The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Text editors

the best thing since punchcards

I’ve used a lot of text editors. I like zipping around in a light 2-stroke text editor, as opposed to overengineered IDEs and word processors, both of which make me feel like I am a stowaway trapped in the bilge of someone’s supertanker.

On the other hand my current text editor, atom is as free from IDE comforts as a dinghy is free from staterooms, and yet as slow and gigantic as any over-engineered ocean liner, so I clearly don’t know what I want any more. Perhaps simply to be loved.

Here are some editors you might use, arranged in order of decreasing relevance to my own life.


See Atom.

Visual Studio Code

See visual studio code.


Textmate — The brilliant-but-erratic Mac-OS editor that the Rubyists used to use. Now open source, but with an intimidating codebase that few seem to want to touch. Famous for painstakingly re-inventing wheels that look nearly exactly like the old wheels but are a little bit rounder, although they do occasionally explode and replacement parts can take four years to arrive.

Textmate I also currently use, because I was using it already, and there are some things it does better than Atom (search, tab-triggered macros, not using all your RAM) although TBH it could still be faster.


Realistically these days we spell it vim —

“The bartender’s smile widened. His ugliness was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about his lack of it. The antique arm whined as he reached for another mug. It was a Russian military prosthesis, a seven-function force-feedback manipulator, cased in grubby pink plastic.”

Runs everywhere, most notably your legacy campus computing cluster.

I am sure that William Gibson was thinking of vi when he composed the above quote, since vi was already about 4 years old by then.


Texshop is a MacOS-specialised editor for LaTeX.

Sublime text

Sublime Text — The UI-oriented cross-platform text editor that took over when the guy who made the previous trendiest text editor (Textmate) went AWOL for 3 or 4 years. I feel bad for the creator, who held the text editing world together solo for years with a genuinely impressive product and now has all these free competitors backed by large corporations, drinking his milkshake. Still has, IMO, the best UI out of everything here.

I don’t use it, although perhaps I will.


LightTable — pretty, open source, revolutionary IDE-like live-code inspection. Language support is deep but narrow. (clojure, javascript, python). There is an effort to port it to an Atom-like architecture, in order to sell more CPUs.

I’ve used this while I was learning clojure, but that is on hiatus now.

Miscellaneous others

I would mention emacs, but if I wanted a bloated and confusing editor with a badly-considered scripting system, I’d run atom. As it happens, I must, because I do. So at least I should run one with UX designers on staff. From experience, emacs only stokes my weakness for yak shaving; and in any case I like my workflows less specialised than the exotic ones that flourish in the rich parenthetical mulch of the tropical emacsystem. See above re: IDEs etc.