My Journey to the Perfect Text-Editor

This article is about why I feel Sublime Text 2 is the best text editor ever and how/why I ended up using it. I’ve decided to write this because I seem to talk about this topic quite often and it would be easier for me to reference someone to an article rather than explaining my rationale over and over again.

DreamweaverWindows LogoApple LogoDreamweaver thumbnail

I started using Dreamweaver’s design mode when I began web-development. I didn’t touch HTML. I started using some of the DW javascript functionality which I thought was quite powerful at the time ( this was literally all done without looking at HTML ), but I was getting frustrated with the tabular layout – It felt like I was fighting it more than working with it. Changing the width of tabular layouts isn’t easy when you have multiple nested tables.

I started seeing all kinds of unbelievable tutorials and javascript plugins online. Things like dragging elements around as if they were windows in an operating system. I slowly started manipulating other people’s code within the DW code view and eventually I was permanently using that view. I felt design mode was for newbies and tabular design was old-school and evil. It was at this time that I started following popular online blogs such as CSS-Tricks and David Walsh, etc.

Dreamweaver features that stood out for me:

  • I enjoyed the syntax highlighting colours
  • Wrap text in element functionality
  • tags closed automatically
  • Find/replace throughout open files

Note: It took Dreamweaver 30 seconds to load up so I could take the screenshot. Core2Quad 2.3ghz with 3gb of ram.

Notepad++Windows LogoNotepad++ Logo

I eventually moved over to Notepad++. I enjoyed how quick it was – Lightning quick compared to the bulky Dreamweaver. However it didn’t have most of the things I liked about Dreamweaver and it wasn’t nearly as aesthetically pleasing with regards to icon layout, icons, colours in general and the syntax highlighting. I actually found – and still do find – the toolbar of icons ( including print, copy/cut/paste, find, etc) very insulting. Eventually I was using Notepad++ without turning back to Dreamweaver for anything, but still I didn’t feel completely comfortable with it, something was missing.

Note: I probably didn’t use this editor to it’s full potential.

E-TextEditorWindows Logo

I began noticing how many people were talking about TextMate but I could not use it since it was/is a Mac specific application. After some googling I noticed there was a ‘Windows’ version of TextMate called ‘E-TextEditor’.

I found the syntax highlighting very pleasing and it had almost everything I could want, including FTP built into the app – This felt much more simple to get going than the Dreamweaver FTP functionality. One thing it didn’t have was ‘Find/replace throughout open files’. This was something I had missed since Dreamweaver.

Without a doubt, this became my text-editor of choice.

GEditLinux TuxGEdit Logo

I was getting fed up with Windows for various reasons and I couldn’t afford a Mac, so Linux ( Ubuntu ) was my next logical step. GEdit was/is the default text editor for Ubuntu and I was surprised that the default text editor that was so ‘advaced’ compared to other default OS text editors. This mainly included pleasing syntax highlighting and tabbed functionality. GEdit didn’t have the ‘Find/replace throughout open files’ functionality and something about it didn’t feel great when using it for larger projects. As far as features went, it didn’t have too many that I was aware of. For small HTML/CSS/JS projects or tests it was perfect though.

SciteLinux TuxScite Logo

By default Scite has ( or my default installation at the time ) the line numbers disabled. This is/was highly annoying and on top of that, it wouldn’t ‘remember’ my option to keep line numbers enabled. Small things like this can really get to me – I want to feel completely at ease, comfortable and happy with my tools.

I didn’t really like the icons and the general look and feel of the editor, however, it was definitely much more advanced and nicer to use than GEdit – with options like “Convert selection to lowercase” to regular expression searches. By this time I had decided Scite was the Linux text editor for me, however as much as I liked it I preferred E-TextEditor, but I had completely moved away from Windows – apart from my virtual machine with PhotoshopCS3 and IETester. It’s difficult using a text editor when I would have switched it for E-TextEditor or TextMate in a heartbeat.

CodaApple LogoCoda Logo

I began using a Mac at work and it had Coda pre-installed. I had heard almost as much about Coda as I had about TextMate, mainly from Chris Coyier and a co-worker/friend. I enjoyed Coda – It had extremely simple and intuitive FTP support and was very nice to use. Coda had random nuggets I hadn’t seen in editors, like a wildcard character within searches. This could be achieved with regular expressions in other text editors, but the simple option was nice. The lack of functionality I was used to got to me. Coda was nice for larger PHP projects or smaller HTML projects.

TextMateApple LogoTextMate Logo

I was really eager to try out TextMate. I had heard so much about it and E-TextEditor was based on it.

TextMate was very different from other editors – especially since I was new to OSx. It was pretty much just a window of text. All the options could be accessed via keyboard-shortcuts or by the options panel. It took me a couple of minutes to get used to it but I really loved it.

Komodo EditWindows LogoLinux TuxApple LogoKomodo Edit Logo

As much as I liked TextMate, I could never get completely used to it because at the time I was working on 2 operating systems – OSx ( work ) and Ubuntu ( home/dev ). I was also sure I would end up using Windows for some or other reason in future due to work or somewhere else I was forced to. This meant that I would be using a different text editor on each operating system. This made me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t want to learn to use something I’d end up not using. It felt like a waste of time investment. I definitely wanted to get used to an editor that worked across all platforms. I wanted a text editor I would use for the rest of my life.

My seeking continued until I had found KomodoEdit. It was great. It had a couple of things I wasn’t ecstatic about, but the fact that it was cross platform made me forget about those quickly. KomodoEdit was definitely a very powerful text editor. I was referred to the application by a hardcore PHP backend friend and that made me feel good since I felt that I could grow with the editor if I needed to.

KomodoEdit is a light-weight and free version of KomodoIDE. I had found pretty much everything I had wanted.

  • Light-weight – Check
  • Multiple language support – Check
  • Plenty of options – Check
  • Powerful – Check
  • Cross-Platform compatible – Check
  • Aesthetically pleasing – No
  • Find/replace throughout open tabs – No

Sublime Text 2Windows LogoLinux TuxApple LogoSublime Text Logo

Finally I stumbled upon Sublime Text 2. And it was good.

It had everything I could ever want and more, this went from Multi-select to distraction free mode. It had all the above checks, it was aesthetically pleasing and had an unbelievable find functionality. The Mac text editors ( TextMate and Coda ) look and feel far better to use than applications on other operating systems – It’s like they’re just made better. SublimeText2 has kept this feeling, even on different operating systems. The fact that text editors had to look ugly in Linux and Windows had been something I had wondered about on and off for a long time – Finally there was one editor that broke my perception.

I had never used a dark theme before but the default SublimeText2 was perfect. It had Chrome styled tabs, you could record macros, create your own snippets very easily and it had a visual map of document on the side of the editor ( this seemed like it could get old quickly, but I find it very useful in spotting patterns in larger documents).

The options worked differently compared to any other application I had used before. An options page was a text page in a sort of object/array layout. At first I thought this was temporary and it would be updated in a future version, but I finally realized how brilliant it was. You could search for options via the text editor. Search results appear in another default text-editor tab and it’s all consistent. You don’t ever leave tabs and text, brilliant.

The best part is, it’s only a beta. That’s right, until the time of this writing ST2 is a beta and it gets updated VERY often. New features, functionality and bug fixes come out with every update. ST2 has always been expensive for a text-editor, atleast $59 is expensive for one to me, but ST2 allows you to trial the software for as long as you’d like. On the site it says:

Sublime Text may be downloaded and evaluated for free, however a license must be purchased for continued use.

The license comes with a bunch of perks, the most noticable includes a per-user license, not per-install or per-machine. This means you can use the registered version on whatever operating system and machine you’re using. After running and using it on all operating systems I decided to purchase it and I would urge anyone who loves it half as much as I do to support the development.

On top of all of this, I’ve subsequently began to learn Ruby and it’s got a Ruby build system installed – along with a bunch of other builds, including ant build. ST2 supports a vast amount of languages ( more than just syntax highlighting ), has plugin support and it supports Textmate snippets. The community is also pretty great.

As you may possibly know, I develop HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP and Ruby. I’ve got friends who I’ve convinced to permanently use ST2 and they use languages ranging from Python to C++.

According to me, it is by far the best text-editor around.

tldr;

Sublime Text 2 is awesome.

Disclaimer

I don’t own any of the icons used, they belong to the text-editor/operating system.
I may have unfairly moved on from some of the text editors due to lack of specific functionality (or perceived lack of), aesthetics and cross-OS support. I may have been a bit unfair and some of you may disagree with me, but for me ST2 wins in every field. Also, if I’ve misrepresented any text-editor above, please correct me by with a comment.

Any questions or comments?

  1. Luc says:

    Nice article.

    What do You think about Share Point Designer, (2007 Edition is free for non commercial use), or Microsoft Expression Web 4 – it has support for CSS3 and HTML 5.

    I would also add to the list above: Geany and Aptana Studio.

    LUC

  2. @Luc – I wasn’t impressed with Aptana Studio. I feel like it is another piece of software that is too heavy, much like Dreamweaver. I haven’t tried quite as many as Jamy has but Sublime Text was one that instantly hit me with pleasure. Enough to not have looked elsewhere. Of course this is only my opinion.

    1. LUC says:

      Yes You’re right. Aptana is a big piece of software.

      If we’re talking about GOOD text editor, Sublime Text has became the first on my top list, after reading this article of course:)

  3. jadams says:

    nice one. cheers for the tip on sublime text. very slick, functional, and easy on the eyes. was using text wrangler for a while but i feel a change coming on…

    1. Jamy Golden says:

      Great! I’m sure your productivity levels will increase :p

  4. Remy Bach says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Sublime Text is amazing!

  5. Hoteldebotel says:

    Nice article,

    I’m eagerly waiting for the Coda v2 and Textmate v2 update.
    I’m really interested to see how they both turn out.

    My biggest reason to use Coda is because it has the built in FTP support, which Sublime V2 currently misses out on.

    It’s kind of essential for me, since I do a lot of “realtime” editing of the websites.

    But ST2 is still a winner when it comes to offline editing.

    1. Jamy Golden says:

      Yeah, I’d also like to check out TM2, I wasn’t aware a Coda version 2 was on the way.

      As for FTP support within ST2, you could have a look at this.

  6. Texas Rocker says:

    Excellent piece of writing here mate! I wish you would have written this before I did a similar search last year. I’m getting ready to try sublimetext, as of right now, Notepad++ is my favorite. Let’s see if it can top it.

    Cheers

  7. faraz ahmad says:

    Very Good Website…

    I downloaded sublime text 2 after reading this blog and really this text editor is awesome… i have used notepad++ for about 1 year for c++, html, css, javascript, php…

    Sublime Text > others

    Thanks

    1. Jamy Golden says:

      Great! I’m glad it persuaded you. I actually met up with 2 guys today just to talk about Sublime and it’s tip’s and tricks lol.

  8. tpr says:

    Thanks for the review, I will try ST2.

    I’m using RJ TextEd and I’m happy with it:
    http://rj-texted.se/

    It’s Windows only and free.

  9. Andrea says:

    My favorite editor is Aptana studio.
    It’s free and it is based on Eclipse.

  10. Jonas says:

    Well it’s nice looking But,

    Managing projects?
    Checking out source files?
    Switching between projects?
    and a some more thingys..

    Or is it just that it need some “get ready” docs?

    1. Marko says:

      Of course. Sublime Text is one of the most advanced editors today. I myself prefer Emacs (IMHO you can’t measure it with other editors), but Sublime Text is very powerful also.

  11. WebTechLabs says:

    I’m jealous of Coda 2 and its built-in CSS editor but don’t do coding on a Mac.

    I’ve been a long time user of Notepad++ and Filezilla FTP (setting NotePad++ as the default text editor). Then it makes it as easy as right clicking “editing” the file in Filezilla and it’ll open up in Notepad++. As soon as I save in Notepad++ it’ll re-upload with Filezilla. Very quick and I don’t have to keep FTP usernames/passwords in two separate programs.

    But from all the great reviews about Sublime Text, I’m definitely going to check it out.

  12. Dale says:

    HI Jamy

    Have you tried the Emmet plugin for Sublime Text? (www.emmet.io) It is very cool! Apparently it was formerly Zen Coding.

    html:5>div#wrapper>div#header>(h1{Header}+ul#nav>li*5>lorem2)^div#main>div#content>h2{header!}+p>Lorem100^div#footer

    on tab complete this generates what you’d expect…nice html structure including some nice Lorem Ipsum!

    Love this!

  13. laeeq says:

    Nice article. Thanks Jamy!

  14. Diego says:

    Hi Jamy,

    Thanks for the article. Im looking for something faster than Dreamweaver. I installed Sublime Text 3 and its looking good! But I cant find a plugin that helps me autocomplete CSS classes and IDs as DW does. Ive tried, AllAutocomplete, Emmet, etc… without any luck.

    Any ideas?

    Thank you!

    1. Jamy Golden says:

      What is the exact functionality you’re looking for? I haven’t used Dreamweaver in a while. I’ll see if I can find something to replicate what you’re looking for.

    2. Diego says:

      Dreamweaver autocompletes class and ID names from the stylesheet linked in the file.

      When I type <p class="a

      Dreamweaver displays a popup containing a list with the classes starting with the letter a for example.

      Thanks!

  15. 7hao says:

    I like using VIM on my Windows/Linux/Mac machines. It is cross-platform and pretty.

  16. Ripul says:

    I think it depends upon the dev project. For me it has always been Net beans, it provides the most comprehensive platform for development which is unparalleled in any of the paid/free softwares. I develop WordPress stuff and I do not have to even look at the codex. I just type get_the and I get all the functions in WordPress with their descriptions while coding itself. All the standard features you have compared above are present, plus you get syntax check though out the project. Sublime text or code would not tell you that this function is not defined in a project. Sublime text does not do a syntax check. It is merely a text editor. The only downside is that it is a little heavy. Nothing can ever beat Net beans. I think you should try it out and I bet you would not leave it.

  17. Dskuldele says:

    I am doing exactly what you did a while ago. testing every other text editor for mac.

    Coda2 i find is not very user friendly for navigating and multi viewing. view one thing at a time sidebar is really bad and clunky. I am suffering through coda2 now and I think i closed it permanently.

    I am trying out sublime text and tbh I don’t know what makes people go crazy for it. It forgets your files as soon as you close it.. no convenient project management. it has sorry excuse for the manually to be navigated to and opened ‘project’.

    I don’t find “opened file” section to be useful at all, why do i need that? If I am working on project it could just hi light the opened file instead of moving it to a different box view.

    I mean list can go on. I think sublime text is like a liquorice , some think it tastes like shit medicine and others just cant get enough of it. Learning curve seems too steep remembering all the shortcuts, meh…

    (I ve been using code editors since DW2)

  18. Nowhere did you mention Brackets.
    Pretty sure most people are gonna love it as well.
    It has most of what Sublime has (block selection should be available nowadays as well).

    Also, WebMatrix is worth a shot.

  19. i really” love coda, but still don’t get it on windows .. .

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