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You need a Text Editor

It may not be obvious but you need a text editor once you  move beyond the most basic use of your Mac. You have three real choices. Learn a proper UNIX text editor like emacs or  vi, buy BBEdit or get TextWrangler for free. There’s another alternative I won’t mention because I’m a huge BBEDit fan and biased. Tough noogies. I’m not mentioning it.

I hate writing code. It’s not what I do. I can, if you force me, find and fix bugs in some language swhile enduring enormous pain and suffering but it’s utter misery for me. If I hate writing code, why am I telling you that you need a programmer’s text editor?

You can read the documentation on the above linked pages for all the uses somebody who is a programmer or system administrator will have for these tools and yeah, when I am a sys admin, I use those features. The official uses are myriad but you, like me, will likely find you have use for them in some measure for more uncommon purposes.

It will open essentially any file.

  • It’s a way to extract data from many old or mysterious files you’d imagine were of no use because you had no application that could natively open the file.
  • It’s a great way to find hidden data you might find useful in files you can open natively. Deleted changes from a file that wasn’t sanitized? Metadata about the creator of a file? You’d be surprised what lurks in some places and it can be useful to find out.
  • It will let you look at your own files before distribution so you can have increased confidence you’ve sanitized out any metadata you’d prefer not to share.

(Note: Don’t assume that because you can’t see metadata you might prefer not to have people see that it’s not there. It could be there in a binary format, hashed or even really encrypted. Just because you don’t have a means to decode it doesn’t mean somebody else can’t. The cleaning described above is just good practice but in no way a complete solution. It’s sometimes what we call “good enough”.)

They are also handy for more mundane tasks even less paranoid or curious people may need. These are a few things I can think of having needed to do at some point in the last month.

  • Need to do a multi-document search or search and replace? Say, for example, you have a pile of Word docs for an info packet. Sure, you’ll go back to the original word processor to make the changes to be sure you don’t break formatting but find where these mentions you need to update are, a fast multi-file search is a very handy thing.
  • Need to pull all the links off a page to do a manual link check or just save them all outside your browser’s bookmarking mechanism?
  • You have a backup of your WordPress blog and you want to take a quick look at a post offline.
  • You  use some other more WYSIWYG web authoring tool but you need to update a link from a machine you don’t have that tool installed on.(Never use a Word Processor for this. It will surely mangle your HTML)
  • You want to clean up the delimiter some program used for it’s export format. Came out as comma separated and you want tabs? Grab a BBEdit.

I’m sure many of you readers can think of other uses. Drop me an email or add a comment. Oh, and if you do drop me an email instead of a comment, tell me why? I get a huge pile of emailed comments and some of them make me make an edit or write a new post but I get very few proper comments here. Yes, I set it up so you need to register to make a comment which is, admittedly, a pain in the neck. It was a compromise to avoid the effort to do a whole bunch of mediation and spam filtering. Is it really that annoying to make an account?

Final note: If, like me, you don’t have either emacs or vi skills and aren’t overcome with an urge to acquire them, there is a nice alternative when you can’t install TexWrangler on a Mac you’re doing administration work on: nano.  It’s been mapped to the pico command by default in MacOS and, if you ever used pine for email, it will be familiar. To get it, open Terminal.app and type pico. The rest? You’re on your own but it’s not horrid to figure out and, unlike emacs, you won’t need an extra limb. Of course you can’t do what you can with emacs but then again, if you need emacs, that’s on your Mac too and you didn’t need this article.

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