Someone hacked into my text editor and fixed my bug!

It isn’t often that you encounter an new idea, especially in the software world. A new type of application, one that you haven’t ever seen or heard of before in any shape or form. Something that makes you say “Wow”. It is even more remarkable when that application is a text editor!

Well, that’s what happened to me while attending O’Reilly’s ETech this year. I saw several people using what looked like a regular (even quite a plain looking) text editor, except that text was appearing in the document while the user sat back, hands far away from the keyboard.

I found out that application was called SubEthaEdit and it is a collaborative text editor.

Now, to skip slightly off the topic for a second. I have become completely addicted to TextMate (which I have another, half written blog post about :) and I will say right now that TextMate is my main programming editor at the moment because of it’s beautiful support for Ruby on Rails and while I am led to believe that SubEthaEdit makes a great programmers editor as well, that isn’t something I am qualified to talk about because I haven’t used it in that situation yet. So I won’t.

What I can talk about though are the collaborative editing features because this is what caused the “Wow”. So the lowdown is that either using Bonjour to find any other SubEthaEdit on a local network or by connecting to a remote address, several people can all edit the same text file, at the same time, in real-time. Multiple selections, multiple cursors, the whole nine yards. Unlike anything I have ever seen before.

At ETech, this was being used for note taking and as a compliment to IRC and I joined several LAN editing sessions during the conference and was able to see (and add to) notes that were being taken. That is an obvious use for this application but I have even heard it mentioned that it would be good for pair-programming… Now that is an interesting idea! Pair programming where the pair are not even in the same room? Would it work? Who knows, but with free VoIP (thanks Skype, and others) and SubEthaEdit then it would at least be possible. I would be interested to try it out and see how it works in practice (offers?). But even if not for pair programming, think of the possibilities here for debugging, for collaborative writing, for teaching. It is the instancy of the collaboration that is what makes the experience remarkable, the fact that you can literally work on the same line of text, see other people’s selection, see their cursor move. It has to be seen really (maybe I should do a ScreenCast).

Ok, so maybe my first sentence was a bit OTT and this app isn’t completely unique because yes, there are text editors and yes, there are wiki’s. But the fact remains that seeing this application for the first time was a real wow which is something I haven’t had when looking at software for a long time (on any platform). There is just nothing available on Windows (as far as I know) that does anything like this and that’s a loss for Windows users.

Note: So the reason that I picked today to blog about this? It is no secret. MacZOT are running a blogging thing where you can get a copy for free if you blog about SubEthaEdit today. I am firmly against the marketing tactic of just getting people to blindly link to your site/application and repeat marketing sound bites like parrots to get free stuff and I can promise you now that you won’t see that happen on this blog. But I already had something half written about SubEtha and I formed my opinion completely independently of the fact that I might get a free license out of this. Did my journalistic integrity survive this post? :D

Update: I did get a free copy of SubEthaEdit for posting this.

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13 responses to “Someone hacked into my text editor and fixed my bug!

  1. I think your integrity survived, you don’t meet all the requirements listed. SubEthaEdit is awesome for collaboration, but I find myself working in TextMate more since it just flows like I want it too. I’ll keep SubEthaEdit around incase I ever start collaborating with someone on a Mac again.

  2. Yea I know it doesn’t do exactly what they say but I am afraid I don’t do repeating of marketing phrases, parrot style. However it is a positive, genuine review and IMO thats more important than copy and paste and if they don’t see it that way, that says more about them than me :)

  3. Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to say it was slag. Your review is honest and positive. It’s a better review than the hundreds of copy and past things that will be out there for sure. I’m enjoying your experinces with switching. I switched last year, but from Unix. Keep up the good posts.

  4. Yes, your integrity survived. The collaborative features of SubEthaEdit are excellent for collaboration but I do prefer TextMate for Rails work. If only the April Fool’s joke about SubEthaTextMate had been true.

  5. Yea, i saw that. They should really do that :)

  6. On windows you can use moonedit. it’s collaborative functionality is very similiar, but of course, it is much uglier than SubEthaEdit! Moonedit runs on linux and windows, but I don’t think there is a mac distribution.

    Btw, if you need a cross platform solution, you can try using Writely. It’s web based tho, so is much slower … you don’t get that cool ‘multiple cursors’ thing going either …

  7. Peter Steneteg

    Emacs has had that freature for many many years…

  8. Pingback: D.a.double-r.e.n » Instantaneous Collaboration

  9. @Peter:
    Emacs has had the collaboration feature? I have never really used it but thats amazing and it shows how far ahead of it’s time Emacs was!

    I wonder if Emacs is the Smalltalk of text editors. So many times you hear a software development conversation about some new language feature or framework that ends with someone saying “But Smalltalk could do that 10 years ago”. Now I know Emacs was used in day to day life than Smalltalk but the principle might be the same :) Emacs and Smalltalk were both outstanding but fell by the wayside before their time was up.

    The problem with Emacs is/was usability and a very sharp learning curve and thats where SubEtha has the edge for collaboration. Integration with Bonjour for example, being able to click one button and see all open documents on the LAN is just a killer feature.

  10. Actually you could say the same thing about Lisp as well…

  11. Yea :) another one before its time

  12. subethamacs

    re. 7&9. if you are refering to M-x make-frame-on-display, there is still some significant steps to make collaborative editing work as smoothly in emacs as see. eg. you need to know where every frame is, and there isnt any form of multiple authortracking.

  13. luogo grande:) nessun osservazioni!