Overlooking TextWrangler

5 minute read

It’s tough for Mac software and hardware developers to make announcements at events like Macworld Expos. The all encompassing Stevenote will always overshadow them. Some of the more overlooked announcements this year are:

  • Elgato and ATi teaming up for the EyeTV Wonder: Finally a lag-free external TV device for Mac. People can finally play their Playstation 2 and other consoles on their iMac (or any USB 2.0 capable Mac). While I can’t live without my original USB EyeTV, the lag made it useless for much other than TV watching (or maybe VHS tape digitizing). This is huge. Imagine a Mac mini coupled with a nice LCD monitor, one of these bad boys, and your game console of choice. You have a tiny, modular media center.
  • Elgato EyeTV 500 adds digital cable support: My primary concern about moving up to digital cable when I finally get my own place (damn down payment takes too long to build up) was that I couldn’t use my EyeTV to record the enhanced content and in order to enjoy it, I’d either have to actually be watching when the show was on (god forbid) or shell out the money for the cable company’s DVR. That’s no longer a concern. Unencrypted digital cable stations can be watched and recorded with this. Cool!
  • Elgato intros EyeConnect streaming software: Last Elgato plug, I swear. This software lets you use standard UPnP AV hardware devices to view your content. You can watch your movies, listen to your music, look at your pictures, EyeTV recordings, whatever! Elgato already has their Eyehome product to fill this niche, but now you can get or use your existing device (such as D-Link’s) to look at this media on your TV.
  • MacMice intros lots of new products: This infamous company seems to have finally come into its own. They now offer such distinctive products as a bluetooth trackball.
  • MacBU reaffirms Mac support: Mostly expected, but it’s still good to hear.
  • Griffin shows BlueTrip, Filewave: iPod music streamed via Bluetooth to your home stereo? How cool. Is it $150 worth of cool? I don’t think so.

However, that all pales in comparison to Bare Bones software‘s announcement.

Freedom of… Text?

First, a bit of history. BBEdit has long been the premier text editor for Mac. Easy to learn, extensible, and powerful, it caught like wildfire. However, at $200, it’s a bit hefty for most people. Bare Bones solution was to create a stripped down, free version called, appropriately, BBEdit Lite.

Side note: BBEdit is a text editor. One of the more common initial reaction is “you can’t even make text bold”. That’s what word processors are for. They manipulate text formatting primarily. Text editors are for editing text only, with powerful manipulation features not present in a word processor. It also makes them ideal for programming.

They made the mistake of making it a little too powerful though. It had more than enough features for some of the audience that they hoped to buy the full version never did. They discontinued it and introduced TextWrangler. It added new features previously unseen in Lite. However, it cost $50. That was still far too steep for most of BBEdit Lite users. Suddenly, the market for text editors had opened up (in the low end). Bare Bones no longer had a lock on text editors. The result was SubEthaEdit, Smultron, and TextMate.

The BBEdit Lite to TextWrangler transition left customers with a bad taste in their mouths, resulting in large competition in the inexpensive text editor market. As of Macworld SF and the release of TextWrangler 2.0, TextWrangler was made freeware. They even gave paying customers their money back. Bare Bones gave [their reasoning for the move].

So why give away an otherwise successful product after just releasing a major update? Bare Bones Software said they wanted to raise the bar for other developers thinking of making a text editor.

“These overnight text editors don’t reflect well on the genre or the platform,” Bare Bones Software President Rich Siegel, told MacCentral. “We are raising the bar, elevating the standard.”

Very altruistic. It sounds good, but I don’t think that’s really the reason. If it was, they wouldn’t have made it $49 to begin with. I submit that sales of TextWrangler began to dwindle and that was probably the motivating factor in Bare Bones decision to make it free. That seems to contradict all logic. After all, even though sales were small, Bare Bones was still making money in. By making it free, the make nothing. By giving the money back, they actually lose money. What’s more important is the role that a free or cheap scaled down text editor plays in selling the bigger, much more expensive BBEdit.

Like a crack dealer, Bare Bones offers up something at first for free to get you hooked. Letting people use TextWrangler will not only give them a prediliction for Bare Bones’ software, but adapt their work habits to the way in which it works, making it harder for users to adapt to other text editors. The natural concern is that what if users figure out that all they need is TextWrangler. This isn’t a real concern because such casual users are unlikely to be willing to pay anything anyway, as Bare Bones found out through the mass exodus to other products. In this case, beggers can be choosers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my copy of BBEdit (and I wouldn’t mind working for them either). However, this move was just as much for Bare Bones as it was for the consumer. Probably more so. However, because of the nature of the business, we all make out as consumers. If you’re a Mac user, I suggest you head on over to the download page and get a copy even if you can’t think of a possible use. You’ll find a use eventually. Maybe you’ll want to edit a web page. Maybe you’ll need to peek into the contents of a file to see what’s inside. Play with it. If you already have something you know you can use it for, get it now. The recent free alternatives are great, but they hardly hold a candle to TextWrangler and its features.

You may have gotten all caught up in Apple’s announcements, but this is something you can have now and for free.

Addendum: They did get some recognition.