The big news this week involves licensing: Apple gets Java from Sun Microsystems and announces plans to integrate it into the Mac OS, and IBM gets the Mac OS from Apple. Also in this issue, information on Power Computing’s new high-speed Macs, Tonya takes a look at the new HTML authoring tool PageSpinner, and Sean Peisert reviews a collection of tools almost everyone has to use: text editors.
Tonya and I are deep into working on the fourth edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, which means that we’re likely to be less responsive to email for a while.
If you’re the author of a freely distributable freeware or shareware Internet program, I’d like to consider your program for inclusion on the CD that will come with the book. The same goes for commercial Internet programs with freely distributable demos. So, if you’d like to submit your program for inclusion on the CD, check out the Web form at:
Similarly, if you are an Internet service provider (anywhere in the world) that supports PPP and would like to be included in the book and installer, send email to <[email protected]>. We’ll collect names and send out more information when we have a Web signup form posted. [ACE]
IBM Gets Wide-Ranging Mac OS License — As noted in TidBITS-324, IBM today announced an agreement with Apple allowing it to sell PowerPC processors along with a Mac OS sub-license to any manufacturer. As noted, IBM does not appear to plan to manufacture Mac clones, but instead to sell reference design specs, licenses, and logic components to other manufacturers who will make PowerPC Platform machines. Those manufacturers, in turn, can choose to develop Mac clones and license the Mac OS directly from IBM, without having to enter negotiations with Apple. Datatech (DTK) Enterprises and Tatung are expected to announce plans to sub-license the Mac OS from IBM; other manufacturers have already announced third-party products for the PowerPC platform that would help system manufacturers build Mac OS computers for the PowerPC Platform. Also, rumor has it that IBM plans to drop OS/2 in favor of the Mac OS. [GD]
PowerTower & PowerCenter — Power Computing announced two new lines of Mac clones last week, including a machine that qualifies as the fastest single-processor Mac available. The PowerTower line sports a PowerPC 604 processor running at a dizzying 166 or 180 MHz in a mini-tower case with three PCI slots, a minimum of 16 MB of RAM, and four drive bays. The PowerCenter line features a 120, 132, or 150 MHz PowerPC 604 in a low-profile (120 MHz) or desktop case, with three PCI slots and a minimum of 8 MB of RAM. Pricing for PowerTowers starts around $3,800, PowerCenters around $1,900. Tests so far show that the PowerTowers edge out Apple’s high-end Power Mac 9500/150 by five to fifteen percent, even though they can’t use memory interleaving, being based on the 7200 motherboard design (which is currently the only one that can crank a PowerPC 604 above 150 MHz). As with previous models, Power Computing machines ship with a keyboard, a significant software bundle (including Speed Doubler on the PowerTowers), and a 30-day, money-back guarantee. [GD]
WebHead Update — No sooner do I write an article on recent Web browser updates (see TidBITS-326) than it’s, well, out-of-date. Netscape released version 2.02 or Navigator last week (primarily fixing security problems); NCSA released 3.0b2 of Mosaic, and beta 4 of Apple’s Cyberdog is now available (if you have a Power Mac and OpenDoc). [GD]
Quicken 6 R7 — Intuit has release R7 of Quicken 6.0 for Macintosh, which is supposed to address limitations of Quicken’s online banking features and "a few" other problems reported by customers. The download ranges from 1.2 to 3.4 MB, depending which version you need. [GD]
Apple announced last week it has licensed Sun’s Java programming environment, joining the massive list of current Java licensees. Apple says it plans to integrate Java into its operating systems (including the Mac OS, the Newton, and Pippin) as well as in media and Internet technologies, including Cyberdog. Apple is not alone in planning to put Java into its operating systems: Novell, Microsoft, SGI, IBM, and others have announced similar strategies. One has to wonder what impact this announcement might have on developers currently bringing Java to the Macintosh, considering how long it will be before Java support is available directly from Apple.
As a cross-platform application technology, one of Java’s nightmare scenarios is that it could cause all rules of interface and functionality to be thrown out, regardless of the client platform. (If you think Microsoft applications bend Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines now, wait until you see Java-based applications from Microsoft and other vendors!) In response, a campaign is underway to convince Sun to integrate OpenDoc into Java as an interface library. OpenDoc is already a relatively mature technology (compared to Java), and was built with cross-platform interfaces and application design in mind. If you plan to do Java or OpenDoc development, the idea is worth checking out. [GD]
The world of shareware Web authoring tools recently gained a new member in the form of PageSpinner, a $25 shareware program from Optima System in Sweden. PageSpinner requires System 7 and wants 1800K of application RAM. It works on any Mac with a 68020 processor or better, but Optima System recommends a 68040 or PowerPC-based Mac for working with larger files. You’ll also need a color or grayscale monitor, 640 by 400 pixels or larger. The current release of PageSpinner is 1.0.4, but I’m reviewing 1.1b1, which adds a number of features. 1.1b2 may be out by the time you read this article.
You can download the latest version of PageSpinner from Optima System’s Web site. The latest version may also be available on Info-Mac.
PageSpinner resembles HTML Web Weaver/World Wide Web Weaver from Miracle Software, and strikes me as targeted at the same audience – people who don’t need heavy-duty site management features, and who don’t mind learning HTML but want help with tags and syntax. I also see these products as excellent starter tools for people learning HTML. (For more about Miracle Software’s offerings, see TidBITS-317).
PageSpinner introduces some new features and ideas I haven’t seen often (or at all) in other Web authoring programs. In particular, whenever a tagging command appears on a menu or in a dialog, an icon next to each tag not part of HTML 2.0 indicates whether the tag comes from HTML 3.0 or Netscape. PageSpinner also comes with a number of handy templates, which you can select and preview in the New Document dialog box. This nicely done dialog helps you set up background and text colors, background tiling, and more.
PageSpinner has a toolbar, but – unlike many of today’s action-packed toolbars – it includes blank space between groups of reasonably large buttons, making it easier to use than most. More interestingly, PageSpinner offers an HTML Assistant floating window that you can optionally leave open. The HTML Assistant can assist you with about twenty tasks, including making links, creating tables, and setting up form interfaces.
Each HTML Assistant task comes with an Example button. Clicking the button presents you with the HTML Examples dialog, which offers a number of mini-templates for elements like lists and tables. (For some tasks, such as tables, it offers multiple templates; for others, such as forms, it offers none.) You can preview the templates visually and as HTML code, and copy the code from the Example dialog into your document. What’s so great about HTML Assistant and HTML Examples is that they help you figure out not only what commands are in the program but also how to employ them effectively. In this way, PageSpinner pushes people up the HTML learning curve.
Another common limitation of PageSpinner-like Web authoring tools is a 32K file size limit; PageSpinner supports larger files.
Like many Web authoring tools, PageSpinner shows text and HTML tags in its document window. The text shows with some representation as to how it will appear on the Web (headings look big, bold text appears bold, etc.). Tags appear in a dark gray color, making them easy to distinguish from text. You can set the default font and size for both tags and text.
Unlike a number of similar Web authoring tools, PageSpinner’s tags are discrete objects – they never look the same as body text. You can set PageSpinner so tags may be edited, so tags may be edited but not deleted, or so tags may not be modified in any way. If you type tags of your own into PageSpinner, it recognizes and converts them into discrete tag objects.
Similarly, if you open a non-PageSpinner-native HTML document, you can issue the Restyle command to convert your tags to PageSpinner tags. The Restyle command also works on PageMill documents brought into PageSpinner via the program’s new PageMill conversion feature. The PageMill conversion offers some flexibility for correcting <BR>-related problems, but it won’t "pretty print" text (align it nicely). (Adobe plans to fix the <BR> problem in PageMill 2.0, due out in July; see TidBITS-325.)
PageSpinner 1.1b1 sports improved and useful table features both for creating tables from scratch and for converting tab-delimited text. (If you do make a table in the Assistant, use the Table menu to add additional tags or to modify the table!) The new version also now supports relative links and handles anchoring correctly.
To access PageSpinner’s documentation, you use its Apple Guide, available via the Help menu. The documentation is well-written, but I’d like to see it expanded even more. I’d also like to see additional HTML examples – I was recently delving into the world of HTML forms and would have appreciated a few examples.
I haven’t completely covered every aspect of PageSpinner – at the rate it’s improvements spin out, the program is difficult to pin down. Also, I’ve neglected PageSpinner’s Find/Replace, Web Tools menu, and several other helpful features. Hopefully, you have the idea that it’s not a perfect program, but has much to offer in both unique features and a feature set for people who want to dabble with HTML or who want a program to boost them up the HTML learning curve.
Many Macintosh users are only vaguely familiar with text editors, since SimpleText opens our text documents and we configure our machines with control panels and thus rarely need to edit configuration files. Even so, the explosion of the online world has created a strong demand for tools to read and edit text-only (ASCII) documents, since ASCII is the standard for most online written material, from news postings and email to ReadMe files, FAQs, and HTML.
You can open text files in a word processor, and for a lot of people that’s fine. However, text editors are often a more effective alternative. Text editors bear some resemblance to word processors (they let you create, read, and edit documents), but they aren’t primarily concerned with fonts, graphics, special characters, margins, or printed output. Instead, they’re designed to let you manipulate text files in useful ways.
This article provides an overview of good, commonly available text editing tools. All these editors are top-notch programs, though some may suit your purposes better than others. Just because an editor is not included doesn’t mean it isn’t good, just that we didn’t have space to include it. Similarly, this article doesn’t cover two popular "monsters" of text editing – Alpha and the commercial version of BBEdit – which deserve reviews unto themselves.
Things to Look For — When selecting text-processing tools, there are some factors to keep in mind. The first is whether the program can open files larger than 32K. This limit is the one of the main deficiencies of Apple’s SimpleText, and though it isn’t a problem for some files, many FAQs and other online documents are larger than 32K. All the programs here can open files larger than 32K.
One complaint about older text editors was a lack of support for "soft wrapping." No more – all of the editors here support soft wrapping, which is what most word processors do. (When a line of text reaches a margin or other preset limit, the program moves remaining text to the next line without altering the string of characters.) Hard wrapping, conversely, inserts a carriage return at the end of each visible line, breaking the lines "by force." Most email, news postings, and other online documents (including TidBITS issues) must use hard wrapping.
Different operating systems (Unix, DOS, and Mac OS) end hard wrapped lines differently. By default, the Mac uses a carriage return, Unix uses a linefeed character, and DOS uses both. Each of these editors deals differently with line wrapping and converting a file from one method to another; you’ll want to select a tool that meets your needs.
BBEdit Lite 3.5.1, a freeware editor, is the smaller cousin of Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit 3.5.1, a commercial text editor. Originally designed for programmers, BBEdit has evolved significantly over the years. BBEdit has now split into two programs (one commercial and one freeware). The differences between BBEdit 3.5.1 and Lite 3.5.1 are covered extensively in the ReadMe file distributed with BBEdit Lite.
BBEdit Lite lacks features many other editors have these days – such as drag & drop – and it’s not scriptable. The newest incarnation of BBEdit Lite, however, supports soft wrapping and contains some Power Mac-native code. BBEdit Lite is one of the fastest editors around – its launching speed has to be seen to be believed, taking a mere three seconds to open a 900K file. (I used a Power Mac 6100/60AV, with plenty of RAM, System 7.5.3, and Connectix’s Speed Emulator from Speed Doubler for my tests, with Power Mac-native or fat versions of programs whenever possible.) This blazing speed is four to six times faster than some of the other editors reviewed here.
BBEdit Lite has a small disk footprint, takes up a meager amount of RAM, and is Apple event-aware, so it can be used in conjunction with an application like Anarchie to view text documents. BBEdit Lite does not integrate directly as an editor for programming environments such as CodeWarrior or Symantec C++.
BBEdit Lite achieves its light RAM footprint by using system memory. If you open a document which would exceed BBEdit Lite’s allocated memory, it asks the system for memory outside of BBEdit Lite’s application partition. (Many applications do similar things with sounds or QuickTime.) If the memory is available, BBEdit will open the file without difficulty, so you can keep BBEdit’s memory partition small and still work with large files.
BBEdit Lite is not devoid of cool features. Its powerful search engine supports grep expressions and multi-file searches. (In addition to searching for words, grep lets you search for complex patterns. Typical search engines can only look for words or phrases.) BBEdit Lite has a "balance" feature that identifies unbalanced sets of parentheses, braces, and quotes (handy for programmers and HTML writers).
Much of BBEdit Lite’s power is built into BBEdit extensions. These extensions don’t go in your System Folder; instead, you install them in a special folder provided by BBEdit and then choose them from a menu within BBEdit. Extensions have been written for a wide variety of tasks, such as HTML composition, inserting the date or time, sorting lines, and speaking text. These extensions make BBEdit Lite a more powerful tool than it first appears.
Emacs — This port of GNU Emacs from Cornell University is exactly what you would expect from the GNU Emacs editor.
GNU Emacs is a widely-distributed text editor originally developed by the Free Software Foundation, with ports available for the Macintosh and PC, along with most flavors of Unix and other operating systems. Emacs uses "modes" which alter the keystroke bindings (what commands are "bound" to particular keys) and the way the editor functions. Modes are available for C programming, HTML authoring, standard text editing and many other purposes. This modularity makes Emacs one of the most versatile editors available.
This Mac version of Emacs doesn’t require special keystrokes for basic use, but the keystroke bindings are what makes Emacs so powerful. Using Emacs to full advantage means memorizing over a hundred keystrokes, but you can learn along the way. This Mac version contains everything from the text editor mode of Unix Emacs (except email, news, and shell capabilities) and adds a few extra features. By default, text windows are light grey, making long hours in front of the monitor a little less tedious on the eyes. (All the colors used in the program can be edited.) Like most of the editors reviewed here, Emacs transparently supports Unix, DOS, and Mac ASCII formats. Since normal Emacs requires the use of "control" and "meta" modifier keys, Mac Emacs let you assign any modifier key to the role of control or meta.
Emacs’s performance can be astounding. As a test, I tried replacing 2,088 occurrences of "from" with "to" in my 900K outgoing mail file. Emacs found and replaced all occurrences in 1 second, BBEdit Lite in 9 seconds, Plaintext in 62 seconds, Style in 3.5 minutes, and Tex-Edit Plus in 4 minutes and 45 seconds.
Regrettably, in the end Mac Emacs’s Unix roots make it non-graphical and hard to learn. For instance, an Emacs window doesn’t have a scrollbar, and doesn’t allow text selection with the mouse. Emacs will interface with CodeWarrior, which is great for programmers who grew up using Emacs on Unix systems. The current version of Emacs for the Mac aligns itself with version 18.59 on the Unix side. The current version on the Unix side is version 19.x. The author of the Mac port has said that he would like to do a version 19.x port but we shouldn’t expect anything soon.
[Alpha, a large, sophisticated text editor not reviewed here, also offers a lot of Emacs’s functionality. -Geoff]
Plaintext 1.6.1 is a freeware text editor written by neurobiology professor Mel Park in his spare time. Plaintext’s fortes are its simplicity and the variety of conversion options for text files from different platforms.
Plaintext has a few features distinguishing it from most other editors. First, Plaintext supports bookmarks. If you’re working with a particularly long document and want to remember where you were reading or note an important passage, you can set a mark. You can jump quickly to any mark by selecting it from the Mark menu, and a file can contain a large number of marks. Plaintext contains column editing that enables you to select a vertical column, and Plaintext supports a small command-line language.
Plaintext’s command-line commands are mostly Unix commands (find, ls, pwd, and cat, among others) which the author implemented out of respect for the power of the MPW shell (MPW stands for Macintosh Programmer’s Workshop; it’s a programming environment from Apple with Unix-like features.) These simple commands (activated by typing them and pressing Enter rather than Return) have less overhead than menus and dialog boxes and make Plaintext a smaller, sleeker application. Most of these commands are also available via the menu bar.
Plaintext has been updated several times recently, fixing bugs and adding a few features. Plaintext has a mostly full Apple event implementation but does not have an AppleScript dictionary. Plaintext supports drag & drop – a feature BBEdit Lite lacks – and Park has said he plans to add full AppleScript support and possibly have it support OpenDoc in the future.
SaintEdit is a $10 shareware editor that Craig Marciniak introduced in 1992 and updated to version 1.5b13 recently. After two years of relative hibernation, however, SaintEdit is about to revive itself in an enhanced 2.0 version. The new version is based on the WASTE engine and will feature a spelling checker, improved interface, AppleScript support, and drag & drop, as well as extensive conversion and find and replace options, Text-to-Speech support, and HTML macros. Craig has promised a public beta shortly.
Style 1.4, a $10 shareware tool by Marco Piovanelli. Termed a "styled text editor," Style supports different fonts, text styles (like bold), font sizes, colors, and text alignment. It also supports embedded sounds and graphics. Style can read and create SimpleText documents (with styles intact), and SimpleText can read Style documents (with styles intact) provided the document is saved as text rather than in native Style format. Style uses Marco’s WASTE text engine which lets Style handle documents larger than 32K and helps give it the ability to use different languages via WorldScript – a definite boon for creating documents in languages such as Japanese or Russian.
Style supports some great technologies, like XTND, drag & drop, and Internet Config; in addition, Style is a fat binary and supports AppleScript recording. Style uses a memory management scheme similar to BBEdit and Tex-Edit Plus, where temporary memory is used when no space is available in Style’s memory partition.
Some extra niceties of Style are a Window menu, smart quotes, auto-indent, a basic find and replace feature, linefeed translation, extensive scripting capabilities, and a special scripting menu to which Command keys can be assigned. Simply drop an AppleScript into the Style Script folder and the script appears as a menu item. Style comes with several sample scripts and droplets.
Tex-Edit Plus 1.7.0, by Tom Bender, is a $10 shareware editor which feels like a nicely enhanced SimpleText with a good blend of features found in both Plaintext and SimpleText. The current version is Power Mac native, uses the WASTE engine, and boasts large speed improvements. A Japanese version of Tex-Edit Plus 1.7 is available, and a French version should appear soon.
Like Plaintext, Tex-Edit Plus enables conversion of Mac, Unix, and DOS text files. A nice find and replace utility provides an easy means to manipulate tabs, carriage returns, and other special characters. The Modify Document menu contains some wonderfully useful conversion utilities, including converting curly and straight quotes, ellipses, dashes, spaces, and other special characters often used with word processors or desktop publishing programs.
Tex-Edit Plus has a huge Sound menu with options for speaking text and recording sound. Although all of the text editors reviewed can use different fonts to view documents, Tex-Edit Plus supports multiple fonts, sizes, and styles in one document, more like SimpleText, Style, or a typical word processor. The author comments that one of Tex-Edit Plus’s bonuses is its ability to open SimpleText documents and display their formatting (including inline graphics), something none of the other editors quite do. Tex-Edit Plus also opens read-only SimpleText files.
Other useful features include inserting the date or time, going to any specified line number, drag & drop support, and text justification. One annoying caveat: Shift-Delete does a forward delete, and there doesn’t appear to a way to turn this feature off. Otherwise the program appears to be squeaky clean. Tex-Edit Plus also uses temporary memory, like BBEdit Lite and Style, to open very large files instead of requiring the user to give more memory to the program and re-launch.
The author says a new version will be available in the near future which will show invisible characters and support AppleScript recording and QuickDraw GX.
Conclusions — Which editor you use depends largely on your purposes. To create text files with graphics or multiple fonts, sizes or styles (like SimpleText ReadMe files), Tex-Edit Plus and Style are the only way to go – no other editors support these features. Style’s fortes are undoubtedly its Script menu, the ability to command-click URLs (helped out by Internet Config), and the WorldScript-savvy WASTE engine. Tex-Edit Plus has a few extra niceties, such as a better (although slow) search and replace, sounds embedded in documents, and more translation options.
If you have no need to create files with graphics or multiple font sizes, consider BBEdit Lite, Plaintext, or Emacs. BBEdit Lite is a small, fast, elegant text editor, and its superb interface and reliability make it an excellent tool for programming, HTML editing, composing ASCII text, or simply viewing existing documents. Bare Bone’s decision to include soft-wrapping in BBEdit Lite has made it a much more multi-purpose text editor, satisfying the demands of most anyone. Despite the fact BBEdit Lite is not fully (or even mostly) Power Mac native, it’s still fast – much faster than the fully native Plaintext.
If you need extensive conversion capabilities not covered in BBEdit Lite’s extensions or text conversions, Plaintext is a good choice. Plaintext doesn’t have the extensive feature sets of other editors, but it’s a solid program. Emacs is wildly different from any of the other editors; though I can’t recommend Emacs to novice Mac users or the general public, though anyone used to the Unix version will find it an excellent port.