I’ve used BBEdit for many years, starting with version 3.5 and buying every version released since then. It’s a wonderful application, one where when I learn of a new version, I send them my credit card info before reading what’s actually in a new release. To say that I love BBEdit is an understatement; it’s been one of the core tools I’ve used to earn a living for more than a decade.
A little over a year ago, a new kid on the OS X text editing block appeared. TextMate was the first text editing application I’ve seen in 10+ years which has tempted me to leave BBEdit, mostly on the strength of a screencast for Ruby on Rails, where TextMate was (in theory) an incidental part of the demo.
A BBEdit user who simply tries TextMate, and looks for features to be similar, or in similar places, will probably be quite disappointed. TextMate feels, at first blush, like it has far fewer features, and is a letdown if you’re looking for BBEdit with a few added features like the snazzy snippets feature from the Rails video. But this is because the two applications are designed with different philosophies, and BBEdit exposes much more of its features in the menus and dialogs.
TextMate, on the other hand, sometimes seems like mostly text editing infrastructure. Much of the functionality — and virtually all of the really sexy stuff — is “hidden” inside the bundles which provide language-specific tools and commands. TextMate provides the infrastructure to allow very sophisticated features to be built into these bundles, many of which are created or enhanced by third-parties.
It is an application which rewards — many, many times over — the explorer who invests time in learning how to use it, the “zen” of TextMate, which is quite different from how you use BBEdit. Once you have invested the required effort in learning where TextMate’s power lies, I think it compares very, very favorably with BBEdit; for some, it stands head and shoulders above.
If you spend a fair amount of your time coding for a living, TextMate is definitely something to check out. But, invest the time to really understand how it’s supposed to be used. The TextMate Manual and Garrett Dimon’s Trick Your TextMate Series are good places to start.
Update: I learned a few new tricks in this capsule review of TextMate at Vitamin, and someone built this nifty customized quick reference card generator for TextMate that could be indispensable.
Another Update: This TextMate Basics Tutorial may be the best introduction to TextMate available today. Truly outstanding, both for learning how to use TextMate, but also for understanding what makes it so powerful.