Book Review: Take Control of BBEdit

Book Review: Take Control of BBEdit
Saturday, 17 March 2012

It’s around 5 years since I started using the BBEdit text editor from BareBones software. As a writer, I have this app open whenever my Mac is running, or in other words, all the time.

Take Control of BBEdit.

BBedit’s power scales with your needs

It’s the kind of software that adapts to your level of proficiency — you could use it straight after download just like the Mac’s built-in TextEdit and without needing any special features. Or, as your demands increase, you can begin to use its enormous power and sophistication.

I use it for writing straight text, and for coding up HTML and CSS, and occasionally even PHP for web pages.

As a writer I find a text editor far more useful than a word processor. Text editors deal with plain text; BBEdit doesn’t do bold, or italics, or assorted fonts. It doesn’t display images or wrap text round an image, or any of those things. It just does words (and code). So when I write, I focus on the words and don’t get distracted playing with the pretty colours and arrangements of things.

The manual’s a handy reference

Because the software’s so powerful its massive 380 page manual explains everything BBEdit can do. That can be rather daunting for us average users who don’t want to do everything but rather just the few things we need it to do.

Which is why Glenn Fleishman’s Take Control of BBEdit is the book you should buy to help you make better use of the app.

Take Control of BBEdit

Glenn works on the very practical assumption that readers of his book will want to set up the software to fit their way of working, write and edit text, code and work with HTML. He dedicates sections and chapters to each of those areas of work.

As with all Take Control books, this one is well-written and, above all, useful.

Since I’m a longstanding user of the software I’ve developed patterns and blindspots in my use of it. By Page 27 though I’d discovered a setting that’s always been right in front of my eyes, but I’d never noticed it… No longer need I simply open a document into the same window as the other documents I’m working on. Now I can set the Open In pop-up menu to open it into its own window. Hooray!

I already had one project file I work with every day, but thanks to reading about project files I now have a couple of others that collect together some ‘working’ files I’ve had open for months now. I just hadn’t thought to do that before.

There are handy explanations of keyboard shortcuts for moving to or selecting text, along with the info you need to make these work in Lion.

Another items that was helpful to me was the discussion of Clippings — handy chunks of clever text that BBEdit can insert for you. These bits of text are clever enough to wrap a selection, set the Insertion Point, and include the Clipboard or a date or time.

I’d been using Clippings, but thanks to this book realised they weren’t popping up as autocomplete suggestions. Once I moved my handful of Clippings from a specially named miraz folder into the Universal Items folder everything started working correctly.

The book’s full of this kind of utterly useful stuff and proves its worth to both new and experienced users.

HTML Entities palette in BBEdit.

HTML Entities palette in BBEdit.

Another example: I discovered the floating palette for HTML Entities. That will be extremely useful for me.

What that palette did though was trigger one of my rare emails to BBEdit Support, a query that was answered within minutes.

You see, I found the text in the palette just a bit too small for comfort. I’d like it just a smidgeon larger (at least). After roaming round the BBEdit Manual, settings and menus I couldn’t find any way to enlarge it. Alas, the official answer is that the text size can’t be increased, so I’ve logged it as a feature request.

As with any book, there were some pages I just skimmed through, as that part of the content just wasn’t relevant to how I use the software.

My recommendation

If you’re a writer or make websites you should seriously consider using BBEdit as part of your software toolbox. There’s a free demo, so you can try it out first.

If you use BBEdit at all then buy Take Control of BBEdit, either for a head start or as a tune-up for your existing work habits. At just shy of 200 pages it’s not an enormously long read, but the information it contains is immensely practical and useful. You’re sure to find what you learn recoups the tiny cost.

Book details

Take Control of BBEdit Version 1.0 (affiliate link) by Glenn Fleishman. Published: 06 March 2012, 199 pages. It is available as a paperback for US$17.99, or as an ebook for US$10 ($5 till 09 April 2012). ISBN: 9781615424016.

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