Linux text editors: Do any make the grade?

Our exacting editor test-drives a whopping nine Linux text editors. Which ones crossed the finish line ahead of the pack?

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Bluefish bills itself as "an editor for experienced Web designers and programmers," but the UI is intuitive enough for anyone to begin using it right off the bat and discover additional capabilities over time. This is an appealing piece of software if you're looking for a text editor to do Web coding.

The overall impression is professional yet not intimidating, with a nice mix of text and icons. I took to the look and feel right away, to the point that I began wishing for a Bluefish Windows port.

Bluefish offers options for many common HTML tasks such as fonts, tables, forms and the like -- links, too, as soon as you realize the software uses a correct but relatively less common term "anchor" to mean a clickable link. The Anchor dialog box even offers options for JavaScript events such as OnClick and OnMouseover.

Bluefish offers a robust dialog box for adding links to an HTML page. ()

There are additional dialog boxes to create text for tasks in PHP and SQL, as well as a couple of Apache and C options, and as with many serious development editors, you can group files by project for development purposes. Search and replace is robust and supports regular expressions, as you'd expect in an application targeting developers, and customizable syntax highlighting is available for numerous languages.

I did have some quibbles. If you want documentation, you'll need to look at the separate manual files, since help doesn't appear to be incorporated into the application at all. The manual is quite extensive, though, and if you're patient, you can find what you want. For example, spell check wasn't immediately obvious to me, but after reading the manual, I discovered that you must install the separate, open-source Aspell application if you want spell check (you're on your own for Aspell installation and setup).

Macros are handled via a "custom menu," where you can create your own text strings, HTML open and close tags, or search and replace commands. Text-string creation includes dialog boxes that offer additional options. It's quite easy, for example, to come up with a macro that pauses for users to include one or more inputs.

Coming in cold, I didn't find the Edit custom menu an especially intuitive interface for creating macros, but it's reasonably clear once you step through the manual. Macro capabilities aren't quite as robust as in some other applications -- for instance, I didn't see how to use other Bluefish commands within a custom menu -- but they're pretty handy for repetitive typing.

Finally, Bluefish doesn't pretend to be an application for writing prose, and it's missing some text-manipulation commands for tasks such as changing case or joining/splitting lines.

That said, if you're looking for a text-based application to do moderate-strength Web coding, Bluefish is definitely worth a try. Bluefish ratings (on a scale of 1 to 10):

Ease of learning and use: 7

Look and feel: 9

Content editing (spell check, search/replace, etc.): 7

Simple HTML editing (bold, line breaks, ordered lists, etc.): 9

Customization (macro power, ease of creating): 7

Total: 39


Komodo Edit

Komodo Edit is a free version of the editing portion of ActiveState's $295 IDE. It's got a lot of text-manipulation capabilities that a programmer would want, such as indenting, joining lines, changing case, commenting a highlighted block and -- one of my favorites -- jumping to a matching brace (I occasionally lose track of my open and close brackets when trying to create complex conditionals).

Even if you don't have the debugging and other tools of the full-blown IDE development environment, Komodo Edit 4.1 is a nice application for writing code. It's got colored syntax for a slew of options ranging from CSS and HTML to Java, Python, Perl, PHP, Ruby and more. It will suggest tagging and autocompletions based on the context of commands you are entering (using Tab or Enter accepts the choice on a drop-down menu).

You can create macros by recording keystrokes, "snippets" that can accept user input or put code before and after highlighted text, templates for new files and more. You can connect to a remote server via FTP and edit files in Komodo. And, as with an IDE, you can group files in a project.

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