BBEdit: I’ve Known You Since You Were Four

Today marks the 20th anniversary of BBEdit.

Unless you’re a veteran Mac enthusiast or a developer of one kind or another, chances are good that you’ve never used it. However, it remains one of the best software applications I’ve ever used. If Microsoft Word is bloatware for the laser printer era, then BBEdit became and remains the best, most efficient tool for the web: from code to content.

When I was in college, one of my first tech jobs was working at UCSB Extension. Although my job was desktop support, I ended up fixing a lot of web pages. It was 1996, and the World Wide Web was the place to be. My boss at the time was a young, bespectacled go-getter named Matt Groener. Probably half of what I know about computing came from him. (And given how much computing has changed since 1996, it really shows how much he taught me.)

As I was learning HTML in 1995, I had used SimpleText to edit my HTML documents. Why not? It saved plain text files, and it came free with my Mac. Almost immediately after seeing my working with SimpleText, Matt introduced me to BBEdit for composing web pages. Using it was an absolute revelation. It color coded syntax so it was easy to distinguish between text and markup. It indented text properly, which was key to nesting markup, such as lists and subheadings. It had the best search and replace I can ever imagine, and it even made Grep seem a little less scary.

The absolute best feature of BBEdit was “Save to FTP Server.” More than a dozen years before the era of the cloud, BBEdit actually allowed you to directly edit your HTML file from the server. Before this feature, my process was cumbersome and consisted of at least nine steps to make a simple change:

  • Edit file
  • Save file on your local disk
  • Open FTP client
  • Upload file to the correct place on the server
  • Confirm to replace your file
  • Wait for upload to finish
  • Open web browser
  • Refresh web browser page
  • Is there a typo? Then repeat the process all over again.

BBEdit eliminated all this. Saving an HTML file to a web server was as easy as saving it to your hard disk. It didn’t matter if the web server was in a closet a few yards away or part of a server farm on different continent.

Since then, I have probably used BBEdit for some purpose at least once a week. I’ve written loads of HTML and CSS, edited PHP and Javascript, and batch edited loads of class rosters and countless text files exported from Excel. And naturally, I wrote this blog post using BBEdit (in Markdown).

Thanks and many happy returns.

(Via MacWorld and Mother Jones.)

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