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Issue 15.6 ('Green Screen Saver')
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BBEdit 12

Issue: 15.6 (November/December 2017)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 6,294
Starting Page Number: 12
Article Number: 15602
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Full text of article...

How do you improve a text editor that's been around for 25 years?

Good question. While BBEdit 12 is a major upgrade, it doesn't seem like that much has changed. Most of the improvements are internal as much old code has been updated for the future, and the visible changes are mostly improvements to existing features.

Still, there are some great things here. The most obvious is a new feature called columns that lets you work with column-delimited data (tab-separated and comma-separated) to rearrange the columns, delete columns, etc. If you've ever resorted to copying tab-delimited files into a spreadsheet just so you can manipulate the fields, you can now do that right in BBEdit.

Another feature I will use a lot is the "Paste Using Filter" command. This runs your clipboard text through a filter you choose, so the text comes in already manipulated.

There's also the "Canonize" command which performs a series of find-and-replace operations based on a list in a text file. You can also use this to, say, ensure that all occurrences of a word or phrase are capitalized in the same way.

There's a new "Dark Mode" (white on black) that some people like; personally that sounds awful, so I didn't even try it.

There are features I immediately turned off, such as one that changes the font size of the current document by a "pinching/unpinching" gesture on the trackpad. I kept accidentally doing that and my text would jump from microscopic to one letter filling the entire screen. Instead, I just use the Mac's Zoom feature (control+ two-finger scroll) to temporarily enlarge my screen and I leave my document at a fixed size.

Another set of features I'm still on the fence about is the new automatic completion of text pairs. With BBEdit 12, if you type a (, for instance, BBEdit will put in (). This works with quotation marks and other items that are generally used in pairs. It's quite useful for when I write in Markdown and want to use asterisks to indicate something should be in italics.

The problems come when this feature tries to get too clever. If you already have text selected, for instance, this will surround the selected text with the new item. Convenient most of the time, but breaks when you want to replace the old with the new.

For example, when I'm editing xDev articles, I often have a writer who puts a variable name in double quotes. For the magazine, we want those in back ticks (`) as those indicate a typewriter font. In the old BBEdit, I would select the double-quote and type a back tick—now when I do that, I end up with this:


That's not what I want at all. Sure, there's a preference setting to turn off that feature, but the feature is still great when it works.

This feature also makes it a pain to type inch or foot marks, since it insists on inserting two when you only want one. I write my fiction in BBEdit, and there I've found when writing dialog, I end up with lots of extra quote marks that are tricky to delete.

None of this is to say the feature's terrible or completely broken—it's a good idea that is still in need of refinement.

Overall, this is a good upgrade, with hundreds of changes and fixes, but all is not paradise. I did run into a few serious bugs and annoyances.

  • All the keyboard shortcuts I had assigned to my Clippings were removed in the upgrade. Very annoying (and stupid).

  • Autocomplete has visual problems (the popup menu of choices is almost unreadable), is extremely laggy, and caused some mouse clicks to not register (I had to click twice to move my cursor). I finally had to turn off autocomplete. Since this is one of the best features of BBEdit, I find this disappointing and I'm hoping it gets fixed.

  • Another huge problem for me is that when I split a document using the document splitter, the second version of the document now scrolls when I edit the first part. It didn't used to do that. My main use for splitting a document is to allow me to see two parts of the same document at once. For instance, when writing fiction I might have my character's bio or physical description notes on one while I edit a passage someplace else. With BBEdit 12, the notes I refer to kept scrolling out of view!

  • Markdown color syntaxing bugs that have existed for years are still there. Since I do everything in Markdown, this is sad.

  • I was also disappointed to see that BBEdit still doesn't support the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar. I would pay good money for that!

Still, these are minor inconveniences and Bare Bones Software is very good at responding to user issues, so I'm sure things will improve. The new features (particularly column support) are so powerful and handy that it's worth the update even if it isn't quite perfect.

End of article.