by Mark R. Millard -- email@example.com
High-end word processors like Word, WordPerfect, MacWrite Pro, and Nisus can produce anything from a letter to a professional publication. But many Macintosh users lack the money, drive space, RAM, or inclination to run them. Even lower-end word processors like WriteNow, Nisus Compact, and LetterPerfect can cost upwards of $100. Apple's TeachText is free, but extremely limited. Consider instead Tex-Edit, a freeware text editor written by Tom Bender of San Angelo, Texas. It's free, requires only 256K RAM, occupies only 98K disk space, and is loaded with features.
Text Editing vs. Word Processing -- Other than price, what's the difference between a text editor and a word processor? Word processors support features beyond entering and editing text, such as headers and footers, mail merge, glossaries, spelling and grammar checkers, footnotes, sectioned pagination, multiple columns, indexing, graphics, style sheets, and equation editors. The practically endless list grows as the features war rages on.
Text editors, in contrast, concentrate on plain text manipulation. Fancy word processing features are super if you're sharing files among Macs with similar software, but try reading the same files with generic software or on a different platform, and you may find the fancy formatting converted to a mess of strange-looking control characters, peppering what was once readable text with garbage. By focusing on the manipulation of compatible text, text editors provide tools for porting text between different computers.
Tex-Edit -- Tex-Edit supports basic features shared by many text editors. You can open any file of type TEXT, as well as drag & drop any file to read text in that file's data fork. You can add or strip carriage return and line feed characters as desired. Smart (curly) quote conversion is also available. Like some text editors (but not TeachText), you can open multiple documents, up to the limit of the RAM you have allocated.
So what does Tex-Edit offer that some do not? In my opinion, the biggest feature is text styling (multiple fonts, sizes, and character styles within a document) supported by adding a "styl" resource to each document (Nisus uses a similar approach, but a different resource type). Unlike conventional word processors that use special invisible characters within the file's text to control formatting, styling kept in a file's resource fork won't trash up screens of text readers (like email software) that don't support that particular resource.
Simply put, if you open a formatted Tex-Edit file with an application like Word that doesn't read "styl" info, you simply get clean, plain text - no garbage formatting characters. The file's resource fork is ignored and usually removed if you save the file with the other application. America Online and (according to the author) JoliWrite and Stylus all use the "styl" resource, so Tex-Edit can freely exchange text with these applications, formatting intact. To send formatted text to other applications, the author recommends you copy and paste from the clipboard - this technique worked for me in FileMaker Pro and HyperCard, but formatting was lost when pasting into applications that don't read styl from the clipboard, including PageMaker, Personal Press, QuarkXPress, and Word.
Tex-Edit has several other interesting features. "Smart Cut & Paste" is an option that will add a trailing space to words copied to the clipboard. Window text wrap can be turned off to ease reading lines of programming code. Triple-clicking on a sentence selects the entire sentence. A Change Case command gives you selections of upper, lower, title, or sentence case. You can convert the "fi" and "fl" ligatures in either direction. Word, line, and character count is available. Tex-Edit also supports the extra keys on extended keyboards. If that's not enough, Tex-Edit supports Macintalk 1.5.1, and if it's installed, Tex-Edit can read part or all of a document out loud.
Tex-Edit has a few limitations, but they provide some speed and size advantages. Although it supports multiple open documents, it can only open 32K of a given text file at a time. If you have a file larger than 32K, you can open multiple window "chunks" of 32K to see the whole document. Tex-Edit also does not support tabs (without converting them to spaces) or graphics, and doesn't know about zooming on multiple monitors.
Tex-Edit is compatible with many of the Mac booby traps: it's 32-bit clean, System 6 and 7 compatible, color compatible, big-screen compatible, 68040-cache compatible, and it adheres to all of Apple's interface guidelines. Most functions, although not Replace All, are supported by the Undo command. Tex-Edit is also stationery-aware. [We've had a comment from one reader saying that Tex-Edit isn't as stable under System 6 as System 7 in his experience, so be forewarned. -Adam]
Tom has freely released the application and source code to the public domain, and he offers online support on America Online and GEnie. In upcoming versions of Tex-Edit, Tom plans to maintain System 6 compatibility while adding the capability to open files larger than 32K in one window and support for tabs and pictures. He says that speed and a small application size are priorities over adding features.
Since programmers spend a lot of time using text editors, I took an informal survey of programmers, asking them which application they used for text editing. Tex-Edit rated highly, along with BBEdit and the integrated editors in THINK Pascal and THINK C. [BBEdit just split into two products, one commercial, one free, and the free version lost some features in the process. -Adam]
It's hard to find fault in Tex-Edit. For a text editor, it's a gem: powerful, full of useful features, small, fast, flexible, and, best of all, free. If you work with text files smaller than 32K on a daily basis, you should give it a test run. Tex-Edit has replaced TeachText on my desktop, and I only have to crank up my lumbering Alki MasterWord-enhanced copy of Word half as often as I used to.
You can find Tex-Edit from your favorite source of free software, and it's on <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> as:
Trans Tex Software
5313 Beverly Drive
San Angelo, TX 76904