Which pure text editor ?

Occasionally I need a text editor - which are your favorites?


Personally I love TextWrangler. I wish I had the need for BBEdit, because I feel bad about not having to pay them for TextWrangler (it’s free), it’s so good; I can’t believe they don’t charge for it. Anyway, it has a place in my Dock and I use it for most things plain text, including editing HTML files (although I used to use it for creating all my HTML, these days I tend to use Coda for the preview pane) and trouble-shooting XML and RTF files (it allows you to zap gremlins and find any troublesome invisible characters for instance). I don’t know how I ever managed without it, to be honest. That said, I still use TextEdit for very basic notes.

All the best,

I use smultron for text editing.

I have been using Tex-edit Plus since Mac OS 8 days. Extensive AppleScript available as well.

vi (or vim, or elvis, or any other vi implementation), but then even that isn’t pure.

Pure text editing is technically very simple. All the “advanced things” such as find, replace, cut/paste are candy (Amber you remember ed don’t you?). Al can be done, and almost always easier, with OS level tools like sed or awk or perl.

But if you are lazy like me you want all that inside your editor. For straight simplicity and consistency you can beat a good vi implementation. And since vi is older than … most of us here … common functions/features are very well documented. Such as how to make a line command a global my prepending %.

I guess I am still a little old school…

Like KB, I’m partial to TextWrangler. Hard not to like an editor that can juggle a 300,000 word file without breaking a sweat.


KB said:

I feel exactly the same way. It is incredibly powerful (edit a 1G file, anyone?), very fast, fully supports Unicode, and is loaded with a bunch of surprisingly useful features. You don’t get how amazing it is until you’ve used it for a while. It is astonishing it’s free.


Ok, I have to ask.

What are you editing with over a billion characters in it? I can not fathom what would be involved with this other than maybe a server log file (which is why logrotate was developed).

Hee, hee! It’s the log of how many feature requests Keith has received. :slight_smile:

It was in fact a server mailbox that was corrupted and I had to go in and manually extract some important bits as quickly as possible. It was rather slow for some reason but to my utter amazement it worked.


I agree that TextWrangler rocks. I’ve started to write my in LaTex, which has led me to use TextMate (macromates.com/) because it has what seems to be better for LaTex (lots of autocomplete features, etc.). I have found that it is an awfully good pure text editor also, even with not LaTexing.

It is not, however, free. If I didn’t have another reason to buy it, I would probably have keep with TextWrangler. Both are impressive.

The best free LaTeX editor for the Mac is without doubt TeXShop. I prefer TextMate just a little bit more for composing and editing, but TeXShop has a much nicer workflow for compiling, including a terminal window that lets you interact with the process in case of bugs in the document.

Oh, another free editor that is nice is jEdit (not to be confused with Jedit X. It isn’t quite as slick as TextMate, but even more expandable and powerful (at the cost of a steeper learning curve). Being a Java based editor, it is also available on a wide array of platforms.

what’s your opinion on LyX? I have used it from time to time and was quite pleased with it but I am far from being a TeXie. There are some projects appearing on the horizon that might lend themselves towards one TeX flavour or other but I haven’t decided which way to go, MultiMarkdown, LyX or TeXShop.
Any opinions?


LyX is fantastic, though I wouldn’t really include it in a list of text editors. It’s really a word processor for LaTeX users (and really, if all you need is a PDF you can largely ignore that fact, which in an optimal world is what the LyX team would like).

MultiMarkdown is my preferred method for writing documents because while it can become a LaTeX document, it can also be other things as well. For my longer forum posts that I archive, I write them in MMD and then use a BBCode XSLT to convert them to forum syntax. I could use the same document to make a LaTeX article, most likely without changing a single thing in it. So that is the advantage of MMD; plus it integrates very nicely with Scrivener. Through LaTeX, it can integrate nicely with LyX as well (though in a one-way fashion; once you export the MMD file to LyX it isn’t very easy to go back).

I wouldn’t put TeXShop and LyX in the same arena either. As said, LyX is really a document generation and “word processor” type affair. While you could compose LaTeX documents in TeXShop, I’d imagine only hard-core LaTeX users would find that fun. I use it to tweak MMD documents if necessary. It could probably be similarly useful for tweaking LyX exports, but there would be less need for it there since LyX works much more closely with LaTeX than MMD does.

MMD is a good route if the defaults work fine for you. It’s a good route if the defaults do not work fine, too, but then things get awfully technical. The power is there, but you need to be a programmer to really tap in to it. In that sense, LyX is probably easier to use as most everything has UI attached to it. To put it to an example: If you prefer whitespace between paragraphs instead of indents, this would require analysing and adjusting code in a programming language with MMD. In LyX, it means going to the document settings and changing things from par indent to par skip.

That all said, one very plausible and useful workflow looks like this:

Scrivener + MMD -> LaTeX -> LyX -> PDF

Now you get all of the benefits of Scrivener, and the easy to learn and read syntax of MMD for authoring. Plus you get the customisability of LyX for getting things looking just how you want it for the final product. The only downside to this workflow is that once you go down the LyX route you pretty much have to say goodbye to the first half of the workflow. From that point on it will just become increasingly more difficult to keep Scrivener up to date with all of the minor revisions and such.

This is why a lot of people who don’t mind (or enjoy) programming, end up customising MMD so they can essentially produce one-shot files out of Scrivener (and this is entirely feasible without programming if all you need are defaults):

Scrivener + MMD -> PDF

Technically there is a LaTeX in between those two, but it only lives for as long as it takes to run pdflatex two or three times.

Hope that sheds a little light on the topic.

Primarily it sheds light on why you rank so highly amongst the group of people more knowlegeable than myself that I pay attention to. Thank you very much for sharing your view, I am sure this will be of use for many other people, too.

In principle, I like simple solutions so a workflow consisting of Scrivener + MMD -> PDF sounds like less hassle once one gets the fiddling with the techincal bits under the hood right. Also the longevity and readability of MMD for mere mortals appeals to me.

But then there is also the not so small issue that I’d prefer using the same workflow when writing by myself and when collaborating with others on a publication. In my field pure LaTeX is not the rule so that route is out of the question because that would freak out a good 90% of all benevolent collaborators and ensure an increasing number of single author papers for the foreseeable future.
LyX has a track changes functionality since version 1.6 which I haven’t tried but which may increase acceptability.
The only other route as I see it would be MMD. This would involve some fiddling around when receiving commented versions from coauthors I imagine, but up to a certain degree I’d be willing to try how tiresome that would become in the real world. I can only but see a workflow consisting of Scrivener + MMD -> LaTeX -> LyX -> PDF end up in a desaster if collaboration is to be covered as well.

Does anyone have thoughts on the former two solutions (LyX vs pure MMD)?

It sounds like a workflow that mixes Scrivener and LaTeX is not particularly useful. So what do folks generally do for technical writing? Skip Scrivener all together and go to LaTeX?

I am currently working on a custom lab manual for my physics students. I very much like the control LaTeX gives me for producing equations, and I also really like the professionally typeset look (to my eyes anyway) that LaTeX output has. However, in my view TeXShop is missing some key features for working with long, multi-sectioned documents, and I’ve had trouble with LyX causing freezes.

I’ve read the remarks about MMD, but I’ve always had the impression that MMD handled local formatting (equations and such) but not global document formatting, like sectioning, generating chapter headings, etc.

Any input would be most appreciated.
Thanks very much.

Those already well familiar with LaTeX could use Scrivener as an authoring platform for large documents. Naturally, you wouldn’t have instant document typesetting and macros (though the latter could be accomplished with text expander software). Since Scrivener is capable of producing a single plain-text document with compile, it is just a matter of exporting that and then running pdflatex or whatever.

So the trade-off would be authoring LaTeX documents in a piece of software which has no syntax support for it, but has excellent document outlining features, vs. TeXShop with has good syntax support and automation, but is rather like writing a 300 page book in TextEdit when it comes to document navigation.

Depending on what you mean, it does have pretty good support for document control, but one largely does not have to worry about composing that aspect when using it in conjunction with Scrivener, as its compile feature can be told to generate automatic section headers of appropriate titles and depth required to mimic the Binder book outline. Sectioning syntax is thus “invisible” in a Scrivener+MMD project, being generated dynamically from the project outline. These section headers are quite useful. They generate automatic labelling for cross-referencing purposes, and hit LaTeX as numbered and thus suitable for ToC generation. Likewise images and tables automatically acquire labels for cross-referencing. So there is a lot of internal document level wiring that is done by MMD.

This reply is a little late but perhaps it will help somebody…

TeXclipse, a (free) plugin for the Eclipse IDE (free, cross-platform, rather large download) is, IMO, a much better alternative to TeXShop. It has an outline view (based on heading tags like \section and \subsection), displays a file hierarchy so you can easily split your document into separate files, has tabs, has syntax highlighting, and best of all, displays compile errors in-line as they happen. If you use the \include command and split your document into several files, large documents become quite managable.

I still miss a few of Scrivener’s features, though: the corkboard and synopses, the ease of rearranging/splitting/merging text, and the full screen view, to name my favourites. So I’m trying to find a nice back-and-forth Scrivener ↔ TeXclipse workflow.

My not-so-elegant solution is to write LaTeX syntax inside Scrivener and copy/paste back and forth. (I find this easier than MMD, particularly because I spend a lot of time in math mode and I’m already familiar with basic LaTeX). The downside is that copying back into Scrivener is a chore because I tend to split my Scrivener document into many tiny sections which get copied into a single file per chapter in TeXclipse.

A more elegant solution I’m considering is using TextMate instead of TeXclipse. It has a handy “Edit in TextMate” feature which lets me hit a shortcut inside Scrivener (or any text document in a Cocoa app) to do a quick edit in TextMate (inline, no hunting for your spot in the file), with all its LaTeX syntax highlighting and smart typing goodies, and return to Scrivener just as easily. This would save me a lot of time copy/pasting, but I’m not sure this is enough to justify the cost of the app.

One option: Scrivener + MMD → PDF as the solo version.

Scrivener + MMD → Latex when collaborating ; use latexdiff to compare latex version, it gives a better diff than Lyx does (but without the convenience of easy accepting and rejecting of each diff).

Oh, and if you like to use version control, don’t use SVN (it’s .svn folders have trouble with Scriveners project structure). I use git via gitX.

You can use Scrivener + MMD for the bulk of your text (section structure, narrative, bullets, lists, etc.), and drop in raw Latex where you need it (escaped or unescaped, depending on a quite simple change). There are tips for this on the MultiMarkDown forum.


This thread has really gone off-topic. The original question is what is a good text editor under OS X? I haven’t found a program as simple as Windows notepad, but here are a couple of options: Notepad (for OSX); Xpad, Emacs (though as I recall it’s a huge download); Really Simple Text; Schreiben (though this has RTF support, which I don’t want in a plain text environment).

When I copy text from an RTF environment into a pure text editor, I want it to lose RTF chacteristics.

To add my contribution to the Latex/Lyx workflow discussion: you can use Scrivener to create your text. Export it as an RTF file to Open Office 3.0; tweak the formatting; export that to .tex format and run that through Latex. It gives a pretty good result pretty quickly.