BBEdit Preferences

BBEdit Preferences


Nov. 17, 2017

I bought BBEdit 3 in 1995, and have used some version of the text editor for 22 years.

Bare Bones Software released BBEdit 12 last month. The windows are darker and my font settings are a bit larger than they were when I had younger eyes, but the basic functionality is the same. BBEdit windows like this have been part of my daily work for as long as I’ve been a designer.

My preference for BBEdit is solidly out of fashion. Most screens where I work are covered with the tabbed gray windows of Sublime Text. I’ve tried switching to Sublime or Atom, but after decades with BBEdit a new text editor will trip me up in minutes.

BBEdit’s key commands are buried so deep in my muscle memory that the interface effectively disappears. I can think about the text or data I want to manipulate, not the sequence of commands to get it done. Trying to switch editors makes me appreciate why people become so attached to their digital tools, from Emacs and Vim to John McPhee’s archaic line editor, Kedit.


Last week I found some 15-year-old notes for an unsent email about the design of the BBEdit preferences window.

My notes compared BBEdit 3.5 with BBEdit 7, complaining that from 1995 to 2002 the size of the preferences window increased by 46% while the number of menu items increased by 73%, growing from a list of 19 items:

BBEdit 3.5.2 in 1995

... to an increasingly cluttered stack of 33 items:

BBEdit 7.0.4 on Mac Classic in 2002

My email proposed replacing the long list with a hierarchy of seven topics: Application, Coding, Files, Printing, Search, Text and Windows. I never sent the email, but in later versions of BBEdit the window was eventually redesigned and simplified.


I did send three emails to Bare Bones Software about syntax coloring, or how HTML code was colored in BBEdit windows.

My first email, in 2000, led to the addition of what I thought of as my checkbox, the esoteric “Color Attributes Separately” box that controlled whether each HTML tag had a single color, which I preferred, or multiple colors. I emailed again in 2011 and 2015, when the checkbox was finally removed.

BBEdit 7 on OS X


A few days ago I scrolled through the “About BBEdit” window for the first time in years, and was stunned to see my name near the bottom of the list:

This is actually an Easter egg — license BBEdit and your name will appear in this spot. But seeing it was an immediate reminder of how many hours I’ve worked with this tool, through four jobs, five apartments, nine major versions, dozens of clients and thousands of projects.

Some tools shape the hands that hold them, and some tools are shaped in turn by those hands. BBEdit has shaped how I work and think, as all good tools should.