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.