BBEdit vs. TextMate

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

I am often asked which application, of TextMate and BBEdit is "best". My heart incontestably goes to BBEdit but, truth is, both are good. Here is why we should stop fighting over it.


2006-03-06 10:19:57
Oh yeah, this isn't gonna inflame the Mac editor wars. Not at all :)

In fact, for years, BBEdit was highly respected as being a prime example of what a Mac application should be.

In what universe?

I mean, yes, if you thought all Mac apps should have inscrutable purple icons (in the window header, not just the app), weird partially-customizable floating palettes, huge and unwieldy modal search dialogs, and a new Apple technology adoption lag rate of four years.

I find your unMaclike assertion highly puzzling. TextMate is not inherently unMaclike (try Carbon Emacs if you want unMaclike). It follows the HIG, and it's a better overall OS X citizen than BBEdit. BareBones may also follow the HIG, but BBEdit contains many examples of undesirable user interface behavior, including muddled, overly complex interfaces and confusing terminology.

A more accurate contrast would be that TextMate is for alpha geeks, Mac or otherwise, innovators, people who like to tinker. BBEdit is for those who don't ask much of their text editors.

2006-03-06 10:21:25
Ever since the release of TextWrangler _my_ needs are met. For Free™.
2006-03-06 10:37:53

The text you quote is meant to reflect what I believe to be the opinion of the Mac community as general, based on my reading articles, blog posts and reviews over the years. Of course, each has his own opinion of what "Mac-like" constitutes and this is not supposed to be The Truth.

This being said, I believe BBEdit is consistent in its interface and TextMate is not in all places — again, an admittedly subjective proposition. As far as adopting Apple technologies, I find BBEdit pretty good: it uses the Mac OS X word services, integrates with Terminal, recognizes the Services menu and is AppleScriptable. TextMate does inherit many Mac OS X features but lacks scriptability, which is a key component in many workflows. BBEdit does not "look" young, that is true but does use many new tricks daily — and it was one of the first applications to move to Universal Binary.

The points you raise about floating palettes are indeed one of my gripes with the current BBEdit interface. As far as purple goes, I'm afraid I have missed it — TextMate looks more purple than BBEdit to me but maybe we are not talking about the same thing. Window header buttons can be removed and edited in BBEdit, might I add.

As far as TextMate being a "better Mac OS X citizen", I honestly do not know. I guess one would first have to define what "being a good Mac OS X citizen" means. If interaction with other applications and system elements is concerned, I would say both BBEdit and TextMate are doing very well, although in different ways. Your perception of that "goodness", so to speak, will depend on what you need the application to integrate with.

Innovating and tinkering may be the same (as you rightly point out) and may not. A brilliant CSS developer may be a CSS alpha-geek, fluent in CSS3 and fluid layouts but may not need to know a line of Python. That does not make him less of an alpha geek in his field.


2006-03-06 11:08:31
I hate to say it, but this article was a waste of time. Just look at Chris' post. He takes one comment out of context and then just rants. No comments about which product suits his work flow better, no comments about missing features, etc. And then, he/she tops it off with the ad hominem attack. Yeah! That will likely change the mind of tons of people. I'll be honest, I haven't really worked-up the gumption to try-out TextMate, mostly because of zealot's like Chris that seem to invade any discussion of text editors.
2006-03-06 12:16:48
This argument is very old.

You may as well argue which is better, vi or emacs!

2006-03-06 12:19:19

Hence the theme song reference! ;^)

Thanks for taking the time to post,

2006-03-06 12:55:31
Hahahaha! You think asking people to stop fighting religious crusades over editors (of all things) is going to be effective?! Silly boy! :)

Anyway, TextMate is crap -- unusable. Somehow they have broken text editing to the point that no input methods can be used at all. Yeah, I love a text editor that hangs after typing a couple of words, that rules. A "Good OS X Citizen"?? Only if you're smoking a huge crack rock.

2006-03-06 13:00:28
I dont really understand the "Mac-like" argument at all. BBEdit is only Mac-like if you are referring to Mac OS 8. Its one of the ugliest Mac apps out there, and that in itself is very un-Mac-like. Frankly, I would be embarrassed charging as much money as BB does for an application, and still have it look as out-of-date as it does. I think the only people that make the argument about BBEdit being a good text editor are those who have been using it for a very long time; the rest of us are very confused as to why it is appealing.
2006-03-06 13:27:11

Thanks for taking the time to post! Silly I may be but I hope others can join me in my silliness if it can help us all text lovers work hand in hand! ;^)


Drew McLellan
2006-03-06 13:40:30
My observation would be that TextMate seems to appeal to the new breed of developer who has come to the Mac because it's an excellent platform for unix-like development. You only have to look at how many Really Heavy Geeks in the web industry are carrying PowerBooks.

BBEdit is from a bygone era of classic pre-X Mac OS, when the hardware was known as a Macintosh not a Mac, and people actually cared what AppleScript was. That's not to say it isn't everything you say it is. It's very capable, but it's totally at odds with the toolset of - for example - a modern web developer. A good tool with a different audience.

I must also come clean and admit to being responsible for the purpleness of TextMate. I stand by that post, however!

2006-03-06 13:40:33

This may come as a surprise to you but I only did get to know BBEdit long after having switched to Mac OS X, a couple years ago and I have used it extensively ever since. I do agree that most of the interface controls used by BBEdit are similar to those found in the Classic Mac OS but they are all valid on Mac OS X and their rather "dull" appearance makes it easier to focus on the content. While I love the colorful interface of Mac OS X, it can at times be distracting, especially when working in an environment where colors have a meaning - such as code.

The BBEdit interface is, indeed, not fun looking but I would encourage anyone to get familiar with it first. Also, remember all key bindings and shortcuts can be customized in BBEdit.


2006-03-06 13:49:32

First of all, thank you for taking the time to post! I did remember seeing the post you linked to and found your analysis most interesting — I am known for a slight purple addiction within the MacDevCenter community.

This being said, I wouldn't say BBEdit is not suited to modern web development. For working with quite a bit of developers and designers, it seems to me those who do design (XHTML, CSS, PHP, Perl…) use BBEdit and those who develop Rails applications prefer TextMate. Two different audiences indeed, uniting their forces and tools to build a common website.


Drew McLellan
2006-03-06 14:03:28

My point wasn't that BBEdit isn't capable - it is. My point is that TextMate appeals to a different audience because of the way it plays nicely within a unix-like environment. It fits well with the toolset that audience are already using.

2006-03-06 14:06:58

I understood your post and we agree! Sorry if I was unclear and thanks for taking the time to post back. :^)


2006-03-06 15:01:55
The simple fact that BBEdit only supports about 4 syntax highlighting colors in a language like PHP made me want for something else for a very long time... TextMate was definitely the answer. Macros, snippets, commands, excellent source highlighting (that's customizable), project view (well before BBEdit finally included a drawer), powerful, fast, constantly updated... it goes on and on. BBEdit just feels too old. I understand that if you want do script your editor a lot, BBEdit might be the way, but I don't believe a lot of the recent OS X users want to script things anymore. I think AppleScript isn't as important to people as it used to be.
Matt Patterson
2006-03-06 15:04:31
My two cents: I have ten years of life with BBEdit, I could operate it in my sleep, and I love it to bits, but when it comes to Rails I plump for TextMate. The reason is that TextMate's Ruby syntax highlighting is streets ahead, and the Rails way of creating new files (tests, controllers, models) from the generate helper lends itself to TextMate's dynamically updating projects windows well. Horses for courses.
Michael Ströck
2006-03-06 15:33:03
Seriously, calling an application (one that is used, admired and bought by many people who know what they are doing) "a joke" without giving any reasons beyond personal preference... That doesn't make you seem as smart and sophisticated as you think it does.

I personally think TextMate is alright, even great in some respects, and find BBEdit so butt-ugly and convoluted as to be unuseable. But that's my opinion. I don't go around putting that in the "Reviews"-section of websites. Note that I'm commenting on the quality of your article and/or the editorial choice to place it in this section. If you thought you were writing a review, you were doing something wrong.

2006-03-06 17:24:23
Hasn't anybody seen Simultron? It isn't as feature laden as BBEdit and TextMate but it's pretty nifty. It's open source and you can check it out at this website.

2006-03-06 18:17:05
I shun both for skEdit. At only $25, it's the bargain of the bunch. But it's a full featured editor and it handles all of my XHTML, Perl, PHP, Javascript coding just fine. It's got a built in FTP client, and it is constantly being updated. Give it a try:
Magnus Nystedt
2006-03-06 18:58:36
Getting into this is about as volatile as trying to bring up Mac vs PC ;-) I've been with BBEdit since OS 8 or perhaps even 7 and I got to learn it pretty well. Lately I find myself using TM more and more and it's almost exclusively my editor of choice now.

BBEdit is a truly Mac application. It has windows, buttons, preferences, documentation, and a company to back it. TextMate is a UNIX application. It has commands, plugins, configuration files and a community to back it. Of course, I'm simplifying a bit but, at much every level, from feature set to interface through support, both applications come from two very different worlds. In that, they will appeal to different users.

I don't agree. It's true that there is more of a UNIX-touch to TextMate but that doesn't make it any less of a Mac-app in my view. In fact, I would say it's interface is more Mac-like than BBEdit. I've never really taken to BBEdit's UI, but TextMate's I love. I do agree that they to some degree appeal to different users, and choice it's what it's all about.

Scott Stevenson
2006-03-06 20:25:03
I think this is a incredibly unfair representation of TextMate. You're either missing out on some major points of the application or haven't used it recently.
Jeff Flowers
2006-03-06 20:54:03
BBEdit? Textmate? Screw that! SUB-ETHA-EDIT!!!!

In all seriousness, I do love Subethaedit. Although it was designed with collaboration in mind, it is an excellent stand alone text editor. I also like the fact that is comes with a command line binary, which I use as a text editor for Mutt.

But to each his own.

2006-03-06 22:40:25
I think Jeff nailed it: editor choices are very personal, and there is no single 'best' editor.

And since everybody touts their favorite editor: mine is vim (not vi). Not because it's Unix(tm) or highly configurable (in fact I detest configuring software), but just because of its very powerful editing capabilities - for that, the initial steep learning curve was only a small price to pay, and the Mac GUI version even plays nice with the rest of the OS.

2006-03-07 00:23:49
BBEdit reminds me of the old days in OS 8/9. Plus it's a crazy, messed-up menu monster with bonkers prefs. In use, TextMate has lopped chunks of time of the ghastly task of coding (I'd rather be down the pub).
2006-03-07 01:11:48
I only got interested in Bare Bones software when they release TextWranger.

I found it to be very useful and it soon became a part of my workflow.

I then decided to go for the competitive upgrade offer to BBEdit and I have to say that I've been overwhelmingly disappointed.

As far as I can tell, the only saving grace for BBEdit is the Search & Replace function.

That alone is the only justifiably useful feature. The rest is as Chris mentions, with the addition of being muddled, awkward and clunky...

2006-03-07 04:12:29
Jeff Flowers, al 3 editors are coming with a cli and not only these. So you can use a bunch of graphical text editors with mutt on a mac.
Did anyone try AlphaX?
2006-03-07 08:18:33
It's hard to take this article seriously when you say that TextMate is a "joke" and that BBEdit is a "true Mac application." WTF? I switched to OS X recently and when I tried using BBEdit the first thing that struck me was how un-maclike it was. Maybe if I wanted an OS 8 app inside OS X it would fit in, but it seemed really out of place. I've also used TextMate and I didn't find any of the problems you mentioned. I don't use either editor right now, but seriously, what WAS the intended point of this pointless article?
2006-03-07 08:50:39
I love BBEdit and have been a license holder for years. When it comes to the most basic part of editing - keyboard control - it's undoubtedly ahead of TextMate, which has some horrible key combinations (and an author who I feel is somewhat arrogant when it comes to making TextMate the way us BBEditers are used to). But I switched to TextMate because of its snippet feature and auto-complete, which I find allow me to write my code much, much faster than by typing alone.

In all honesty, If BBEdit gained snippets and auto-complete, I'd rather use that.

As for which is the more "Mac" application - I'd have to say TextMate.

2006-03-07 11:42:11

First of all, thank you for your comments. I am not sure AppleScript is less important that is used to be. Of course, Mac OS X introduced shell scripting but AppleScript, being a high level language, has an ability to tie graphical applications together in ways shell scripts simply cannot to — and, in reverse, shell scripting opens up many possibilities beyond AppleScript's reach.

In my experience, AppleScript excels as reproducing and automating workflows, which a great many users wish to do. Shell scripts are better at handling raw data and hence appeal to a different audience.


2006-03-07 11:42:59

Have you submitted feedback to Bare Bones? I'm sure they'd love to hear your comments.


Allan Odgaard
2006-03-07 11:55:17
Mark: I am arrogant with respect to not wanting to make TextMate like BBEdit users want it to be? How do they actually want it?

In all fairness, I never used BBEdit, and there was a reason for that. And I think I would do my users a disservice by making TextMate like BBEdit. As other posters have pointed out, the two products appeal to different mindsets (well, sort of).

We don’t want homogeneity. You say you only use TextMate for two features, so it would sound like better to have those two features added to BBEdit, rather than TextMate transformed into BBEdit.

As for this “review” — most disappointing to read my product mentioned as a joke without clarification, well, except maybe it doesn’t have windows, buttons, preferences, and documentation like BBEdit? oh wait, it does!

And why does the bundle editor feel like KDE? It is a Cocoa GUI, like 99% of the other applications running on Mac OS X (but unlike BBEdit).

I certainly don’t want to argue for or against either editor, but this “review” is a travesty.

2006-03-07 13:07:08

Thanks for your note. Don't worry, I do not believe calling an application a joke makes me sound smart or sophisticated in any way. The word is only used to emphasize a personal feeling, and is not meant as an insult — which would be inconsistent with my complimenting the TextMate team in many other places.

As far as editorial choice, there is always a call to be made. Indeed, that piece could have been placed in the "Opinion" category but then again, is there such a thing as an impartial review? And I'd love to read yours on the topic, as I am always open to hearing why my fellow users have to say!


2006-03-07 13:12:04

As you very rightly point out, being UNIX-like and Mac-like are not two mutually exclusive propositions, especially when it comes to interfaces — and Mac OS X itself is a good blend of the two. Yet, many of the analogies and structures TextMate commonly uses are not familiar to the Mac "way of doing", if I can use such an expression — such as the lack of a preferences window for a long time. This, of course, does not make TextMate bad in any way.

As far as BBEdit's UI goes, it is a matter of choice, that goes without saying. In my opinion, it is pretty clear and straightforward once one has understood the underlying logic, a feeling I never got to have with TextMate. Much in the same way however, I guess we all have different ways of apprehending logic schemas…


2006-03-07 13:12:43

Thanks for pointing it out. No, I confess I never tried it out.


2006-03-07 13:14:36

I actually have used TextMate since the early public releases up until the last version. In that light, I feel I have a pretty good grasp of the way it is evolving. Now, it is entirely possible I am missing out on some things it has to offer and I would be delighted to hear your views on what it is I should focus on. My goal is not, as you know, to be unfair to anyone.


2006-03-07 13:15:59

SubEthaEdit is indeed brilliant! I chose to focus on BBEdit and TextMate as they are commonly referred to as "enemies" but the Coding Monkeys sure have a place of choice in my heart as well!


2006-03-07 13:16:39

Very true. Thank you for sharing your comments with us.


2006-03-07 13:17:56

I agree with you that BBEdit has rich preferences settings and many menus but I am afraid I do not follow you on what makes it a "menu monster" or the preferences "bonkers". Would you care to elaborate?


2006-03-07 13:19:28

BBEdit's searching and replacing capabilities are indeed truly stunning! As far as clunkyness goes, I'd have to repeat my comments from above.


2006-03-07 13:22:44

First of al, thanks for sharing your experience. The point of my "pointless article" was simply to present my opinion on a rather heated debate making the rounds in the Mac world of today. Defining "Mac-like" can be done on many level: there is looking Mac-like, feeling Mac-like, behaving Mac-like, etc… I guess we have a different view of what this means and would first need to agree on a better definition.

Also, please note this is not an article but a blog entry, hence the personal touch.


2006-03-07 13:32:56

First of all, please note the words Joke or KDE were not meant as insults. I am glad you stopped by and took the time to post your comments.

As far as KDE goes, I was referring to the TextMate icon being used as a backdrop to the window, next to the choices list on the left, a layout that is rarely seen on the Mac but that reminded me of some Linux configuration panes sporting the logo of the distro or interface project.

As far as "Joke" goes, the word was meant to put emphasis on the evolution of both applications. I agree with you that TextMate is a very legitimate product with an enthusiastic community and user base, which I tried to highlight in my post. Yet, it is still, as you say, a work in progress, much like the accompanying documentation, screencasts and feeds. In that, it cannot be fully compared with BBEdit that is a more finished product. That does not make TextMate "bad" in the long run in any way.

In all fairness, I believe you should use BBEdit for a little while, if only to get a better feel of this post before calling it a travesty. It is meant as an opinion piece, not a Definite Truth (hence it being posted as a blog entry, not a full blown article) and opinions evolve. I am looking forwards to the future and TextMate is definitely among the projects I am watching most closely.

I hope this answers your questions,

Allan Odgaard
2006-03-07 15:04:17
When I say your review is a travesty then it is because you are misrepresenting TextMate.

You make it sound like there is no preferences, no or poor documentation, that the UI is like that of a Linux application, and that it is unfinished work (“not ready” as you say).

While it is certainly work-in-progress, thousands of people use it every single day to get their work done, and have no problems with that — e.g. see my user quotes. It has had a preferences window for more than a year, the documentation is generally characterized as exceptionally good, and as you can see from the comments above, many find TM to be the more mac-like application.

2006-03-07 15:16:12

Thanks for your reply. Allow me to clarify a few points:

1. The paragraph discussing preferences is about highlighting the strong points of each application, not about implying the other does not have them. As you may know, BBEdit does enjoy commands, a community, etc… I am sorry you misinterpreted my wording here.

2. One of your windows (not the entire application) struck me as KDE-like. Given KDE is a leading desktop environment, acclaimed for its interface, I do not see this as an insult. It is also a matter of personal feeling and the many comments in this thread do show there are more than one view to what constitutes a sound interface.

3. As far as TextMate being not ready, it is, indeed not ready for me as of today, while BBEdit is. Does it make it bad? No. Other comments in this thread show your application is "ready" for many people who find in it features they do not in BBEdit. Again, I do not see this as an insult, rather an acknowledgment of your progress.

4. It indeed has a preferences window! And I am well aware many people use TextMate on a daily basis. This is a fundamental element to this blog entry, so fundamental in fact, I did not feel the need to state it — if TextMate were a small, unheard of editor, it wouldn't be compared to BBEdit.

The comments show very diverse opinions and I am more than happy to discuss calmly and openly with my fellow Mac users. This, after all, is what makes our community such an enjoyable place to be.


Bob C
2006-03-07 17:49:43
Hey, what about SubEthaEdit? It's what I use to teach my classes from HTML to Php. W00T! :-))
2006-03-08 02:57:00

SubEthaEdit is indeed wonderful and has a place of choice in my arsenal! This entry was more about comparing and contrasting two applications that are often wrongly thought of as "enemies" but certainly not to ignore other of the great software in the field.


Joshua Ochs
2006-03-08 09:23:43
And of course, don't forget TextWrangler (which has an even worse icon!).
2006-03-08 09:47:10
Textmate hands down....
2006-03-08 09:47:21
I have to say, as someone who has used BBEdit for 10+ years, and TextMate for less than a year, I found this "review" -- even when considered as an opinion piece, instead of a true review -- to be pretty insipid. It's so stupid, it makes me think of the many Dvorak articles which are written purely to incite online riots.

TextMate is a fine piece of work. It's clear that Francois has barely used the application, except to poke around in the interface to find things to complain about. At the least, he certainly hasn't learned how to use it properly. I use TextMate every single day to write PHP and HTML code for a living; if that's "not ready for prime time" I don't know what is.

2006-03-08 10:07:40

Thanks for taking the time to post your comments, I really do appreciate them. While you are entirely free to express your thoughts on my post — and I welcome any criticism —, I assure you I have not looked at TextMate for a couple seconds and "poked around" to "find things to complain about". I am sorry I cannot bring more proof of that to you than my word but I hope you can believe me.

I am glad you find TextMate to be a genuine help in your workflow.


2006-03-08 10:12:56
As someone who switched from a pc to mac a little over a year ago, using bbedit was one thing I couldn't wait to do. I had heard so many good things about it. THE mac app. Wow, was I disappointed. If there weren't so many other great things about the mac, the experience would have probably made me switch back. It may be more mac like for someone who has used macs their entire lives, but for someone new to the mac and use to os X it feels like something from a bygone era.

I use and love textmate. It feels like a mac app, looks like a mac app, etc. etc.

I'm no expert on bbedit, and I'm sure there are a ton of reason others use it. But if one of your main points is that bbedit 'feels' like a mac app, you're on shaky ground from the start.