Text editors and development environments are in dire need of some innovation. We looked around the Web to see if there were any interesting editors out there that were making waves in this area. Here are five innovations that caught our attention.
1. Sublime’s minimap
The Sublime text editor puts a column to the left of your text editing environment which displays a Google Maps-like minimap. For editing huge code files, this is a great way to get an overview of the buildup of your code, especially if you need to jump quickly to your class properties, definitions, or just want to get a feel for the structure of your file. We found that the minimap works best when you’re trying to discipline yourself to keep your files small: large classes in C#, tons of style rules in CSS, and deeply nested HTML become really obvious when the minimap is right there staring at you the whole time. Download Sublime Text Editor for free at http://www.sublimetext.com/
2. 750words.com’s writing analytics
750words is a free online service focused on helping you write at least 750 words a day. The idea is that if you write at least that much every day, you both empty out your head and become a better writer over time. Each time you write, 750words’ editor keeps track of your activity, awarding you badges based on your performance and self-discipline. The less time you take to write those 750 words, the better. And if you tab away from the editor, you lose the opportunity to get the “didn’t get distracted” badge. After you’re done writing, the app runs standardised algorithms against your words to discover various analytics like what your mood was while writing. Despite not being part of the editor itself, we felt it was worth mentioning because it makes the act of writing itself fun and rewards you with interesting data once you’re done. What kind of analytics could code editors generate in this fashion? Sign up for an account at 750words.com
3. Zen Coding
The creators of Zen Coding stumbled upon one of those things that make you wonder why you never came up with it yourself: using CSS syntax to write HTML. Here’s an example:
In Zen Coding, that transforms to a h1 followed by a div containing five paragraphs. This new kind of shorthand seems obvious, but using Zen Coding really allows you to pump out some HTML a lot faster than having to type it all by hand. Anyone developing a lot of HTML will immediately see the benefits in doing this over copy-and-pasting blocks of code back and forth, or dragging snippets from side panels in your average IDE. The downside is that you need an editor with some kind of Zen Coding plugin. Fortunately, the Zen Coding creators have taken it upon themselves to create a few of those already. You can download them from the list of zen coding plugins.
4. Firebug’s HTML view
Here’s one you probably already knew about. Firebug allows you to edit the HTML and CSS of the current web page in real time, making it a true design in the browser tool. It also offers various other tools that help you develop a web page, but its HTML and Style views are the ones that innovated on the basic “view source” editor your average browser had back before Firebug came out. Firebug’s impact was such that Webkit and Internet Explorer both scrambled to create their own comparable inspector tools. But neither of them radically reinvented these tools as much as Firebug did. Firebug remains available at http://getfirebug.com
5. Distraction-free editing in WriteRoom
Mac users have long had access to WriteRoom, a text editor focused on writing. It was a very simple application that allowed you to work fullscreen with no distractions: writing in WriteRoom, you saw nothing but a black screen and your text. In the modern world of user interfaces polluted by menus, buttons and other assorted UI gadgets, WriteRoom was like going back in time to a simpler age. It’s no wonder it ended up getting ported to PC in the form of Dark Room, and later, as a feature in Sublime.
These five innovations in text editing and IDEs are unique because most mainstream editing environments haven’t copied or integrated them yet. Where’s my Firebug functionality in Dreamweaver’s WYSIWYG view? Why can’t I maximize Visual Studio to get distraction-free editing? How cool would it be if code editors actually had analytics that you could use to improve your writing in meaningful ways over time? Know any other noteworthy text or code editor innovations? Let us know in the comments below!
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