Text Edit

TextEdit is the default text editor in MacOsx. It can be used to edit RichTextFormat or PlainText. You can attach graphics and attachments, and it opens and saves RichTextFormat, UniCode, and PlainText files. It can also be used to import SimpleText (the old AppleMacintosh text editor) files and HTML files. And like any CocoaFramework app, it can save ("print") a document as PDF.

The latest version (included in MacOsx 10.2) is quite similar to the MacWrite. It has a ruler with tab stops, alignment, and line spacing), and it has a spell checker, but it doesn't have style sheets or extensive paragraph formatting tools. It's actually quite a useful tool.

If you want a real TextEditor, you should use EmacsEditor, ViEditor, or BbEdit, and if you want a real WordProcessor, you should use AppleWorks, or the Mac version of MicrosoftWord. But TextEdit works in a pinch if you don't need one or the other. The version of TextEditor that came with MacOsx Panther (10.3) can open and save MicrosoftWord format files.

TextEdit is an example of software that is OnMySide, and not InMyWay. A very simple interface ideal for the quick input of text. To steal OmniGraffle's advertising tagline: "It's your digital back-of-napkin."

Hidden functionality: To create a page break, type Control-q followed by Control-l (i.e. a lowercase letter L).

Hmmm. It's true that one rarely needs many of the features of juggernaut editors and WordProcessors. But word processors are okay for simple editing; just ignore the functionality you don't need. One doesn't need a separate editor which simply omits the extras without adding anything. What's needed is a simple means to change plain text quickly (even if many similar changes have to be made) without spoiling its neat layout.

Couldn't disagree more. Yes, one does need a simple WordProcessor that's free with the OS if you don't need/want to pay for MicrosoftWord or whatever. And TextEdit edits PlainText just fine and dandy: it clearly separates working on plain text and rich text.

Furthermore, less feature rich applications, such as TextEdit, use a lot less RAM and CPU time. Even if you have Word, you might want to use a leaner, faster word processor for that 95% of the time when 10% of the features are all you need.

That said, TextEdit is very wasteful of paper. You cannot change the margins, and if you try editing the RTF file as plain text to change them, it will simply increase the font size. Steve Jobs is not exactly a friend of the earth. I am increasingly using Bean, a fast, free, open source editor that does just a small handful of additional things that I find useful, including changing the margins, viewing at more or less than 100%, changing the foreground and background colors for screen display without changing them for printing, and regular expressions.

Hi. I mistook TextEdit for Tex-Edit and spent quite a while figuring out why the functionality had disappeared. So I've trashed TextEdit and installed Tex-Edit. Happy now.

There is a quick path to editing HTML source using TextEdit in a manner akin to SimpleText?. Go to TextEdit > Preferences and toggle "Ignore rich text commands in HTML files" to the checked or ON position. The same can be done on a file-by-file basis when using TextEdit's File > Open feature by checking the "Ignore rich text commands" option in the dialog box that appears.


SimpleText is a lovely thing; the DataFork? of the file is PlainText, and any formatting is hidden away in the ResourceFork where it won't interfere with using the file as source code, HTML, etc. So if you used to use SimpleText to do quick editing of source under MacOS 9 and you upgrade to MacOsx, you're in for a nasty surprise: when you load such a file it brings up TextEdit; when you try to save, you're told:

"TextEdit does not save SimpleText format; document will be saved as rich text (RTF) instead, with a new name."

You're not given the option to save as PlainText at this point; you have to cancel, then go to the 'Format' menu and "Make Plain Text"; this resets the filename to 'Untitled' so you have to "save as". Rather than figure all this out, by now you've probably given up and are looking for a programming editor.


The older Edit.app from NextStep, which was similar to TextEdit, was also a developer editor, with features like the ability to create menu items that would invoke UnixShell scripts on the current selection. It was also integrated with GDB for debugging, with a small panel of buttons for controlling execution. Despite the developer features, it was still quite fast and lightweight. The developer features were disabled by a default preference setting. In those days, ProjectBuilder was a smaller app which just managed files and builds, leaving editing to Edit and debugging ran in a Terminal window, with optional control from Edit.

TextEdit.app was also featured in OpenStep.


And TextEdit supports .rtfd bundles (a bundle is a directory with some metadata and an extension, essentially; .apps on MacOsx are bundles), which contains a .rtf file (normal) and all associated images, in whatever format. This means the RichTextFormat stays ASCII (ASCII with markup, but still ASCII), but binary data can be associated with it... and as the OS knows it's a bundle, it's treated as a single file unless you specifically request otherwise. -- AdamBerger

Suppose I drag and drop a picture into a TextEdit document while in "rich text" mode. When I save the file, it is saved as a RTFD bundle, as Adam says. But suppose I want to save it as a conventional RTF file (with the picture embedded in the ASCII as jibberish) so that an older or non-Mac WordProcessor can read the file and display the picture. There does not appear to be a way to do so. -- ElizabethWiethoff

OffTopic: NextStep had an HTMLEdit.app that the same thing with .htmld bundles. There was an index.html file with associated images/styles in the bundle. You could edit in WYSIYWYG fashion, drag images into the document and everything would JustWork?.


It should be noted that the functionality of TextEdit is largely inherent in Cocoa's text field control. TextEdit is just an application wrapper for the text editing controls available to all CocoaFramework apps.


TextEdit on Panther (Mac OS 10.3.x) includes user-defined styles and spell check as you type. It may be all you need if you don't need tables or extensive page layout. I'm using it with a group of journalism students to pull copy off PCs into Quark.

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