A coder and his text editor is like a cook and his frying pan. Both can get the job done with any available tool, but finding the one that fits your style the best can transform your workflow for the better. Choosing the best plain text editor is a matter of finding one that feels right to you. But while plain text is, by nature, plain, the types of plain text editors available to Mac users vary widely in their features and functionality. While the ultimate decision has to be made after a test drive, you can narrow down your choices by checking out some of the top-rated plain text editors for OS X that have the features you need. This review aims to do just that.
TextEdit – Price: Free
For many coder and software developers, TextEdit is the de facto plain text editor for Mac. That’s because it comes pre-loaded with OS X and it has been a staple in the Mac OS default software for years. So, right off the bat, you get a familiar and free text editing application.
TextEdit, however, is designed more for writers than coders. It’s a rich text editor with spell check, grammar check, autosave, tables, lists, graphics, smart quotes and the ability to open a wide range of file types, including Microsoft Office files. You can convert any document to plain text with a simple shortcut key, and it works in a snap for hand editing .html, .php and .css files. But at the end of the day, it’s not designed with developers in mind.
TextWrangler – Price: Free
BBEdit – Price: $125
Bare Bones Software is the creator of both TextWrangler and BBEdit. So, what’s the difference between BBEdit, which costs over $100, and TextWrangler, which is absolutely free? Essentially, you get everything you do with TextWrangler but with BBEdit, you also get the “sleep” command that takes a snapshot of the application state and lets you quit immediately and pick up where you left of the next time you start up; auto-save to protect against data lost in a system crash; HTML tools for keeping you compliant with HTML5, XHTML 1.1, etc.; “Live Search” for finding search strings within the document; a Scratchpad to keep quick notes and temporarily store text and other premium features. $125 may seem steep for a plain text editor, but if you use it for 60 to 80 hours a week, it’s worth it.
jEdit – Price: Free
This open source plain text editor is written in Java, which isn’t really an advantage except for the fact that it’s a true cross-platform plain text editor. If you have developers running OS X, Windows and Linux, then jEdit can keep them all on the same page.
Smultron – Price: Free
Smultron is a basic plain text editor at its core, but it also places a strong emphasis on organizing your documents. It’s tabbed interface lets you jump between documents quickly, which is particularly handy when working with functions, includes, modules and external CSS style sheets. A great tool for web developers.