The most wonderful application available exclusively for the Mac. I only know what about 3% of the commands do, and it's still the most commonly used piece of software on my computer. Among other things, I create about 95% of my writeups in BBEdit. It's created by Bare Bones Software and the current version is BBEdit 7.0.2.

Great slogan, too!

"BBEdit: It doesn't suck."

BBEdit is a very cool, extremely useful text editor available only for Macintosh. It is produced by Bare Bones Software, which offers a "lite" version for free download at The "Lite" version is quite worth having, as it is much more powerful than SimpleText. For instance, it can process files up to 2GB in size, and it can handle DOS and Unix files with ease. The current version, 6.5, is compatible with MacOS X and MacOS 9.x.

BBEdit is not a word processor: you won't be able to change the font of your text or change its layout, etc. BBEdit is designed as a good environment for writing HTML and program code. The closest Windows analog to this program is HomeSite, but BBEdit offers features (such as being able to split your document viewscreen, which makes comparing/moving code very easy) that make it my absolute favorite HTML editor.

Using BBEdit's Batch Replace For Easy File Editing

If you need to make the same change to many HTML files, BBEdit gives you an easy way to do so: batch find and replace.

First, select Search:Find, or hit Apple-F.

You will be presented with a dialog box like the one on the next page. If you want to do a regular Find/Replace in the document you've got open -- say, to replace curved quotes with straight quotes -- all you'd have to do is put a curved quote (“) in the "Search For" field and a straight quote (") in the "Replace With" field and then click "Replace All."

But what if you want to make a change across many files? For instance, if you have several text documents to plug into HTML templates, but you're tired of cutting and pasting every last paragraph. You want to quickly put in the correct HTML paragraph tags and worry about the rest of the tags later. But how can you do this?

First, put all the files you want into a separate folder. Then, start BBEdit. Go to Find as before, and put \r in the "Search For" field (this will search for hard returns; \r is the universal escape code for a hard return). Then, in the "Replace With" field, put </p>\r<p> ... this will replace all hard returns in the documents with an end paragraph mark followed by a hard return and then a beginning paragraph mark.

Next, you want to set BBEdit to find and replace in all the files in your folder. To do this, select the boxes labeled "Multi-File Search" and "Batch Find" near the bottom of the screen. Then, select the folder you've put your files in. When you click on "Replace All", BBEdit will replace all the hard returns in all the documents in the folder you've selected.

Pretty cool, eh? The program offers far more than batch file handling; it offers tools to clean up bad HTML, a web-safe color palette, tools for debugging HTML, CSS tools, etc. Furthermore, Bare Bones offers some truly excellent documentation, support, and plug-ins libraries on their website.

BBEdit has been the definitive text editor for the Macintosh platform for as long as anyone can remember. It was originally developed by Rich Siegel who founded the parent company Barebones Software. To get proper perspective, let's look a major version history1:

1993 v2.5
1994 v3.0 (PowerPC support!)
1995 v3.5
1996 v4.0
1997 v4.5
1998 v5.0
2000 v6.0
2001 v6.1 (Mac OS X native!) 
2002 v7.0
2004 v8.0
2005 v8.1 
2006 v8.2.5 (current version as of this writing)

Not only does this go back well before Mac OS X, it predates OS 9 and OS 8 as well, reaching all the way back to the venerable System 7. Since there is no known history of versions 1 or 2.0 we date the development even further back to the dark, pre-multitasking, 9" black and white screens of System 6. During the intervening 15 years or so BBEdit has had the luxury of very little competition. Probably because there wasn't a great deal of demand for text editors on the Mac.

BBEdit found its niche as an HTML editor early on. Other uses such as programming were mostly filled by full-fledged IDEs such as CodeWarrior or (more recently) XCode. Non-programmers simply used a word processor. However the HTML editor market exploded right when BBEdit was coming into its prime, and Barebones built a comprehensive base of features that solidified it as the Mac text editor monopolist.


BBEdit is a unique mix of industrial-strength features and Mac-like easy-to-use functions. Some of the highlights:


The first drawback of BBEdit is that its interface was designed a long long time ago and hasn't really been updated to handle the proliferation of features. The worst example of this is the preferences window which has dozens of panes that are not well organized and require rote memorization to really use effectively. After 10 years of using BBEdit I am pretty good at finding stuff, but it's still nowhere as easy as it should be.

The BBEdit interface is saturated. The product is mature, but it feels like it has nowhere to go. The kind of advanced functionality that is possible in the hard-core unix editors (vim and emacs) seems just beyond the reach of BBEdit. For simple HTML generation BBEdit is still a top choice, but for anything more codish than that BBEdit is destined to fall flat.

Future Decline

BBEdit has a long history and a loyal userbase—and it still has a number of unique features that make it the right tool for a lot of jobs. However, the landscape of shareware-type Mac applications is very different from 5 years ago. Almost every application that existed under OS 9 has been supplanted by a brand-new OS X app with a juicy icon and a trendy website. Of course this doesn't go for the truly professional apps with hundreds of thousands of development hours behind them. The Photoshops and Offices can not simply be replaced overnight. BBEdit is sort of on the edge of this category. It has enough functionality to not be easily replaced, but it doesn't have any innovation on the horizon either. They've left the door open.

The primary challenger is TextMate. Sure, OS X has vim and emacs, but TextMate merges Unix philosophy with cutting edge use of Cocoa. Even though BBEdit has tons of features that TextMate doesn't have or implements poorly, TextMate has underlying features and supports customizability that the BBEdit architecture can not implement without a complete rewrite. I'm sure the developers over at Barebones are pointing to this and that little feature2 trying to convince themselves that TextMate doesn't have what it takes to supplant BBEdit, but deep down they're worried. Real worried.

1 Chronology from
2 The only reason I still keep BBEdit around for dealing with text encoding and line-ending issues.

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