Coda vs. TextMate vs. BBEdit

Coda vs. TextMate vs. BBEdit[update]:This post is about a year old, and since then, BBEdit made some significant changes and we also have a new player in the market (Espresso). Some of my observations may be obsolete – though after playing around with the new BBEdit and Espresso, I still stand by my conclusions in this review.

You might have better luck solving the chicken and the egg question compared to determining which of these is the better editor. I truly think there is no perfect answer for anyone out there, but I can tell you that there are certain things about each one of these editors that I love — and things that I loathe.

I could write a long-winded review of each editor but there are many such posts on the web already — instead, I will just give you a quick bulleted list of things I like and dislike.

Right off the bat, I have to say that I have used both BBEdit and TextMate extensively in the past whereas my experience with Coda has been very limited. The primary languages I develop in are HTML, CSS, XML, and Actionscript. I also do a little PHP and Javascript, but not enough to really make a difference.

I don’t even remember when I started using BBEdit but it was many moons ago. I believe it was back in version 3 if I’m not mistaken, but don’t hold me to that. Over the years, BBEdit has been considered the reigning champion for development on the Mac platform — and rightly so. It is incredibly powerful, versatile, and robust! It is an absolute work horse — and unfortunately, it has the looks of one too.

What I like:

  • Search/replace is extremely powerful
  • Extremely stable. I could probably count the times it has crashed on me on one hand, and it was probably because of some other app
  • Handles anything you throw at it
  • FTP functionality

What I dislike:

  • Expensive! This sucker is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination
  • The interface is ugly as sin
  • Preference pane is completely unusable. In all my years using it, I still have to search item by item to figure out where to turn on line numbers
  • Keyboard shortcuts are weak in my opinion.
  • Did I mention it’s ugly?

A relative newcomer, TextMate was the first editing tool on the Mac platform worth exploring besides BBEdit. The hype behind it is well-deserved. It is just as robust and powerful as BBEdit (at least for what I do), and introduces a cleaner interface, code bundles, and my favorite feature of all: code completion.

What I like:

  • Code completion! Type a key word (like “div”), hit Tab, and TextMate will auto-complete and place your cursor right where you need it and in some cases, even write out a whole line of code which you then simply edit. I love this feature!
  • Clean interface. This was a refreshing change after the many years on BBEdit
  • Bundles. Just add any bundle you need and it extends the functionality of TextMate immediately.
  • A strong developer community that continues to build new bundles and perfecting old ones
  • Ability to change color schemes — although it’s pretty cryptic. Still, it’s nice to have.
  • The price is much better than BBEdit — and if you took advantage of the MacHeist promo, then you got it for even less!
  • This is another favorite: drag your entire project folder to the dock icon and TextMate opens the whole project on the sidebar. I can’t live without this now.
  • New from template feature. Start off an xHTML document with the whole basic structure in place.
  • When developing Actionscript AS files, I can click the same key command to publish as I would in the Flash IDE, and it will bring Flash to the foreground and publish. Love it!

What I dislike:

  • Bundles can be confusing sometimes, but this is not a deal-breaker for me.
  • No FTP support that I know of

There was a lot of hype behind Coda while it was released to the public, which made me quite skeptical. I downloaded it, opened it up, played with it for 10 minutes, and went back to TextMate. Recently, I have re-downloaded, and it’s a whole different ball game for me.

What I like:

  • The interface is really well thought-out. It truly can become a one-window development environment. Complete with built-in Transmit (my favorite FTP client) and a library of quick-reference books. Brilliant!
  • Awesome code hinting and completion – for all the languages I use and more
  • A very nice preview engine (built on Safari’s Web-Kit, so you get a good idea of what your code looks like
  • Multiple split views
  • Comes with it’s own monospaced font which is very legible — and the included color schemes for languages are very nice and easy to customize!
  • The price is right. In fact, for what you get, it’s a steal!
  • Code clips. Although not new, I love how they implemented this!
  • Quick list of functions available in your file for quick navigation.

What I dislike:

  • Having a bit of difficulty getting used to the FTP implementation. Reminds me too much of Dreamweaver.
  • The “splash” page is way too much eye-candy for me
  • Can’t edit your FTP favorites (at least I haven’t been able to figure it out) Got it. Click on the small i next to the site image. Duh.

Phew! So there you have it folks. A bit longer than I intended, but I guess I had more to say than I thought. The bottom line for me is this: BBEdit, I’m sorry. I honestly believe you have been de-throned. TextMate will remain as my backup editor of choice. It has been a great asset in my toolbox and I can see myself going back to it whenever I’m in a pinch, or need to do something super quick.

The winner in my book is clearly Coda. The folks at Panic really thought this one out, and delivered a tool with lots of bells and whistles, but it’s also packed with functionality!

21 thoughts on “Coda vs. TextMate vs. BBEdit

  1. mcoopet

    Thanks for the nice summary. I fired up Coda and it felt ‘right’ from the moment the I saw the UI. However, I wanted to see what shortcomings there might be and how it compared to TextMate. Your article helped me make a quick decision.

    Thanks again!

  2. Daniel Griscom

    A quick comment on your critique of BBEdit’s preference pane. You complained that you have to search item by item to find things. The most recent version includes a Spotlight-like search; just type a search phrase and the relevant preference settings are listed. Double-click one and it brings you to the correct page; it doesn’t highlight the specific setting, but it’s miles ahead of what it used to be.

  3. christian

    i’m a long time BBEdit user but i’ve switched to mostly Coda. I’m not sure what you mean by the Coda splash page. I don’t have one. The app launches into a default blank page in the ‘Edit’ pane/tab.

    Funny enough, when I use Transmit I use BBEdit for editing externally. Also, I tend to use TextMate from the command line (mate foo.txt) mostly because TextMate launches much, much faster than BBEdit.

    I haven’t used it in a company LAN situation but Coda also has the SubEthaEdit group edit functionality.

    And at ver. 1.1 Coda seems as though it can make some wonderful progress. Panic’s look and feel are well above the other two.

  4. D Molanphy Post author

    Quick update:
    One major gripe I do have with Coda though, is the FTP functionality seems slow and sometimes buggy – which is odd because it’s supposed to use the same FTP engine as Transmit and I have yet to have any problems with Transmit. In fact, whenever an upload craps out in Coda, I immediately switch over to Transmit and get the job done.

    I don’t use the built-in books at all (but I love that they’re there – just in case). BBEdit has all but disappeared from my system at this point – and TextMate, well…I still go back to it if I need to make quick edits, and it still feels like home.

  5. octavian

    1. “Textmate: No FTP support that I know of”

    DockSend is a GodSent !
    just enable it in Transmit, then in Textmate: CTRL+SHIFT+F
    (or Bundles > Transmit )

    Now you know 😉

    2. “Coda: Having a bit of difficulty getting used to the FTP implementation. Reminds me too much of Dreamweaver.”

    Nope ! Nowhere near Dreamweaver ! Dreamweaver BAD. Coda GOOD !

    in Coda files you edit locally get “marked for publishing” . (Right click-them to mark/unmark them manually.) Once you’re happy press CTRL+APPLE+P and Enter and they all go right where they belong on the server. To get any better FTP support than this a program would have to read my mind.

    Only thing missing from Coda is Subversion, but with Versions around… who cares ?

    all the best.

  6. D Molanphy Post author

    Thanks for the tips Octavian. After more tinkering with Coda, I have grown to love the FTP implementation actually. Still craps out on me (stalls) sometimes, but I really like the “mark for upload” function.

    I did try Versions and LOVED it. Only problem is that I don’t develop enough anymore to require a full subversion client…although I really should use versioning.

    And I completely agree: Dreamweaver Bad.

  7. Jasper

    I love Textmate, but it’s probably just because I’m so used to it. I do a lot of work over SSH so vim and Textmate are my favourites.

    I want to like Coda, but the text editing bit seems like an afterthought – Textmate’s text features are so much better (auto indentation, wrapping brackets and quotes and whatnot)

    Nice roundup – never really tried bbedit that much as I’ve always loved Textmate!

  8. D Molanphy Post author

    Since I wrote this, both BBEdit and Coda have undergone significant updates. BBEdit to v9 and Coda to v1.5.

    BBEdit is definitely back in the game with their new update and Coda has added some much appreciated features like built-in Subversion, and an enhanced Find/Replace feature.

    Major gripe with Coda: FTP crashes CONSTANTLY! I’m guessing this is happening mainly on my machine as I can’t find anything online where other people are having that problem, so if anyone has ideas, I’m all ears!

  9. christian

    I would suggest you save your crash/system logs and console information when it happens. The Panic team is pretty end user friendly and has always responded to issues and/or suggestions.

    It’s a tough spot. I had to stay with Dreamweaver 8 as I couldn’t for the life of me connect through FTP with DW CS3. But at least I rarely, if ever, use Dreamweaver.

  10. D Molanphy Post author

    @Christian – excellent point. It never crossed my mind to actually ask them what’s going on! Thank you much. If I hear back, I’ll be sure to post it here.

  11. debbie T

    Thanks for your article. I was using skedit for years, but haven’t been happy w/ the latest updates, so I have been using Text Wrangler….I haven’t been coding much, but I would like to get back into it.

    I tried Coda awhile ago, and will be giving it another shot.

  12. spence

    I have recently purchased Coda. I did try BBEdit didn’t like it. Textwrangler is sufficient for diffing. Textmate has been my editor of choice. Textmate is by far a better editor.

    Now for Coda. I use subversion regularly. The svn support for Coda is loose at best. Had to make 3 or 4 checkouts just to get a stable working copy. Now the internal client is to old. I must say that if this is resolved soon Coda is an excellent platform.

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  14. Joe

    I’m a text wrangler and cyberduck user but after watching a bunch of tutorials and watching guys fly with code snippets and easy ftp access, I’m convinced. I’m buying coda tonight. Nice article

  15. mike

    I really WANT to love Coda, but I’m sorry…the text editor is not up to par with TextMate. And isn’t the editor where it’s all at anyway? Sure, everything is in one window, but that does me no good if I cannot be as productive with the editor as I can in TextMate.

  16. D Molanphy Post author

    I hear ya Mike. I still use TextMate for a lot of my smaller work. It’s the bigger projects where I think Coda really shines for me! (I really like the integrated FTP). And don’t forget, now there’s Espresso to add to the mix – though right off the bat, FAIL for not having Actionscript syntax highlighting.

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  18. Robbie

    Even though coda has direct ftp access, you can edit right off the server with cyberduck using textmate. Command-K to start editing, and the server updates. And when you all done, you synchronize locally if you want a local backup of everything you did on the server.

  19. Alan

    As a recent Mac user and web developer I quickly downloaded Coda and Textmate to see which I was more at home with and every quickly I bought Textmate.

    I now have it running with a Git bundle for versioning and absolutely loving it. Haven’t gone into the land of FTP yet but I believe Cyberduck plays nice with Textmate, I code in notepad++ on PC and use themes ported from Textmate.

    One of the deciding factors was the coding environment, Textmate is simply beautiful to work in, FTP doesn’t need built into my text editor so I am more than happy.

    I am guessing later down the line, Coda will probably make its way into my tool kit though.

    One thing to note, when muching about with theming in Coda I lost my Carat very quickly which is a big no no.

    Anyway, just my tuppence.

    P.S. Ignore the state of my current web site (if you bother to look), massively out of date but now being re-developed using Textmate and a sprinkling of CodeIgniter bundle. Much sexiness!

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