Sublime Text

Nov 10, 2009

I've been a loyal Metapad user since (at least) 2005 when I upgraded from Windows Notepad. I've always liked simple programs, and Notepad was as simple as you could get. But Notepad had limitations, and not only did Metapad remove them, it did so in a very small single file which could be easily swapped in place of the notepad.exe in the Windows directory.

Since that time, one of the first things I did with any new computer installation was to swap out Notepad for Metapad for a much better text editing experience.

In using Metapad for so long, however, I began to see that it too had limitations. Among my biggest complaints were its abysmally long waits for both loading large files, and search/replace, all the while churning at 100% CPU. Still, I gave various editors a chance over the years to see if they could catch my fancy. I've tried EditPlus, Notepad2, SciTE and Notepad++ extensively, as well as giving several others a couple hours each ;) Actually, since the Notepad++ mascots are iguanas and chameleons, I really really wanted to like it, being the owner of a pair of reptiles myself!

In the end, though, I always crawled back to Metapad like a remorseful villain foiled, and she always accepted me back with a smile and a wink. I found each editor I tried either provided a clunky preferences interface which didn't allow me to modify everything I wanted, or were over-chromed and over-featured bloatware. But still, I kept my eyes open for replacements, because while Metapad was just fine for my needs, I knew that somewhere out there, someone would eventually come up with something as simple, and as useful, and with none of Metapad's *ahem* eccentricities.

So it was that I was browsing the forums when someone mentioned Sublime Text, a new text editor being developed by Jon Skinner, a programmer from Australia. I decided to give it a shot and immediately discovered that it did not fit my ideal of being small and simple. It's a 4.5MB download, almost as large as the entire Opera browser (which comes in at a modest 5.7MB for the "classic" installer). Starting from that down note, I pressed on...


... and I began liking what I saw. Rather than implementing a GUI for every little preference, Sublime Text implements a simple ini-file type system with a default file which lists all the preferences, and a user file where you can place preference overrides. This means that you can upgrade your installation with 100% confidence that none of your settings will be erased. Bonus! Also, it just makes so much sense to use the very editor for which you're editing preferences, to edit those preferences files directly; convenient links in the menus point to all the appropriate files so you don't need to browse your Program Files directory to find them. Lastly, preference changes you make to the text files are effective as soon as you save the file, no restarting of the program required!

The next thing that really impressed me was the minimap. Quite literally a scaled down view of your code which you can buzz over like a low flying jet. I have always prided myself on my ability to use the "shape" of code in order to remember the locations of important areas within large files. Thus the minimap feature seemed designed especially for me and my development habits. Plus the preferences allowed me to move the minimap column to the right side, and then remove the vertical scrollbar. Voila, the minimap is now a graphical vertical scrollbar!

When I found I couldn't disable the automatic indentation behaviour (adding lots of unnecessary whitespace) in Sublime Text, I mentioned it on their forums. Can you believe that just two beta releases later, a user preference had been added by the developer to disable it? I was very happy to be using a program so actively invested in by the author.

The more I use this program, the more I find things that impress me. So much so that I actually purchased a licence to remove the nag popup that appears after making 20 or so saves; even though other than that, there are no other limitations to the trial version of Sublime Text. As of now I have officially switched text editors and will be working on ways to make Sublime Text my default editor.

You should check it out. It just might make you switch as well :)

Unfortunately I will need to endure a lot of "what?! is that... syntax highlighting in your editor?!?! And line numbers?!?!?! Stop the presses!" from the other developers at work for a while :\

Kiblariktoktuq Tracking text input changes in real time

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