In with the new: TextWrangler.

Out with the old: BBEdit Lite.

TextWrangler, despite the new name, is a re-branded sibling to BBEdit. Effectively, it’s an updated version of BBEdit Lite with a few more features from BBEdit. But the name “BBEdit Lite” has been synonymous with “free version of BBEdit” for like 10 years. TextWrangler is not free; it costs $49.

But even though the name “BBEdit Lite” was out of the question, I think it was a mistake not to use the name “BBEdit” in some way. TextWrangler is clearly derived from BBEdit, but its name creates the impression that it’s something altogether new. “BBEdit Jr.” would have been my vote. (TextWrangler’s creator code is a nice in-joke: “!Rch”; i.e. “not R*ch”.)

It offers more features than BBEdit Lite did; but many fewer than BBEdit. In short, if you already own BBEdit, you’re not missing anything. If only use BBEdit Lite, it’s worth a look.

Some features in TextWrangler that were not in BBEdit Lite:

  • Authenticated Saving on Mac OS X. This means if you have administrator privileges, TextWrangler will allow you to edit and save files which aren’t owned by you. Much, much nicer (and safer) than using the “sudo” command in Terminal. Just open, edit, and save; TextWrangler will present you with a dialog in which to authenticate.
  • Support for Unicode and text encodings other than Mac Roman. (BBEdit itself didn’t support non-Mac-Roman single-byte text encodings until last week’s 7.0.2 update.) This means TextWrangler can read and write Windows-encoded text files, for example.
  • Built-in FTP support. (But not SFTP, which BBEdit doesn’t support either.)
  • BBEdit-style disk browsers.
  • A command-line tool for Mac OS X.
  • A built-in spelling checker. (But in a dialog box, not inline like Mac OS X’s system spelling checker.)
  • Perl-compatible regular expression syntax (using PCRE).
  • TextWrangler can serve as an external editor for Project Builder 2.1 or later, and offers syntax coloring for C, C++, and Objective-C.

This last point is somewhat curious. TextWrangler has no built-in support for syntax coloring in any other languages, and nor does it accept third-party BBEdit language modules. It would seem to me that way more people program using scripting languages like Perl and Python than in the C family of languages. Plus, while it’s great that Project Builder 2.1 finally supports external editors, the fact remains that Project Builder is a decent and free editor for C and friends. What Project Builder is not is a decent editor for Perl or Python.

Major features from BBEdit missing in TextWrangler:

  • AppleScript support; TextWrangler has no scripting dictionary.
  • HTML Markup tools.
  • Syntax coloring for dozens of languages.
  • Glossary.
  • Support for Perl and Unix shell scripting.
  • File filters for multi-file search-and-replace.

Casting Stones and Whatnot

And so today is the first day since BBEdit 2.1 shipped in April 1992 that there is not a free version of BBEdit available. That’s a shame, because all things considered, the world was a better place when there was a free version of BBEdit available for anyone to use.

(“2.1” version number notwithstanding, BBEdit 2.1 was the first public release of BBEdit. Anyone who claims to have been using BBEdit “ever since 1.0” is either (a) lying; (b) delusional; or (c) listed somewhere in the BBEdit About box. Also worth noting: last I checked, BBEdit 2.1 runs just fine on Mac OS X.)

But professional software costs real money to produce. And BBEdit Lite was an amazingly capable program to be given away for free. There was some marketing logic behind it, along the lines of let everyone get a taste for free, and some of them will pony up for the full version. The free version also helped build brand recognition.

But today, brand recognition isn’t a problem for BBEdit. It’s well-established as the pre-eminent text editor for the Mac. I’ve long thought BBEdit compares well to Photoshop: what Photoshop is to bitmapped graphic files, BBEdit is to text files. And so anyone who is tempted to complain that Bare Bones is acting mean or greedy by replacing the free BBEdit Lite with the $49 TextWrangler should note that there has never been a free version of Photoshop, that Photoshop Elements costs twice as much as TextWrangler, and that Adobe Systems is a significantly larger company than is Bare Bones Software.

Disclaimer: I used to work for Bare Bones Software.