The Holy Grail: A Programmer's Editor

I think everyone who has something to do with programming, system administration or is reading IT related message boards at least encountered one flamewar about editors. Most people who do not belong in this category do not understand why everyone is going crazy about an editor. But they also do not spend many hours a week using one and trying to be productive. While developing Zenbo I was using vim. As I did the last 12 years. I currently use TextWrangler to write my blog posts. In an earlier post I mentioned that I will try to replace vim with TextWrangler. What do I expect from an editor I use for development and writing?

Nice to have would be

I do not believe this is too much I ask for but I did not find one editor that really fits my needs. Writing one by myself is also no option. This would take time and resources I currently do not have and I am not willing to reinvent the wheel.


I currently use MacVim and at least it does not look as bad as vim or gvim. But the limitations are the same. I never was a friend of modal editing. I know some of you may now hate me but it is just a fact that it feels unusual. And beside that I am a mouse user. I use this little grey thing for years now and I like it. It works. It feels more natural for me than remembering letters to do basic stuff.

Beside modal editing that really is against my usability wishes, I also do not like the fact that even MacVim is just another port of an *nix application. Text file configuration, long manpages,... not my world anymore.


If you know TextMate you should know what I am talking about. Hitting Command-T and you can just start typing a file name or even regex based strings and select the file you want from a menu.

If you use vim you can use FuzzyFinder to accomplish the same thing. Using FuF made me disable NERDTree. If I have to use my keyboard to navigate I can use something better than a filesystem explorer.

After I got used to it it really helps my workflow and makes opening files a lot easier. It looks like PeepOpen could help but I would prefer a free solution.


I do not care if they are build in or if I have to use a third party application. There are plenty of them offering enough features that I do not think this will be a big problem. Of course, build in support is always nice but not mandatory.

Split Windows

Having two source files open side by side without starting a second editor, perfectly arranged is nice to have sometimes. Of course it takes away your focus from one file and that is also the reason why I do not always use it but it is, as I said, handy sometimes. Most current editors do not seem to support this.

non free editors

TextMate, Sublime Text, BBEdit,.. they would all work to some point. Some of them have a great feature set, some have some features that could be handy but sadly they are all priced above $40. I do not make my living editing code and the update policies to new versions are just ridiculous sometimes. Paying a one time fee would be fine but paying for every upgrade with new features and sometimes needed improvements is just a joke.

Beside that some of them are not really developed at a speed that you get new and needed features in time. Looking at TextMate and how many people stopped using it because Version 2 was promised for years and not developed,... just a bad joke. Also nothing that would justify a fee for updates.


If you used vim for years it is likely that you tried Emacs. Sadly even with plugins I do not get what I want and there are some usability and design decisions that make Emacs even more unattractive than vim.

IDEs (Eclipse)

The most used and suggested IDE for everything is Eclipse. Now I do not need a full development environment. I already have tools that work and I do not need some graphical tool compilation trying to hold them together. Beside that I prefer a true native look & feel and fast startup times.


Currently it looks like TextWrangler will be my best option. Nice look and feel, at least a document drawer, a great OSX integration and some basic tag managing. But it is just an editor. Nothing spectacular. I still need some time to evaluate if syntax highlighting will be okay. But at least, compared to vim, it is stupid easy to change some colors. Looking forward to the next coding session.

>> posted on Dec. 18, 2011, midnight in app, software engineering