Why Text Editors & FTP Clients?


Anyone who’s been using a Mac for a few months has probably noticed that there is a glut of text editors available for the OS X platform. If you’re in the web/design category, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the similar situation of too many FTP client options. What gives?

I’ll take the latter issue first. The funny thing is, 4 years (or so) ago when I got back on the Mac side of things, finding a decent FTP client was next to impossible. Interarchy, Fetch, RBrowser and Cyberduck seemed to be the viable solutions. Then Transmit (from Panic) came out and the show was over (as far as I’m concerned). But in recent months – maybe the last year – it’s crazy how many FTP options are available to us. Yummy FTP, Captain FTP, and Forklift come immediately to mind. (There are plenty more though…)

Having options is great and all, but how many do we need? Is one really that much better than the other? The core functionality is all essentially the same, so I guess pick the best UI and plunk down your card to make a purchase.

Worse yet is the Text Editor scene. My favorite couple are TextMate (de facto winner in this space?) and SubEthaEdit – I tell you because I can see you care. But then there’s an endless line of other options here – xPad, TextEdit, TextWrangler, Mori, Jedit, Smultron, to name a few. The list goes on… I understand where apps such as WriteRoom offer something slightly different. But geez, it’s still just a text editor that’s aimed at the more easily distracted – hey look, squirrels!!!

But what is it about FTP apps and Text Editors that seemingly attract developers – the experienced and green alike? Every developer’s gotta practice on some project, and [guru] Scott Stevenson has a great tutorial on CocoaDevCentral for creating your own Text Editor (the tutorials here are hands-down, some of the best you’ll find on the web). So I get that – it’s an easy jumping-off point where you can get your feet wet and work your way up. But what drives every developer and their mother to try to sell their code as if it were so earth shatteringly different from the next 5, 10, 15 competing apps?

My intent is not to blast these developers – heaven knows I’m no application coder! I’m just trying to wrap my brain around the reasoning behind everyone trying to sell more or less the same program. (I understand that everyone wants to make a buck, but still!) I invite any coders – especially of Text Editors or FTP Clients – to either sound off in the comment here, or better yet, contact me directly (nick[dot]appleblog[at]gmail[dot]com) and lets get a conversation going on this topic.



By the way for #17 and any other Windows users, try EditPlus if you haven’t already. One of my favorites that I’ve tried. Loads fast, has integrated ftp, with an explorer-type side-bar the lists all the files in the selected directory. Great for programmers, web developers, etc. There’s a free trial, but after that’s over, there’s just an annoying pop-up that urges you to pay. you can still use it with no decrease in functionality.


Personally I think it’s a GOOD thing. Yes I understand that there can’t really be that much different between one app and the next, but does that really matter? The fact that people can put together one of these apps and still sell it speaks to the market. Supply and demand. But even if the market is flooded with these apps, if even a small number of people purchase the licenses for them, the developers can make a modest profit, given that these types of apps are relatively easy to generate. And also given the fact that there are so many GOOD ones out there to choose from is a good thing too. Everyone has their own opinions, needs, desires, etc.

Think about it this way. The more people putting out apps, the more competition there is. the more competition, the more thinking will go into each design, which will provide the rest of us with increasingly useful applications to use. A perfect example is the merging between FTP and Text editors. How nice is it to only have to have one window to edit your html or php and then upload it to your server all from one easy to use app? Makes my life simpler that’s for sure!


Recently looking around at I came across a free one that has awesome features, Coda. Whilst I haven’t used it, it looks great.


Mark Hughes

Text editors are the primary tool of programmers and writers, and they are not interchangeable. BBEdit, the standard Mac programmer’s editor for the last 10 years, is an astoundingly good HTML and scripting language editor, has a great find/replace/regexp facility, integrated FTP and CVS, and is easily scripted, but isn’t much of a word processor. WriteRoom is, as you noted, great for those with ADD who need to concentrate on some writing. You can’t replace either one with TextEdit.

I’m accustomed to BBEdit, so TextMate seemed weird and alien and very un-Mac-like, but I’m sure the reverse is true for someone weaned on TextMate. It’s pretty weak on the HTML editing side, too.

New variant editors are created to scratch a specific itch, when the developers of the current dominant product don’t want to go in the direction you do. In open source programs, that usually manifests as a fork, but in commercial software, it’s just a new program written from scratch.

The profusion of FTP programs, I don’t entirely understand. The command-line ftp is fine for simple tasks, and beyond that Fetch used to be the only serious choice. It’s not all that hard to make an FTP, but none of them seem significantly better; I would expect over time that Cyberduck (and maybe some forked variants) would replace all the others, as it’s free.


As a software user who likes highly customizable, feature-rich apps, and as a developer who wrote a text editor many years ago, the reason I’d be most likely to create a new text editor or ftp client or whatever is because:

a) I don’t like what’s already available.
b) I can. ;)
c) The decent available products are shareware and only work for a limited period or in a limited fashion. Like it or not, many people hate to pay for things when there are free alternatives.
d) I’ll also add that many developers want to get in on the application X bandwagon and make some dough.

Joe Pecoraro

This article really hits home right now. I just recently decided that I am going to purchase a new Mac Book Pro in October with the release of Leopard. I spent the last week researching software that I want to download and try. Among the list of 40 or so applications, I have a list of about 5 editors and equally as many FTP clients that I want to try out. Not to mention many of the Mac browsers that people swear by.

I have seen clear favorites that everyone seems to favor, and those are certainly on my list. But the thing is there are free alternatives that are almost equally appealing.

This one really put a smile on my face after another 2 hours of reading about Mac applications and I caught this post just before I retire for the night =)


It certainly was the opposite in the early osx days, however now we boast the best text editor on any platform (Textmate of course) and one of the nicest FTP clients going with transmit

Chris Hudson

I agree with #16. A lot of it is down to the different ways that people use text editors and FTP clients, and what you use them for. I use both OSX and Windows. I find that on Windows all editors seem to be moving towards the whole ‘workspace’ ethos, where you have a list of project files associated with each other. I don’t like this because I already have workspace programs (Visual Studio, Komodo, Eclipse). If I want to open a text file, then that is all I want. There doesn’t seem a product out there for windows that does what I want, so I am writing one for myself. I am guessing that there are people out there with similar frustrations, so if I am happy with it, then I will sell it (Or maybe I will just give it away).

As programs become more bloated to try to do everything it will make a lot of things more complicated. Sometimes we just want something simple that does not take 60 seconds to load.

Same thing with FTP clients.


Captain FTP must be around for more than a couple of years now and Transmit was already available for OS9 in the last century. What’s the point you’re trying to make?

Jack Mottram

I suspect that the reason for there being so many text editors on the market is that the folk coding applications spend so much time in a text editor – and therefore so much time thinking ‘This could be a lot better’ or ‘that feature only needs a little tweak’ – that eventually they snap and start coding their own.

In other words, every developer, whatever field they work in, has a strong interest in text editors, a strong desire to use the best one for their needs, and the abilities to make their own if the current offerings are lacking. In that context, I’m surprised there aren’t more text editors kicking about!

Whatever, speaking as a writer, I’m certainly pleased that there’s such a lot of tools to choose from.


There are so many out there, for they are relatively easy to create, in their basic form- some of the good ones are commented on above, which offer more than the basics and most importantly are reliable.

Louis Gray

I’ve been a diehard BBEdit fan for more than a decade now. There is no compare for HTML creation and editing. I also stick with Fetch for FTP. If those apps are antiquated, I’m happy to play the part of curmudgeon.


Perhaps you have answered your own question about FTP clients. In the beginning there were few, so many development projects started, resulting in the current glut. I’d be surprised if the current rate of new entrants lasted. Maybe I’m just unimaginative but it seems like there’s only so much innovation one can do with FTP.

For text editors, something different seems to be happening. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what really makes it comfortable and useful — it’s why neither emacs nor vi won back in the day and both thrive today. Most of the text editors you mention have some niche (Subethaedit — collaboration, Textmate — extendability, WriteRoom — tranquility) that they do very well in. Seeing the great new innovative ideas popping up all over (particularly Textmate and WriteRoom) are what got me to switch to Apple. The excitement just doesn’t seem to be there on the PC.

Peter N Lewis

As the original author of Interarchy, I can explain a little. Interarchy and Fetch have both been around since the early nineties. Panic took advantage of the transition to Mac OS X to produce an elegant simple FTP client and captured a chunk of the market and the three programs have controlled most of the commercial space since then.

We continue to develop Interarchy (which has now been taken over by Matthew Drayton’s Nolobe) because we have tens of thousands of paying customers who get value out of the program and how continue to support us developing it. I imagine the same is true for Fetch and Transmit.

The other side of the coin are those folks who do not want to pay for software or think everything should be free (which doesn’t make sense to me, since it almost guarantees the project (with fee exceptions) can never receive full time, ongoing development). They can then utilize the relatively easy Cocoa UI development in combination with open source FTP engines to develop free (although often limited) FTP clients. RBrowser and Cyberduck come to mind for this, although there are lots now.
I have to agree that I find it perplexing to see dozens of FTP clients. If I was a uni student with lots of free time again, I would probably prefer to be writing games rather than FTP clients (mind you, I spent my uni time designing and building ARM based computers and writing compilers and operating systems, so perhaps not!).
At the end of the day, what separates the clients is the user interface (there are several different styles), the facilities (eg Net Disks), the protocols (eg Amazon S3), performance (can you say 30+MB/s?), and of course price. That makes for quite a lot of potential variation and no one program (or even three) would be sufficient to cover the space.

Nick Santilli

Akuza – great comments. That’s really the angle I was looking for. A thriving dev community IS a great thing, and I’m glad we have one. We all gotta crawl before we can walk, eh?



#6 – If you’re going to be doing mostly PHP, Panic’s Coda is a good choice. But if you want something more versatile with deeper functionality, all the top text editors offer PHP syntax coloring and auto-completion (although it’s not true “smart code-completion” like you might get in a dedicated IDE).

Have a look at TextMate, BBEdit, and SubEthaEdit. These might not integrate with PHP as closely as a real IDE, but they’ve got a lot of power to do some serious text manipulation with just about any language.


As good as TextMate is, it’s hardly the “de facto winner”. It gets many things right and also a lot of things wrong (enough that I don’t use it as my primary editor, even though I bought a license). As for the big selection, there’s really only a handful of serious contenders in the commercial space. Others are either niche players or are focused on other tasks (e.g. Mori isn’t really a text editor and no one serious about doing web/development work would use TextEdit for very long). But the big selection is a good indicator that the development community (the primary audience for these apps) is healthy and growing on OS X. It also shows that none of these apps are so good that they’ve been able to force others completely out of the market.


On Windows I use PHP Designer 2007 for PHP development. Can someone recommend a PHP IDE for OS X that has autocompletion?

Roger Wong

The funny thing is that Coda, the new product from Panic is a combo text editor and ftp client, combining the best of Transmit and SubEthaEdit.

But back to your question of why? Although I’m no developer myself, I think it’s because there’s still room for improvement in the basic UI and workflow of things. And Coda proves that.

Peter Jones

Because anything you didn’t write yourself sucks. Hubris is a core characteristic of any good developer. (I think Larry Wall was the first person to say this.)


I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been with Transmit and SubEthaEdit from the beginning, and I’ve never had a reason to switch.

Nick Santilli

And that’s my main reason for this post – not to blast developers in any way at all. I just want to know if there’s more motivation behind the scenes – or more features that are not communicated as well that are lost on me/the general population.

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