You’ve read this “Text Editor Intervention” article by Watts Martin, right? He makes some good points, especially this passage:

First off: if you are a Mac user and compatibility with TextMate is an absolute must-have, let me ask you two questions. Is TextMate 1.5 still working for you? Can you keep living with its limitations? If you answered both those questions “yes,” our work is done here. Go in peace.

I can answer “yes” to both questions and will continue to use TextMate, but I’m not entirely at peace. Nor, as this thread on the TM mailing list indicates, are lots of other TextMate users.1

My unease is based almost entirely on the suspicion that TextMate is going to break with some future OS X update. I feel the need to be ready to jump ship when that happens. BBEdit is the editor I’d be most likely to switch to, so I always pay attention when Bare Bones updates it, reading the release notes and thinking about how I’d work if I had to move back to it.2

I have a licensed version of BBEdit, although it’s not current (it’s v8.2.6). I fired it up today after reading Martin’s article, just to see how comfortable I’d feel working in it.

Not comfortable at all, as it turns out, mainly because of the line spacing—what’s called leading by typographers because it used to be provided by a strip of lead inserted between the lines of type.3 The line spacing in BBEdit seemed really tight to me. Too tight for easy reading.

To check on whether I was imagining things, I opened the same file in BBEdit, Vim (in the Terminal), and TextMate. Each had its own line spacing, as shown in this screenshot:

Line spacing in BBEdit, Vim in Terminal, and TextMate

The Vim line spacing is being controlled by a setting in Terminal’s font picker preference. I have mine set at the default, but I could easily change it to whatever I like. If I wanted to use Vim. Which I don’t.

Terminal font picker

As far as I know, neither BBEdit nor TextMate have a way to control the line spacing. There may be some defaults write command to change the line spacing, but if so, the Secrets system preference doesn’t know about it.

I have to say, I was a little surprised to see the line spacing difference. I’d just assumed there was a default spacing for every font and that’s what the editors used. Not so.

I like TextMate’s loose spacing, especially for prose, which is what I spend most of my time writing. I can imagine the tighter spacing being preferable in code, where lines tend to be shorter and it’s helpful to have as many as possible visible at one time.

I suppose I’d get used to BBEdit’s tight spacing if I had to, but I’m glad I don’t have to yet.

  1. You can see the roots of Watts Martin’s article in his contributions to the thread. 

  2. Yes, I was a BBEdit user, something that’ll be discussed whenever I get around to posting the next article in my “Text files and me” series. 

  3. Have I ever mentioned that I took a print shop class in junior high school? Boys were required to take three shop classes—metal, wood, and print—to insure that we’d have some way of being gainfully employed if we decided to quit school at 16, which many boys in my town did.

    I liked metal and wood shop, but print shop was torture. We actually learned to set type by hand. Oh, yes. We had trays of metal type, and we learned how to read mirror images as we assembled them, one letter at a time, into sticks (which I think is what the device that held the assembled type was called). Now, I freely admit to being solidly middle-aged, but I’m not so old that typesetting by hand was still an active trade when I was was in junior high. Not unless you were planning to work as a Ben Franklin impersonator.

    Update 5/6/11
    Coincidentally, Glenn Fleishman just posted a fun article on hot metal type casting, which was a real trade when I was a kid.