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Finding a good text editor is no laughing matter. Whether you’re a writer, web designer or programmer you’ll be surprised how much of a difference the right tools can make.

But which to choose? Some are free, others can cost close to $100 – is a text editor really worth spending money on? The answer to that depends entirely on what you’ll be using it for. Here are five of the very best text editors for Mac OS X.

Sublime Text ($70)

A seventy-dollar text editor? Why not! Sublime Text might seem expensive (ok, it is expensive) but there are armies of Sublime Text fans (including a couple of staff members here at MakeUseOf) who absolutely swear by it. The software is incredibly powerful in the right hands, featuring a number of batch commands which make renaming variables and performing batch edits much easier than doing it manually. Sublime’s Command Palette was designed with the keyboard in mind for quickly accessing functions and Go To Anything lets you find files and lines within files.

The program is adaptable depending on the programming or web development language you’re writing, and if you’re working in straight up text you can turn the feature off. These syntax guides help colour-code variables and functions and can help highlight problems within your code. The app also comes with a distraction-free mode, allowing you to type full screen with little in the way of distractions from Sublime Text itself.

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Luckily you can download Sublime Text before buying to find out if this $70 beast is right for you. If you can make good use of the batch and split editing functions or need the syntax highlighting for a variety of different projects then Sublime Text might just be worth the money. The application is also available for Windows and Linux.

MacVim (Free)

Everyone’s heard of Vim, right? Just in case you haven’t, Vim is a text editor that was initially released in 1991 for the Amiga, based on the “vi” text editor which was common to UNIX systems at the time. It has since gone massively cross-platform and is still being worked on today. MacVim is simply the OS X flavour of Vim, as if the name didn’t give it away.

It’s all the power of the latest release of Vim only on OS X. This includes tabbed editing, multiple windows, full-screen support and even window transparency. The text editor itself is adaptable and robust, with a great deal of emphasis placed on customisability. Vim is often described as a programmer’s editor, but it doesn’t have to be that complex – you can run it in a Notepad-like “easy Vim” mode too.

MacVim is completely free. As the homepage says: “It is a tool, the use of which must be learned” – which basically means it’s not the most user-friendly text editor on this list, but it certainly is one of the most powerful.

BBEdit ($49.99)

Another longstanding favourite, BBEdit is a powerful text editor of special interest to the web-developer and programmer. It features a host of basic features including a powerful multi-file search feature, multiple documents per window and multiple undo and clipboard functionality. BBEdit is definitely a technical tool, and contains no text formatting or word processing style features whatsoever.

The editor might be of special interest to web developers with its complete set of HTML tools that can help reduce work-related headaches. These tools include tag and attribute auto-completion while typing and functions like “close current tag” among other context-aware code operations.

bbedit-2

BBEdit also offers features like Scratchpad, an area for storing text within the app without having to create a new file on-disk and a beautifully anti-aliased font called Consolas Regular that’s just perfect for code editing. BBEdit has been OS X only ever since the very first version in 1992. If you like the look of BBEdit but don’t need the advanced HTML or clippings features, check out TextWrangler below.

TextWrangler (Free)

TextWrangler is the free version of BBEdit. It comes with everything that BBEdit does, minus the $50 price tag and a good handful of features. There’s no advanced HTML editing or tag auto-completion, no fancy premium font and nor is there support for opening files within .ZIP archives either. But there is an awful lot else here for free.

These features include multiple levels of undo, multiple clipboards and powerful multi-file search and replace functions. The app supports Applescript and can even be used as an external editor for Xcode. You can see the full list of differences between BBEdit and TextWrangler here.

GNU Emacs (Free)

If you think Vim looks complicated, you might want to turn away for this next section. GNU Emacs is the oldest editor on this list, initially based on code that’s been around since 1976. Designed as a free software alternative to proprietary versions of the forked Emacs code, GNU Emacs is a completely free and open source text editor that’s characterised by its virtually limitless extensibility.

With the right extension, Emacs can be turned into specialist software for editing various files including lists, databases and spreadsheets. Straight-up, Emacs is a tool for writing, compiling and testing software as well as standard “human” languages too. The software can be used to compare two files easily for differences, browse files from a command line interface and even access mail or RSS feeds.

It’s a complex beast, but that also makes it potentially very useful in the right hands. You can take a full tour of the GNU Emacs features over at GNU.org, but be sure to download from this website for the latest stable binary (otherwise you’ll have to build it yourself from source).

Also Consider: Blinky ($4.99)

Do you not need a million and one features from your text editor? Well you’re probably in the minority but if style is something you favour over substance, consider giving Blinky a go. Together with command-line tool Cathode, Blinky makes up the second half of a set of vintage replacements for TextEdit and Terminal. Blinky features faux-distressed CRT monitors, old school fonts, scanlines and the flickers and imperfections that characterised 30 years of computer hardware.

If all you need is a basic text editor but you somehow think you can get your job done better by pretending it’s still 1980; give Blinky and Cathode a try. Read our full review Cathode & Blinky: Sexy Vintage Replacements For Terminal & TextEdit [Mac OS X] Cathode & Blinky: Sexy Vintage Replacements For Terminal & TextEdit [Mac OS X] Do you spend half your life inside the OS X Terminal? Is a plain text editor your second home? Whatever you do with Terminal or TextEdit there's no denying they're each a bit boring and... Read More for more!

Which of these is your favourite text editor? Did I miss your favourite? Let us know what you think in the comments, below.

  1. Richard Coombs
    December 8, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Text wrangler all the way for me

    1. It's free
    2. It does everything ineed it two when it comes to basic website file editing

  2. Jim Forte
    December 8, 2013 at 4:53 am

    If you can't or don't use plain old vim you a slow donkey.

    I don't employ anyone can't use vim, of course I do teach it to those who need it.

    Try to log into a remote system and program with any of the listed programs, except emacs but done get me started on that!

  3. Francisco D
    December 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    I'm not sure if it's true for OSx, but Sublime Text is as paid as winRar. Which means: "this is not a registered version. Do you want to buy it?" "lol nope" and everything stays alright and fully functional.

  4. Guillermo
    December 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Sublime Text FTW!

  5. Joanna
    December 7, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Espresso??? It's excellent.

  6. Stefan
    December 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    how about php storm? Is cross platform, support multiple languages, has powerful testing and debugging features, code analysis, git integration, auto server sync and much more. And the cool thing is that it has a free full featured testing version which I might say is very stable and bug free. Before putting on sale they give it for free to developers to test it. The testing version is licensed for a month, but they release like a new version weekly, so as long you have the latest testing version, you can use it free forever
    http://confluence.jetbrains.com/display/PhpStorm/PhpStorm+Early+Access+Program

  7. Artem
    December 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Well, I prefer PhpStorm. I know it's IDE, but it is the most reliable and comfortable to use.

    I am not a Mac user (I prefer Ubuntu), so I use Bluefish for simple code editing, gedit as a Notepad++ analog and PhpStorm (as well as WebStorm and IntelliJ IDEA).

    As these all works for Ubuntu, I'm pretty sure you may find a version for Win or even for Mac!

  8. Arvinder K
    December 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    BBEdit rocks !! ...Textmate (missed in the article) is equally awesome.

  9. Joel L
    December 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    The font rendering on a Mac is the only reason I'd ever switch. Mac text is beautiful.

  10. nemesit
    December 6, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Ridiculous list, textmate still beats them all.
    The only ones that come close in functionality are vim and emacs but those suffer from their legacy support.
    Sublime is good if you want to use more than one OS.
    Secondly Coda and Espresso are much better than BBEdit (are there even people still using that crap?).
    Also SubEthaEdit is missing from that list which is basically the only editor with real realtime collaboration features (coda too has licensed their engine but as it is a web only editor that shouldn't count ;-p)

  11. Sul
    December 6, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Surprised Espresso 2 and Coda 2 were not mentioned. Also from a budget view Textastic is pretty decent and great if you want to sync code between Mac, iPhone and iPad.

  12. TanTan
    December 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Code Runner is a lifesaver. Just saying.

  13. Phil
    December 6, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Some others to consider:
    - Fraise (the successor to Smultron)
    - Tincta (my current favorite)

  14. Tim
    December 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Each to their own (and I know at least one colleague who swears by Sublime Text), but my personal favourite Mac text editor is the oddly-named Smultron. I can't figure out why its icon is a top-view of a strawberry (!), but it does colour syntax highlighting and the usual, and it's free into the bargain.

    Nice that there's so much choice, anyway :-)

  15. Steve
    December 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    What, no TextMate?

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