July 26, 2021

BBEdit 14 iconBBEdit 14 icon

BBEdit 14 Protects You From “Untitled Text” Infestation

I promised myself that I wouldn’t update to the next version of BBEdit based on my experience with BBEdit 13. BBEdit 13: It Sucks a Little is what I had to say about it.

BBEdit got upgraded to version 14 and in spite of my best intentions I couldn’t resist1. I ponied up the upgrade price and proceeded to test it out.

I am not a coder. My perspective on BBEdit is that of a person who uses it to write. Blog posts, books, articles and doodles in text is what I use it for. If you are a coder, my comments on BBEdit are not going to be relevant to you.

As usual, BBEdit does a great job of documenting everything that has changed in their release notes. Go through that to get the complete picture.

Notes

BBEdit NotesBBEdit Notes

The biggest feature in this version is Notes.

The reactions on Twitter to this new feature:

Looking over BBEdit’s list of new features in 14, and that new Notes functionality - worth the upgrade cost just for that (dang, it’s like they know their user base!). I’ll be cracking open the ol’ wallet today.

Another one:

I also use Drafts, and I’m really looking forward to checking out this new Notes thingie in BBEdit 14. (I have slightly less than 305 untitled documents, but will probably benefit greatly.)

This was funny:

BBedit like: We learnt a lot of you use unsaved untitled texts as notices, so we built this as a new feature! Me: I DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT! Also Me:

Scary. 300+:

Just wanted to express my appreciation for the new @bbedit 14 notes feature. It will come in very handy, as one can see from the screen cap below with my 300+ untitled text documents.

I don’t know what these people are on about. I use the Scratchpad for random notes. The same Scratchpad for everything. If it results in something useful, I save the relevant content in a new document. I don’t have a single “untitled text” document hanging around. An unsaved document? What are you smoking, mate? Why would you do that? Save the damn file, put it where it belongs and move on to the next thing. I am realizing that mine is a minority opinion. BBEdit users do this all the time. The stability of BBEdit ensures that even if you quit the program, the documents you have unsaved show up in the next restart. You can have a bunch of these “untitled text” documents hanging around forever. The thought of it makes me break into hives2.

Notes is a way for BBEdit to provide a solution to this particular behavior. I am not sure it is going to work. BBEdit lets you have collections, folders really, and introduces organization to the collection of unsaved notes. I am not sure that these users are looking for organization. They would be improved by some. BBEdit provides that now. It is an interesting implementation of a feature which will benefit BBEdit users, if they use it.

I assigned a keyboard command to the New Note command (⌃⌥⌘N). It takes the first line of the note as the filename, giving you an idea of what the content is. Doesn’t need you to save anything or do anything extra. You can make a new note from the contents of your clipboard or from a selection of text in any program. Useful feature when you are doing research, collecting information. The notes are in a proprietary package in the BBEdit Application Support folder. You can see inside the package and find your notes. The file names don’t mean much, but the plain text files are available if you want to get at them.

The notes show up in the Open File by Name (⌘D) command, you can search for individual files if you have a large collection of these notes. Search is by filename, not content.

I use Projects in BBEdit. I assign folders of text files to a project and I can manage those folders in BBEdit. I create, edit, rename, move and delete these documents in the sidebar and that is the organization I am used to. I can have collections of documents in these projects depending on what particular writing project I am engrossed in at that moment. It works. The Notes function is a replication of that functionality in a new window. Unsure how useful this is going to be, but I am trying it out.

LSP and Anaconda

These are two new features geared for coders. LSP might let me use linters and there are good ones for Markdown syntax and general writing. I am going to explore adding those to BBEdit. But these are not critical to my life.

Clipboard Window

BBEdit 14 has brought back the Clipboard Window. Accessible from Edit>Show Clipboard, this gives you access to the many clips you have generated across an editing session. Unfortunately, these don’t last across restarts. I rely on Alfred for that feature and this new addition doesn’t add much to the workflow for me. Alfred lets me have unlimited clipboards from all the applications which use the system clipboard.

Application Icon

BBEdit Legacy IconBBEdit Legacy Icon

You get to choose BBEdit’s application icon. You can choose between Default, Classic, Legacy, or for the people who are incredibly resistant to change, the TextWrangler icon.

What Is the Allure of BBEdit?

Remember the following truism:

The best text editor is the one you know how to use.

I like BBEdit. I prefer Sublime Text and VSCode. I like Obsidian for my writing and note-taking. Why do I keep upgrading BBEdit?

In no particular order, these are my reasons for having BBEdit installed and current on my machines:

  • BBEdit is solid software. I cannot remember the last time I had a crash in BBEdit.
  • BBEdit deals with huge files without any problems. I can throw any size file at it, and it doesn’t balk.
  • This is deep software which does a whole host of things which even after almost two decades of using it, surprises me. Cat For Stitching Files Together
  • BBEdit has excellent support. An active forum, a responsive technical support group, a fantastic manual, and an active developer, all add to the pleasure of using this product.
  • It is gloriously old-school. It looks old-school. It gives you the opportunity to use a decades old application icon.

Why do I prefer Sublime Text, VSCode and Obsidian over BBEdit?

The plug-in ecosystem built around the competition blows BBEdit away. Look at Foam | A personal knowledge management and sharing system for VSCode.

Look at the following screen shots of a CSS file in both BBEdit and VSCode.

BBEdit CSSBBEdit CSS

VSCode CSSVSCode CSS

Which do you prefer?

Look at this Markdown Editing Plugin for Sublime Text. Nothing comparable exists on BBEdit.

The problem is that plugins/packages were an afterthought in the design of BBEdit. It was introduced as a competitive reaction and not integral to the product design. A lot of features of BBEdit are just that, reaction to competition, added on to the product without it being a part of the infrastructure and it shows. For instance, Go>Commands… (⇧⌘U), why does it show documents? It is meant to be commands. Compare that with the Sublime Text command palette.

BBEdit Command PaletteBBEdit Command Palette

Sublime Text Command PaletteSublime Text Command Palette

Which makes sense to you?

The Open File by Name command (⌘D). Why is it by file name? The quick open commands in Sublime Text and VSCode lets me search by file name and content.

This is Dr. Drang on his Blogging package:

One of the things I don’t like about BBEdit’s package system is that scripts and text filters from the same package don’t appear together. Scripts are in the scripts menu (or palette), and text filters are in the Text▸Apply Text Filter menu (or palette). But Keyboard Maestro can handle that.

To make his package useful, he has to introduce another tool, Keyboard Maestro to the task. This is what happens when you hack in a feature which wasn’t something that you designed your product for.

Don’t tell me that this is what happens when you have old software. Emacs and VIM are both older and they don’t have the same problems with their plugin infrastructure.

When I work in Sublime Text, VSCode, or Obsidian, I get the feeling that I am on the cutting edge of text editing. I don’t get that feeling in BBEdit. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Being old and staid, BBEdit has a certain security to it. But I am acutely aware that I am missing the new shiny. You can discount the new features if you don’t know about them. However, it becomes difficult to do when you are exposed to them.

Periodically I have the desire to go all-in on BBEdit. I know I could do all my work in it. But then I realize that it doesn’t do the things my other editors do and I am not sure I want to give those up.

The reality is that BBEdit is perfectly usable for someone like me who writes in Markdown. Using Markdown Service Tools - BrettTerpstra.com or Zettt/km-markdown-library: Markdown library for Keyboard Maestro., makes it possible to live in BBEdit and Markdown.

The competition however does a lot more.

I upgrade to the latest version of BBEdit because it is my back up text editor. I will come back to it and live in it, if I ever need to. That security is what I am paying for. I hope I never have to use it, but that is the reasoning behind me upgrading.

Conclusion

Once in a while, I find myself writing without a clear idea of where I am going. This post is an example of that. Sorry.

I like BBEdit. I like the competition more. I hope BBEdit users use the Notes feature. It is nice. I am going to stick to projects.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Note: A few other reviews which are not as ambivalent as mine.

I found the following funny:

Dave Pell - @davepell: I don’t really need any of the @bbedit updates, but after all these years of happy usage, I buy every update. Old fogies of the internet unite! https://www.barebones.com

You might find this useful:

Script to Save all Untitled Text Documents as Notes


  1. I might have an addiction to text editors↩︎

  2. But that might be a function of my OCD.↩︎

macOS bbedit
July 21, 2021

Moped iconMoped icon

Moped Is a Fast and Free Text Editor

Product: RobertoMachorro/Moped: A general purpose text editor, small and light.
App Store Link: ‎Moped Text Editor on the Mac App Store

Moped is a small and light text editor with interesting abilities.

  1. It supports “lazy typing.” Two spaces turn into a period. The first letter of a new sentence is capitalized. That is, it supports the macOS system settings. This alone makes it a product I enjoy using.
  2. It is quick. Quick to launch. Comfortable handling large files. Scrolling through a large file is easy and smooth.
  3. It has built-in themes, including Solarized (my favorite).
  4. You can use your fonts.

Moped is not competing with the likes of BBEdit, Sublime Text, or VSCode. It is a simple product geared towards helping you deal with text files. That is the extent of its ambitions and I like it.

Preferences

Moped has a set of simple preferences.

Moped preferencesMoped preferences

You can choose a default language. In my case, Markdown. The theme. The font and the font size. Whether you want word wrap or not. That is it.

Improvements

Moped is great as it is, however, I would like to add one thing to it:

Typewriter scrolling. I don’t like looking at the bottom of the screen. The ability to scroll the window beyond the last line would be an improvement.

Recommendation

Moped is recommended heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

macOS moped
July 4, 2021

Gratuitous Cat PictureGratuitous Cat Picture

Obsidian Is Going to Eat Everyone’s Lunch

Remember how VSCode gobbled up market share?

The main players in the text editor space were Sublime Text, Atom, Emacs, and VIM.

In macOS, they were joined by BBEdit and TextMate.

Now it is VSCode and everyone else.

The Era of Visual Studio Code | Roben Kleene

How VS Code Took Over the JavaScript Community

The rise of Microsoft Visual Studio Code

I predict that the same thing will happen in the note-taking space with Obsidian. Obsidian will eat everyone’s lunch.

Why?

There are several reasons for this. Let’s go through them.

Free

Obsidian is free to use. You can pay to support the product. You can pay to incorporate sync and publish features. But you don’t have to. The product is fully functional in the free version. There are no nagging or related annoyances if you choose to keep using the product and not pay anything for it.

It is difficult to compete with a free alternative. It is even more difficult to compete with an exceptionally well-thought-out free alternative.

Obsidian Is a Great Markdown Focused Text Editor

Based on Electron, Obsidian is a great product.

  • Full support for CommonMark and Github Flavored Markdown.
  • Local files. You own the files and they reside on your hard drive and not on some unknown cloud managed by your note-taking application.
  • Customizable themes.
  • Customizable hotkeys.
  • Powerful linking features to build your knowledge base.
  • An amazing plug-in ecosystem which has started extending the product.
  • A vibrant community of users both in the forums and on the discord channel.

Obsidian Is “Sticky” Software

What do I mean by “sticky” software? It is software that grows into you. The more you use it, the more you learn it, it becomes a part of you and you get hooked. Obsidian is like that. It does a whole host of things and it is good at them. You discover them and find yourself elated that you have a new trick up your sleeve at making Obsidian behave the way you want it to.

How do you create “stickiness?”

These are the features that help:

  1. Customizable. Everything in the way Obsidian looks is customizable. It is a rabbit hole that will lure you in. If you are a CodeMirror wiz or a CSS wiz, you are going to have a lot of fun tweaking Obsidian to behave the way you want it to. If you are clueless about these things, like me, you are going to have a lot of fun learning. Copying from others and making small changes to Obsidian will fill you with joy.
  2. Customizable hotkeys. Every command in Obsidian is capable of having a keyboard command assigned to it. And you can choose them. Gives you the ability to define the editor you want. An example, Obsidian Hotkeys: Favorites and best practices - Obsidian Forum.
  3. The Plug-ins. Plug-ins fall into two categories. One set of plug-ins add features to the editor. Typewriter Scroll Obsidian Plugin is an example of that. The second set of plug-ins afford you the ability to add multiple workflow improvements to the editor. QuickAdd for Obsidian, or Dataview: A complex query language implementation for the Obsidian note-taking tool., are examples of the second kind. This group is geeky, but the plug-ins add features to the workflow which make Obsidian unique in the market. Entering this rabbit hole will lead to increased customizing of your work in Obsidian. This is the kind of feature which turns software into a cult. Users become true believers. Look at the Emacs user or the VIM user. Obsidian has the beginnings of that.
  4. Knowledge Management and the ecosystem around it. There are a bunch of people who are making money selling various courses build around the concept of knowledge management using Obsidian. That ecosystem is going to keep growing and Obsidian is going to be growing its user-base. This is going to happen because the core of the concept is relevant and meaningful to everyone. We have access to too much information. We are all struggling to use this information. Knowledge management as a function is built around this truism. This is the backbone of Obsidian, the reason for its being. That universal reality is going to make the product “sticky.”
  5. The community. Obsidian has built a user community around its forum and the Discord server. It is populated by a host of helpful, kind, and polite users helping each other. The two developers have a vocal presence on both channels. An engaged user base is going to help propel the philosophy and the product to other users. This is going to mushroom. Being a part of the community will add identity benefits to its users. Putting it in plain terms, stupid people have no knowledge to manage. By definition, if you are trying to manage knowledge, you have differentiated yourself from the clueless.

“Sticky” software creates barriers to switching. If you find yourself relying on Obsidian for all of your work, you are going to find it difficult to move on from it. The invested time in learning and creating familiarity is the sunk cost that will keep you in Obsidian. Why would you take the trouble of checking out something new, if you are happy and comfortable in the solution you are using?

Bottom Line

If you are competing with Obsidian, you are screwed. That includes the major players like Roam Research, Notion, and Logseq. You are going to be around, but the market leader is going to be Obsidian. You are going to be playing catch up. The battle is over.

I wanted to end the article here. But my marketing brain wanted to answer the next question.

How Do You Compete Against Obsidian?

I know about the macOS side of the market. My comments are about that market. Don’t know Windows or Linux.

Rich text

Don’t understand it, but there is a sizable chunk of customers who love rich text. Position your product for that crowd. Of course, that will mean you are stuck to a format that is not malleable and the product is going to have to do a lot of things on its own and won’t have a plug-in ecosystem around it. But the people who love rich text are not going to mind. A product that does this well is Scrivener. Yes, it is positioned as “writing software.” However heavy users of Scrivener tend to use it for everything, including note-taking and journaling.

Go Native

Be more macOS compliant than Obsidian. That is not difficult to do. Support Services. Support the native dictionary. Support text replacement settings. Support iCloud. Have an iOS and a macOS presence and tout that you are wedded to the Apple ecosystem. That is going to get you some traction and lose you some of the cross-platform users. That is the cost of this focus. Ulysses, Drafts and Bear are examples of this strategy.

Build a Product Which Is Extendable by Design

If you are going to directly compete with Obsidian, you need a plug-in ecosystem. This is a risky strategy. Building a community around your product is difficult. Drafts has done an excellent job of that. It is doable, but it is not easy.

I am not sure about Nova1, but it is also trying to implement that strategy for a text editor. Nova is also playing the “native” product card, but that is a difficult game to play in the text editor marketplace. Sublime Text, BBEdit, and TextMate are “native” too.

Target Your Product to Smaller Niches

Design a note-taking app for engineers. Design a note-taking app for software developers. Design a note-taking app for fiction and non-fiction writers. Specialize. If you are focused on a smaller segment, you might be able to play in the plain text market, the specialization has to add real value for you to sustain a fight against “free.”

Simple

A market hole that exists in a lot of software markets is “simple.” Developers shy away from it, but there is a market for that. Explicitly make your product simple. The product does less but is easy to use and easy to learn. By design, it is a distillation of the feature set of the behemoths and is fast and competent. The charm of Notational Velocity and nvALT was attributable to the “simplicity” in their use and design. They were note-taking apps that did not have the features of the big guns but were easy to use and filled the needs of many users. nvUltra2, still in beta, could be another competitor in that space. The Archive (macOS) • Zettelkasten Method also plays in that space.

The geeks are going to move to feature-heavy applications, but normal human beings don’t want to deal with complicated note-taking applications. They will like a solution that lets them take notes and access them easily without worrying about links, back-links, and graph views of their notes.

Think about Byword. The sustained popularity of Byword is due to its simplicity.

Simple software has its adherents.

Reposition

Change the rules.

Drafts is an excellent note-taking application or a writing application. But it is positioned as the entry point for all your writing. The logic? It is the only one in that space. No one explicitly competes in that space. You start writing in Drafts and then take the content over to some other program. Why the hell would you want to do that? I want to start writing in my editor and stay there. What is with the moving around? But it works for Drafts. In reality, it is an excellent text editor. With a whole community of users who design themes and actions for the product. You could if you wanted to, live entirely in Drafts. Letting it handle everything that you write. But the positioning works and Drafts is an essential product for many users both on iOS and macOS.

Is iA Writer: The Benchmark of Markdown Writing Apps a writing app or a note-taking app? Who cares? iA Writer is a writing program that restricts the choices you can make by providing you a well-designed environment for you to live in. They, unlike Byword, have steadily added features to the product. iA Writer handles and manages all your files and folders of text files and aspires to be the best Markdown-focused text editor that it can be. You can take notes in it, you can write your version of War and Peace in it. Characterized by fast search, great Markdown support, and an iconic writing environment, iA Writer competes well in this space.

That is what I have at this stage. Don’t pick this fight if you can avoid it. But these are some ways you can carve up a niche in this space.

Conclusion

I enjoyed writing this article. Hope you enjoyed reading it. As you can tell, I am all-in on Obsidian. I haven’t had this much fun since discovering and adopting Sublime Text as my main editor. I will write more about Obsidian as we go along. I will end here for now.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

Note: Thanks to Photo by Alexas Fotos.

Another take on Obsidian: Notes on Obsidian


  1. VSCode is probably beating it silly, that is why Nova has to do ridiculous things like claiming that the latest release is version 7. It was released less than a year ago. Come on, version numbers should mean something.↩︎

  2. nvUltra is going through a redesign of some sort. The beta is stuck to minor bug fixes and the main activity is going on off beta. I have no idea what is going on, but I suspect that the changing market conditions (Roam and Obsidian), have necessitated a re-evaluation of the product. Again, I have no idea if this is true, but that is my gut instinct.↩︎

macOS Obsidian
June 27, 2021

NeO iconNeO icon

NeO Emerges From the Shadows and Little Outliner Lives in a Tab

Product: d-light ▶ MacOS X ▶ NeO
App Store Price: $6.99

NeO is an outliner that I thought had been abandoned by the developer. I was wrong. It got an update a few weeks ago. It supports both Intel and Apple Silicon.

It has been around for a while. I have been wanting to write about it, but the lack of any developer interest left me unwilling to cover it.

The first thing you notice about NeO is that this is a feature-packed outliner.

This is a list of features:

  • Capable of importing graphics and multiple fonts for text
  • Can split editors
  • Can zoom editors
  • Multiple columns
  • Inline comments
  • Multiple-file find
  • Highlighting with color labels
  • Cloning
  • Hoisting
  • Labeling
  • Bookmark
  • Filtering
  • Linking among items, fields and texts
  • Linking to files
  • Background colors for text, item and document
  • Cascading style sheet
  • Named styles
  • Can export to text, RTF, Microsoft Word, HTML and OPML format files
  • Can import from text, RTF, Microsoft Word, OPML, MOREª format files
  • Spotlight support
  • Quick Look support
  • Universal Binary
  • 64bit support

NeO documentNeO document

NeO can link files but it also links items, fields, and texts within a document. This is the feature set that Roam introduced with much fanfare, but NeO has been doing it for a while. This is truly innovative software, hidden for the most part, from the average Mac user.

I am not going to go into detail about the product. It works. It is full-featured and cheap. Buy it and test it out.

Talking about Little Outliner

Little Outliner TabLittle Outliner Tab

Lately, I have been talking about outlining programs. I have to mention Little Outliner. This is an outliner based in your browser. It is created by Dave Winer. You use it by logging on to your Twitter account and the files are stored in Dave’s server. You can export your outlines to an OPML file. It is an efficient and easy outliner. I use it as a memory aid when I am browsing the Web. It is a free app, which I have active on a tab in the browser.

Be careful not to include confidential information in your outlines in Little Outliner. They are hosted by the developer, and you have no control over the security of the files.

Recommendations

NeO is recommended heartily. It is cheap enough that you can give it a try and if it doesn’t work for you, well, that is not a big loss.

Little Outliner is also recommended for an always-on outliner which is surprisingly useful.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.

outlines macOS
June 21, 2021

Zavala iconZavala icon

Zavala - A Simple Outliner

Product: Get Organized with Zavala
Price: Free

Described by the developer as:

A good, simple outliner for macOS and iOS.

Zavala is a new entrant into the outliner space on both macOS and iOS.

You have the choice of keeping your documents on the Mac, or on iCloud to have them accessible on both macOS and iOS. The iOS version has an iPhone version and an iPad version.

Zavala is a library-based application, similar to Drafts, or Ulysses. The organization of the outlines is through tags. There are no folders in this application.

For a library-based application, one of the first questions is how good is the export function? Zavala lets you export to Markdown or OPML. It is built into the application and it is easy to get individual files out of the program. Being an outliner, it treats every paragraph as an outline item, which means that in the Markdown export you get an unordered list. To avoid that, if you want another paragraph, in the same item, press ⌥↵.

Zavala reminds me of Outlinely. Outlinely1 is a mature product with a feature set geared towards writing. Zavala is starting in that journey. It isn’t reasonable to compare these products at this stage. This is the first step by Zavala and it is something I am going to keep a close eye on.

Zavala Preferences

Zavala - File LocationZavala - File Location

The preferences are simple. You get to choose where you want the library to be located and get to select both local storage and iCloud.

You get to decide on fonts.

Zavala - FontsZavala - Fonts

The developer is responsive to comments and suggestions. If you are interested in this product, I suggest you follow and contribute to the discussions on the GitHub product page.

I am excited by Zavala. I recommend it.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie.


  1. Outlinely is characterized by an intermittent development schedule and some flakiness as to its availability. It went missing for a few months and has made a comeback to the App Store in recent months. I find it difficult to rely on this product. Pity because I am fond of Outlinely.↩︎

zavala outlines macOS