hence why we nerds are talking anout these things called text editors and not a bunch of english majors talking about word processors.


posted by roboton666 at 8:56 PM on July 27, 2012


Am I missing something, or is the website largely ignoring the usefulness of text editors for people who make words, rather than people who make code?

Words are code.
posted by yonega at 9:02 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Really, guys? I program; I write prose; you really do have two sets of needs depending on which one you're doing, and it's silly to pretend otherwise just to make a pedantic point.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:07 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I gave up on Sublime Text 2 when I couldn't quickly figure out how to customize the syntax coloring for Python (and googling and their forums couldn't tell me either). I figured if I was going to spend a lot of time digging into the internals of a text editor, I'd be better off investing that time in vi. So far, it's paid off quite well.
posted by fatbird at 9:16 PM on July 27, 2012


Thanks for this thread. I just got my first mac (because: MOAR PIXELS!! RAAR!), and am thrilled to find Sublime Text 2 which works on it and Windows too.
posted by aubilenon at 9:18 PM on July 27, 2012


I also use Visio and illustrator, depending on what's new to do.

Word is my word processor, I use a variety of text editors.

Id be a fool to write Cisco config files in word, I'd be an asshole if I wrote help desk documentation in VI.
posted by roboton666 at 9:19 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the part where he lists the possible strategies for choosing a text editor and how the BestAvailableStrategy invariably involves a. learning how to use more than one and b. learning lots of keystrokes you'll forget.

But everyone knows that you don't choose the text editor, the text editor chooses you (RMS's hairy arm rises from the mist enshrouded lake with a floppy with "emacs" written on the label or something).
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 9:22 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here, I made up some names for text editors. This was kind of fun.

Mac Text Editors:
Brazil
Necktie
Ambience

Linux Text Editors:
YASTUTE
MCLIV
GTextSavvy
KPHPCollaborateWithMe

Windows
TwinEdit XL
Larry's Text Editor 2012
RapidDevel 10
posted by circular at 9:24 PM on July 27, 2012 [48 favorites]


learning lots of keystrokes you'll forget

The Word came down from On High - thou shall not pin things to the side of your cube. We looked over the dozen or so cheat-sheets we had accumulated and shared and pinned to the side of the cube, and laughed and laughed and cried.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:29 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


RMS's hairy arm rises from the mist enshrouded lake with a floppy with "emacs" written on the label or something

Listen: strange geeks lying in ponds distributing floppies is no basis for a system of text editing. Supreme coding power derives from a mandate from the programmers, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:45 PM on July 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


Barry B. Palindromer: "invariably involves a. learning how to use more than one and b. learning lots of keystrokes you'll forget."

I have muscle memory for vi, emacs, and mac/cua editing commands. I can use ed without a man page. Every single one of these influences keybindings for other apps, in fact it is rare to find any app with keybindings that does not copy one of these, if not all three in some manner.
posted by idiopath at 9:47 PM on July 27, 2012


I often get into arguments with the Linux people who support Gedit, the default text editor available in the menu of Ubuntu.

It probably doesn't help that I'm so negative and tell them what a horrible, out of date, featureless editor it is, with just about any conceivable useful feature only available as a kludgy, buggy, add-on, making it probably the worst text editor still readily distributed. And when they counter argue that it is better than Notepad, I tell them that you know just how bad an editor is when its proponents compare it to Notepad.
posted by eye of newt at 9:48 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


s/all three/all four/
posted by idiopath at 9:48 PM on July 27, 2012


I mean really vi command mode is just extended ed, so I could have left it at all three, whatever
posted by idiopath at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2012


but for serious coding these days, I use eclipse. Even for Python.
Let me introduce you to Vwrapper. In some respects, it's the best of both worlds. :-)
posted by smidgen at 9:56 PM on July 27, 2012


During this past spring and summer of projects both code and prose, I tried using a single text editor (Sublime, if you must know) and almost made it work, thanks to Markdown for simple formatting of the prose side of things. But, as much as I hate it sometimes, Word just kept proving itself a little too useful so I didn't stick with Markdown / text editors.

All I want for Christmas is a word processor which does the Word-y things but outputs only clean HTML / CSS. I don't need much really. Some of the standard tools for outlining, footnotes, bibliography. A few bits of code for making it print real nice and pretty to paper or PDF. But a format I can edit on any machine with a text editor.

I suppose learning some LaTex and how to use Lyx is in order. But, being a lazy person, I'd rather not if I don't have to.
posted by honestcoyote at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2012


Dear fellow Vim users. Don't :wq! when you can simply :x .
posted by tykky at 10:14 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dude, why :x? Shift-zz
posted by coriolisdave at 10:22 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, possibly, just "ZZ"
posted by coriolisdave at 10:22 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember XyWrite? I used that in the 80's... Before that there was TvEdit on the VT100's connected to a DEC-20. Man, that was the best, being able to view and edit more than a single line at a time.
posted by dougfelt at 10:43 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


No love for Ami Pro?
posted by benzenedream at 11:01 PM on July 27, 2012


honestcoyote: "All I want for Christmas is a word processor which does the Word-y things but outputs only clean HTML / CSS. I don't need much really. Some of the standard tools for outlining, footnotes, bibliography. A few bits of code for making it print real nice and pretty to paper or PDF. But a format I can edit on any machine with a text editor."

Not possible. People have been trying to do this for years, but HTML/CSS is not code that can be autogenerated cleanly. To get clean HTML/CSS, it will always be necessary to write clean HTML/CSS.

The closest anybody will ever get is some XML format that doesn't suck as much as HTML/CSS does as far as cleanliness and exactness is concerned. You'd be losing some of the useless extra functionality of CSS, but good riddance.
posted by koeselitz at 11:02 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, I've wondered about the crappiness of autogenerated HTML for a while now. What is it that makes it so hard to do right?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:05 PM on July 27, 2012


You know, I've wondered about the crappiness of autogenerated HTML for a while now. What is it that makes it so hard to do right?

"I'm so excited to totally redesign my article layouts inside my favorite HTML editor, Bad HTML 2012!" --Nameless Victim

"You want fries with that?" --Bad HTML Editor

position:absolute
posted by circular at 11:09 PM on July 27, 2012


what about android??
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:12 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I program; I write prose; you really do have two sets of needs depending on which one you're doing

For the latter I use vim->(git)->scribus for a lot of things, tools for the job etc.

(and there are a bunch of writer specific editors covered).
posted by tallus at 11:19 PM on July 27, 2012


Everyone where I work uses macvim.
posted by deathpanels at 11:21 PM on July 27, 2012


I program; I write prose; you really do have two sets of needs depending on which one you're doing

I agree. In Windows, I used Notepad++ for code, Atlantis for prose, and Word for collaborative non-fiction projects.

I've recently gone back to Linux and I'm using pico for the first two and LibreOffice for the third. It's pretty suboptimal and I am welcome to suggestions.
posted by 256 at 11:26 PM on July 27, 2012


You know, I've wondered about the crappiness of autogenerated HTML for a while now. What is it that makes it so hard to do right?
For one thing, XML sucks. Closing tags programmatically is sloppy business and is prone to bugs. Any time you've tried to bold some text and then unbold some other text and had to putz around with the damn thing for ten minutes to get it to look right, you're running into a tag-closing issue.

The best solution is to write your document in another format like markdown and then compile that into HTML instead of trying to work with HTML directly.
posted by deathpanels at 11:27 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I remember it, Amí Pro was more a layout program, not so much a text editor. It was bloody fantastic for the time, and I did a great deal with it for my own uses, but it wasn't really oriented around text editing.

You know, I just remembered the One True Editor, from my perspective: WordPerfect 5.1. That program could do freaking anything. It's been argued, with real validity, that any program that needed a cheat sheet for your function keys had serious design problems, but by god, once you knew those keys, it was the best goddamn program ever written. I was a mighty wizard with WP 5.1, able to do ridiculously complex documents that looked like they'd been done by a typesetter. If you were patient enough, and willing to waste a lot of paper on sample printouts, you could get unbelievable results out of that thing.

Oddly, the same argument may apply to it, though, that it wasn't really a text editor. I only remember using it to make printed documents. I'm not sure it even had a real option to save as text, and it certainly wasn't intended for that.

Programs like Amí Pro made complex layout so, so much easier. I think you could probably have duplicated almost anything AP could do with WP, but it would take five to ten times as long -- so if you knew there would be at least two projects, it was just worth buying the better software.

WordPerfect had this whole concept of text with layout codes around it, and while that seems very alien from a DTP perspective, it's a very similar to HTML. If the Internet had gotten popular sooner, and if Lotus had been smart enough, WP could easily have been the default editor for the Web.
posted by Malor at 11:35 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Sorry, I got my names confused there -- if the WordPerfect corporation had been smarter, THAT program might have ended up as the default Web editor. )
posted by Malor at 11:39 PM on July 27, 2012


I used Vim for 5+ years but a couple years ago I switched to Emacs. Best thing about switching is that I'm still learning new "like whoa" things about how to use Emacs all the time. Learning Vim was like that for a long time too but I've all but forgotten that time. I can't really say how awesome Emacs is, because pretty much anything I don't like about it, I can and have changed. I don't know if there's something more Emacs than Emacs, but that's the only thing I can think about switching to after this.

Also, Emacs has org-mode which has great outlining features I use for prose composing. It exports to a variety of formats including pretty clean HTML which you can make even cleaner.
posted by wobh at 11:52 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't spent all that much time in text editors these days, but I spent many of my formative years deeply embedded in a DOS text editor called QEdit, writing posts on Fidonet in the old BBS days. I had some serious muscle memory for many of the editing commands which, unbeknownst to me at the time, were actually the widely lauded Wordstar key bindings. I not sure if anything still uses Wordstar shortcuts these days, but at the time it seemed pretty widespread.

I later spent many years using vim/mutt for my email, which was also good when you got it set up properly. But my Linux days are now far behind me.

I started writing my PhD thesis in emacs (on a Mac), but eventually got sick of fighting it, and went through several other text editors until I ended up with TexShop (I think). Pretty much any Mac text editor will inherit emacs keybindings from the system, which is handy when moving between editors.

I own a copy of TextMate, but it's just a bit too quirky. And I expect to die of old age before it's updated next.

These days most of what text editing I do I do in TextWrangler, the free version of a venerable Mac editor. It works fine.

And for those upthread who commented that when you learn vi you'll always be able to edit text on any given Unix-like machine, this is true, but you also need to learn non-arrow key navigation for some of those weird terminal types.
posted by damonism at 11:58 PM on July 27, 2012


I'm reminded of a bit from Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning was the Command Line", where he's talking about Unix:
After this kind of thing has happened several hundred or thousand times, the hacker understands why Unix is the way it is, and agrees that it wouldn't be the same any other way. It is this sort of acculturation that gives Unix hackers their confidence in the system, and the attitude of calm, unshakable, annoying superiority captured in the Dilbert cartoon. Windows 95 and MacOS are products, contrived by engineers in the service of specific companies. Unix, by contrast, is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic.

What made old epics like Gilgamesh so powerful and so long-lived was that they were living bodies of narrative that many people knew by heart, and told over and over again--making their own personal embellishments whenever it struck their fancy. The bad embellishments were shouted down, the good ones picked up by others, polished, improved, and, over time, incorporated into the story. Likewise, Unix is known, loved, and understood by so many hackers that it can be re-created from scratch whenever someone needs it. This is very difficult to understand for people who are accustomed to thinking of OSes as things that absolutely have to be bought.
I've been an Emacs user since the last millennium. I don't really care if you use vi, because it's in the same camp. These programs, after a while, give that same sort of calm confidence Stephenson is talking about. It's not that I know all of Emacs' commands, or how all the various bells and whistles work; it's that I know they exist, and exist for a reason, and can find them if I need to. I know that someone, somewhere has had the same problems I'm having, and solved them, and incorporated the solution into the tools I'm using right now.

For example: to find that Stephenson quote, I had to go download a copy of the essay. It's plain text, and I opened it up in Emacs. But the essay only breaks lines at paragraph boundaries, which doesn't look all that nice; it ends up wrapping lines when it hits the edge of the window. I'd like to have it break lines at 80 characters for easy reading, and I know there's a function in Emacs that will break an individual paragraph that way, and that it's bound to 'M-q' (I use that one a lot when writing documentation). But this is a long essay; it would be tedious to do that on every single paragraph. The function that does that is called 'fill-paragraph', so I type 'C-h' for help, 'f' for function, and start typing 'fill-' and hit Tab. I see a list of function names, one of which is 'fill-region'. Its documentation sounds like exactly what I want, so I select the whole essay, 'M-x fill-region' and... voila.

While muscle memory and familiarity and such are big factors, that's the one that keeps me on Emacs and likely always will. There is great comfort in knowing that what I use is the product of decades' worth of real people solving real problems.
posted by ubernostrum at 12:12 AM on July 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


In the summer of 1989 I was an intern at Lotus Development Corp in Cambridge, MA. Lotus had screwed up a copy protection scheme for Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS and needed extra product support reps to handle all the extra calls they were getting from users who could no longer launch 1-2-3. The solution involved editing the autoexec.bat file. The editor on DOS at the time was edlin. Edlin is difficult enough to use if you're not familiar with the line editor concept, try explaining to someone how to use it over the phone. I spent many hours with customer after customer asking them to "Please type EDLIN C COLON BACKSLASH AUTOEXEC DOT BAT then hit return" and then "Please type STAR L. Read me what comes up on the screen." It got worse from there.

At my first real programming job after college (where I was a die-hard EMACS fan) I used DOS edit to write the installer for GRiD's PenRight! SDK. It got better from there.
posted by girlhacker at 12:16 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I work on a Mac, and I went through TextMate, Sublime, TextWrangler, and even kod (rest in peace), but I keep coming back to Komodo. It manages to do many things decently (syntax parsing/highlighting, good regex support, flexible file browser, and Goddammit is it too much to ask for Tab and Shift-Tab to indent and dedent the line/block?) without too many rough edges.

I do a lot of work in vi by necessity (doesn't everyone?) but somehow I can't get past the hunt-and-peck mode -- it reminds me of Reverse Polish Notation, where it supposedly can do these great things but it seems like you need to rewire your brain to work it properly.
posted by bjrubble at 1:24 AM on July 28, 2012


That's a very accurate summation, bjrubble. vim does take brain rewiring to use properly.

I guess all editors do, to some degree, but vim needs far more than most. In exchange, you get incredible efficiency in terms of text per total keystrokes expended. Presumably, this improves your text output speed, and probably reduces RSI a little. (Emacs' constant reaching for the control and alt keys is hard on the wrists, and the thought occurs that Stallman may have crippled himself with the editor he created.)

Whether that keystroke efficiency is worth the mental investment is, I think, the core of the eternal flamewars between emacs and vi.
posted by Malor at 1:37 AM on July 28, 2012


> Not possible. People have been trying to do this for years, but HTML/CSS is not code that can be autogenerated cleanly. To get clean HTML/CSS, it will always be necessary to write clean HTML/CSS.

I know what you're saying. While I don't do much web dev, I've seen the complaints for years, decades, centuries even, about wysiwyg editors such as Dreamweaver.

But, I think I would disagree with you. For my prose work over the past six months, Markdown, and its various extensions like MultiMarkdown, almost worked, and did work for preliminary drafts that looked decent enough to send to collaborators.

For 80-90 percent of the sort of thing that gets written and printed from a word processor, I think you could generate very simple HTML (mostly just headings, paragraphs, links, em's, ol's and ul's), as the various Markdown editors and processors do, and tie that to a preset, human-written CSS for the final output. Special printing commands within the document, such as page breaks, could be embedded into HTML comments, which would be understood by the word processor but ignored by a web browser.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying things, but I think this would work without creating a frightening mess the way Word or Dreamweaver generated HTML does, and would still allow for some decent word processing functionality.
posted by honestcoyote at 2:04 AM on July 28, 2012


If I had just one interview topic to judge applicants for a development position - I would ask them to show me round whatever application they use for text editing. It is a great canvas for showing how people plan, categorise, think, listen, learn and evangelise.
posted by rongorongo at 2:27 AM on July 28, 2012


I program; I write prose; you really do have two sets of needs depending on which one you’re doingI use vim for prose, and it’s just perfect for me. I suspect it depends on how you write, though: I tend to blurt out chunks of stuff, then rearrange, tweak and winnow it down until it’s done, so the way vim lets you grab stuff and move it at the sentence or paragraph level, or replace words in a trice suits me. If you tend to write in a more careful and linear way, it’d probably get in the way.It’s also great when you have a lot of source material to wrangle - when I was a journalist I’d have, say, an interview transcript, my notes, a few rough draft paragraphs and a bunch of emails all open in vim, and finishing a piece would feel less like writing and more like weaving together threads of text on, er, my vimloom.Also, the way that vim’s commands are a sort of terse language (as in what we speak, not code) rather than arcane command key combinations seems suited to prose writers - you type cip to change inside the paragraph.
posted by jack_mo at 3:01 AM on July 28, 2012


And if I'd written that in vim instead of WritingKit on the iPad, I'm sure the paragraphs would've come out intact!
posted by jack_mo at 3:03 AM on July 28, 2012


I never used Plan9 as an everyday operating system, but I did like fooling around with it for a while. The standard text editor, Acme, was *very* Plan9-ish, and kind of interesting in that way, although there was way too much mouse interaction for my preference.

But Sam was something else. Sam was some kind of text-editing zen. At its core, it was like having a line editor interface along with an actual persistent window showing you the text. And you could have multiple windows. You could select with the mouse in the window--or using the lineditor-type interface, tool around using regexes and cursor movement commands. The expectation was very much "Put down text sequentially; go back and rearrange or search-replace; do some filtering." Not much for distraction.

I guess they do have versions or knock-offs of Acme and Sam for Unices, but either they're not the same or my blissful memories are poisoned by nostalgia....
posted by adoarns at 4:31 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are tired of XEDIT you are tired of life.
posted by flabdablet at 4:44 AM on July 28, 2012


The only two text editors you need are cat for writing, and rm if you make a mistake.
posted by scruss at 5:18 AM on July 28, 2012


Anyone remember XyWrite?

previously
posted by Egg Shen at 5:30 AM on July 28, 2012


I was a developer on a project that generated hundreds of thousands of pages of HTML a day. It used a hodgepodge of proprietary macros, perl and XSLT to generate HTML based on documents prepared by typesetters located in centers in the US and India. We used internal debugging data from the commercial typesetting package, running on sunOS, to generate very good HTML. It took 3 developers over a year to do it.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:31 AM on July 28, 2012


I use Notepad++ for programming, but there must be something better. Right?

I just switched to Notepad++ for text, but I use eclipse for programming, especially for Java and Python. Text editors are nice, but they aren't IDEs.
posted by callmejay at 5:36 AM on July 28, 2012


~Not possible. People have been trying to do this for years, but HTML/CSS is not code that can be autogenerated cleanly. To get clean HTML/CSS, it will always be necessary to write clean HTML/CSS.

~I know what you're saying. While I don't do much web dev, I've seen the complaints for years, decades, centuries even, about wysiwyg editors such as Dreamweaver.


Yes. No. Sort of.
In fact, auto generators like Dreamweaver (and the now-dead GoLive) can, in fact, generate clean, valid html and css. The problem is that, for whatever reason, their creators opted to make them drop-in proprietary, non-valid tags and code for every damned thing you do. This can be turned-off, but only sort-of. Almost by (very poor) design, you are pushed into hand-editing the code they generate.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:40 AM on July 28, 2012




I've used emacs for decades now and written I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of lines of code in it.

I can't understand why people use vi. In particular, I hate the fact that your standard keys are turned into commands unless you're in a special "text entering" mode. Every time I use it I end up starting to type and doing violence to a buffer.

When I was doing serious Java development, I did use Eclipse, and I'd probably use IntelliJ or Eclipse if I (for some reason) was going back to serious Java development. But I have to say that I did a medium-sized Java project three years ago, I was rusty on my Eclipse, and I found myself ending up in emacs every time.

I run my shells in it, I manipulate files and directories in its directory mode.

As for HTML editing - I'm still waiting for a good tool. I use emacs but there has to be a better way. I own Dreamweaver but every time I try to use it, I end up spending so much time getting rid of cruft and crap in the HTML that I go back to emacs and do it by hand.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:49 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the reason to use Eclipse is not because it's a good text editor, because it isn't particularly distinguished - it's for the refactoring tools and for the ability to get documentation on language features/autocompletion.

I'd used emacs for two decades when I first tried Eclipse. Within a week, I'd switched to a Windows machine just because the Mac didn't run Eclipse so well when it first came out. Simply amazing!

However, that's really only for Java. I'm on the fence about Eclipse's Python mode and am not willing to fire it up just for that, but I'm quite sure that its C++ is still nowhere near ready for prime time.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:54 AM on July 28, 2012


Every time I use it I end up starting to type and doing violence to a buffer.

In vim, there seems to be infinite levels of undo, so you can just hit "u" until your damage is undone. Control-r is redo, if you go too far.

I don't think this works in regular vi, but I haven't checked.
posted by Malor at 5:58 AM on July 28, 2012


/makes vim gang signs

Without the "!" I wait for you to confirm that you want to be over-written before you exit.
posted by srboisvert at 6:23 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't understand why people use vi. In particular, I hate the fact that your standard keys are turned into commands unless you're in a special "text entering" mode. Every time I use it I end up starting to type and doing violence to a buffer.

This didn't make sense to me until someone said that the norm is sitting in that command mode, using the keyboard to carry out actions. When you enter text, you hit i or a or whatever, enter text, and immediately return to command mode. Once you get used to it, you stop doing violence because your expectation for keys changes from 'make letters appear' to 'cause something to happen to the file'.

This makes sense for programmers because we don't usually sit there typing a lot all at once. If you do, then you stay in insert mode, but usually, you're typing something, then cutting and pasting something, and moving something else, or going to another part of the file, and typing something again. Like most things vi, there's an internalization step, but once you've done it, it seems obviously beneficial to work this way.
posted by fatbird at 7:52 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Word 5.1 with red squiggle underlines for typos. Call it 5.2. I'd use it FOREVER.

Better yet, vim with red squiggle underlines for typos (and a comprehensive spelling dictionary to match). That, I'd use forever. And that's for fucking writing, not necessarily for programming.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:53 AM on July 28, 2012


All vim users should totally check out evil-mode for Emacs, which is a really excellent vim emulation mode that gets everything essential, including text objects, visual mode and basic ex commands, but works perfectly with all of Emacs' features. It's much much better than any of the previous vi modes.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:12 AM on July 28, 2012


I was an alphaVUE power user and I loved it.
posted by bz at 8:24 AM on July 28, 2012


Metapad (http://liquidninja.com/metapad/) is the best notepad replacement I've found. Small, fast, close with the escape key and a great transparent mode. Check it out.
posted by lon_star at 8:44 AM on July 28, 2012


Interesting, vogon_poet. The vi-emulation mode that I tried out a year or two ago was, frankly, terrible — basic behaviors were just different enough from vim to be profoundly irritating.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:55 AM on July 28, 2012


I have never understood this "distraction free" full screen thing. You know what distracts me when I'm doing things? The phone. People asking me questions. Emails that need to be answered *right now*. People having conversations next to my desk.

You know what doesnt? Being able to see the system clock and wi-fi connection strength icon.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:24 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Root of all evil, just saying. (e- is the prefix, and -l is the suffix.)
posted by radwolf76 at 10:51 AM on July 28, 2012


Gordion Knott, I may have misunderstood you, but ":set spell" in GVim does exactly that -- red squiggly underlining my typos in English. Granted the dictionary is not as good as Winword's, but it's much better than no spell checking. You can add unrecognized words to the dictionary and so on. I use it to write my PhD thesis.
posted by faustdick at 11:10 AM on July 28, 2012


If you were ever around PDP and even VAX systems, TECO was always there for you if nothing else was. But then I found EMACS (a descendent of TECO) and I never looked back.
posted by tommasz at 11:17 AM on July 28, 2012


I have never understood this "distraction free" full screen thing. You know what distracts me when I'm doing things? The phone. People asking me questions. Emails that need to be answered *right now*. People having conversations next to my desk.

You know what doesnt? Being able to see the system clock and wi-fi connection strength icon.


That's why distraction-free apps don't work. Facebook isn't a distraction. Facebook is what you do when you don't want to work. A lot of people don't want to write, they want to have written. Until you're ready to face that, you're going to blame the internet for keeping you from work, and gravitate toward things like distraction-free environments.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:01 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


As someone wrote with respect to non-dietetic foods: Out of sight may not be out of mind - but it helps.

Of course someone determined to write will not find a wifi connection strength icon distracting. The problem - as has been noted - is that most people are very far from being determined to write.

We can deplore their lack of resolve. Or we can give them a little help in the form of a full-screen writing environment. I find nothing discreditable in the latter.
posted by Egg Shen at 12:16 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wordwise on the BBC Micro. Not WYSIWYG, but embedded markup codes - much like html - gave precision control over the results, albeit at the cost of printed previews. Wrote my dissertation on that in the mid-90s. Miss my beeb...
posted by 4eyes at 6:06 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you enter text, you hit i or a or whatever, enter text, and immediately return to command mode.

This habit bites me in the butt when I'm interacting with non-vim text editors. I'll be writing an email, and after I finish a sentence or something I'll quickly hit ESC and *poof* Outlook helpfully closes the editor window. Likewise with writing commit messages in Tortoise.
posted by Jpfed at 9:54 PM on July 28, 2012


I can't speak for the Mac version having never used it, but as someone who occasionally needs to go into text files on various systems, I really like SciTE. It was originally written to showcase some language or toolkit or something, I don't even know what, but is a very nice little text editor with syntax highlighting and tabs. It's nice if you switch between operating systems on a semi-regular basis and just want something familiar.
posted by mcrandello at 10:58 PM on July 28, 2012


During national novel writing month I picked up the habit of writing on writtenkitten.com , periodically copying chunks of 1000 words into my primary text file. Everything's better w/ pictures of kittens.
posted by broken wheelchair at 1:34 AM on July 29, 2012


On my Mac, I use BBedit with Zen Coding for marked up text, template-like things, and general text editing, and a (horrible) fork of Eclipse set up to work well with a particular Javascript SDK. I end up using vim for pretty much everything in Linux and pretty much only use Notepad++ in Windows. I've never understood partisans when it comes to software tools, though. Even if the programs I use aren't provably the most efficient, I doubt they bring my productivity down to the point that it really matters (or at least matters enough to argue about). We're all really fortunate that there's such a wide range of text editors available today.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 3:07 PM on July 29, 2012


> Wordwise on the BBC Micro.

Amen to that. I used Protext; an entire word processor in a 16KB EPROM. Never more than two keystrokes (|P) away.
posted by scruss at 7:06 PM on July 29, 2012


Gordion Knott: "
Better yet, vim with red squiggle underlines for typos (and a comprehensive spelling dictionary to match). That, I'd use forever.
"

Gordion (and anyone else who might be interested), vim (from version 7 on) supports spellchecking, with the ability to add things to the spellfile.

in your .vimrc:    set spell spellang=en_us

more info here, or check the vim docs.
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:38 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The standard text editor, Acme, was *very* Plan9-ish, and kind of interesting in that way, although there was way too much mouse interaction for my preference.

The way Acme sort of dissolves the difference between the text you're editing, shell commands and toolbar buttons is pretty bloody mind blowing. I've been meaning to buy a three button mouse so I can really take it for a spin.

I guess they do have versions or knock-offs of Acme and Sam for Unices, but either they're not the same or my blissful memories are poisoned by nostalgia....

If you install Plan 9 from User Space on Linux/OS X/*BSD you get the same Sam as you do running Plan 9 proper, so it might be nostalgia poisoning (or maybe it feels wrong without Plan 9 underneath?)
posted by jack_mo at 6:08 AM on August 4, 2012


jack_mo: "I've been meaning to buy a three button mouse so I can really take it for a spin."

You already have one if you have a mouse with a wheel on it. If you push down on a scroll wheel, that is the middle mouse button.
posted by idiopath at 6:31 AM on August 4, 2012


Good to know - I haven't used a mouse in nearly fifteen years (I wonder if I still know how) and before that used one-button Mac mice, so I'm a bit behind on fancy modern tech like scroll wheels!
posted by jack_mo at 1:11 AM on August 5, 2012


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