Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Ramblings Review

Tex-Edit Plus: Powerful Styled Text Editing for OS X and the Classic Mac OS

Charles Moore - 2007.02.05 -Tip Jar

Rating: 4 out of 4

If you're a regular reader of my Mac Web scribbling, you mayrecall that I've long been a big fan of Tom Bender's Tex-Edit Plus styled text editorapplication, which, along with email clients and Web browsers, isone of the core elements of my production software suite.

I use Tex-Edit for the vast majority of my text crunching tasks:document-viewing, composition, editing, HTML markup, and dataarchiving. It doesn't handle PDF or Word-formatted documents(although it reads and writes RTF documents nicely and displays thetext of Word documents in a pinch), so I use other applications tohandle those duties - but most of the time it's Tex-Edit Plus.

The Rise and Fall of Microsoft Word for Mac

Back in the early 90s, when I first started using a Mac, wordprocessing was the "killer app". I started out with Microsoft Word4, upgrading in 1993 to Word 5.1.

Word was a fine, very Mac-like application back then, and it dida superb job. That was half a decade before Internet access arrivedin this neck of the woods (rural Nova Scotia), and I was stillmostly printing out articles and drafts as hard copy and sendingthem to editors via snail mail. By the mid-90s, I had graduated tofloppy disks and fax.

When Microsoft replaced Word 5.1 with Word 6 (a.k.a. "Wordfor Windows for the Mac"), I jumped ship, never to return.

Up to version 5.1, Word was pretty much the only Microsoftapplication that I ever liked or indeed could stand using (and itstill works under OS X Classic Mode for are accessing myhundreds of archived Word 5.1 formatted files), but Word 6 markedsort of a nadir, even for Microsoft software.

After Word

At that point I switched to Nisus Writer after a brief butunsatisfactory dalliance with Apple's MacWrite Pro. ClassicNisus Writer was a wonderful application with more of a textediting orientation than Word, and I used it for a couple of years,by which time the Internet became a central part of my computingexperience virtually overnight and changed everything.

Once I was online, email became the logical and preferred meansof submitting material to editors, and I was soon posting contentto the Web myself as well. If quickly became obvious that plaintext and/or HTML were the only formatting abilities I really neededfor 95% of my output, and it dawned on me that using afull-features word processor to produce left-justified plain ASCIItext in a single point size amounted to major overkill.

A text editor would be a more lively, responsive, and nimbletool for what I needed to do.

Text-editors are few-frills cousins of the word-processor,lacking heavy-duty formatting capabilities and the ponderousinventory of features one finds in MS Word and various other wordprocessors. No style sheets, no on-the-fly spell checking (and inmany instances, no built-in spell checking at all), no mail merge,no headers and footers, no footnotes or endnotes, no thesaurus, andno desktop publishing pretensions.

Text-editors are designed to handle plain text without a lot ofdistractions.

Enter Tex-Edit

I can't recall exactly how Tex-Edit first I arrived on my harddrive. Perhaps on a compilation CD of Mac shareware. Anyway, it hadbeen there since the early or mid-90s, and I had experimented withit a bit.

Now, taking a closer look, I realized that Tex-Edit, which hadgrown into Tex-Edit Plus, would do just about everything I needed aword processor to do, including (with the help of AppleScripts)HTML conversion and markup. I switched to TE+ almost entirelyaround the end of 1998 and have never looked back or even beenseriously tempted to use anything else since.

Tex-Edit Plus is small, fast, easy-to-use, requires littlememory, and has a clean, uncluttered interface - not that there isany shortage of other good text editors. Apple bundles a verydecent one with OS X: TextEdit, and BareBones Software makes acouple of superb ones - the powerful BBEdit much belovedof serious Web authors, and TextWrangler,which is also amazingly powerful and capable for a freewareapplication. There are many others.

The Sweet Spot

However, none has managed to hit the sweet spot with me thatTex-Edit Plus does.

The two key elements are that TE+ is a styled texteditor, which means that it supports a pretty comprehensive rangeof document formatting if you need it, including embedded graphicsand even movies, and secondly, its implementation of AppleScript isthe best I've encountered in any application - period.

AppleScript, for those not familiar with it, is Apple'sEnglish-like programming language that allows you to use AppleEvents to control applications,and Tex-Edit is the slickest andbest at this of any program I've ever used. As TE+ developer TomBender puts it: "AppleScript puts the power of these Apple Eventsin the hands of the ordinary user. It's just another insanely greatadvantage that we Mac users enjoy."

Classic and OS X Versions

Another point that may be of particular interest to readers ofLow End Mac is that classic Tex-Edit Plus, which is stillavailable, is transparently compatible with Tex-Edit Plus X. Istill use both, often in tandem, with one old one running nativelyand the other in Classic Mode. Particularly on my older machineslike my Pismo and G3 iBook, I find that TE+ running inClassic Mode is much more lively and responsive than the OS Xversion.

The Classic version has fewer features, but it works exactly thesame as Tex-Edit Plus X: The same suite of AppleScripts can beutilized, and documents are identical.

The Classic version of TE+ is one of the greatest Macapplications of all time, and the OS X version is even better,retaining all the goodness of its predecessor and adding some coolnew stuff like the ability to support the built in OS X spellcheck (the lack of spell checking being perhaps the biggestshortcoming of the Classic application). There is also a newfloating tool palette that can be displayed or hidden with akeystroke. Files created with either the OS X or the Classicversions of are fully forward and backward compatible. (TE+ is sofar only PowerPC native, but it's so fast that performance underRosetta will be more than acceptable on Intel-based Macs).

Scripting Tex-Edit

Tex-Edit Plus is one reason why I thank myself every day forchoosing a Mac, and AppleScript is another. Tex-Edit Plus'sAppleScript configuration could hardly be smoother or moreuser-friendly. Scripts, which are sort of mini-applets or macrosthat automate a particular function. (Actually they're far morethan macros - Apple Events allow "scriptable" applications tocommunicate at a very intimate level. Unlike macros, Apple Eventsbypass the user interface and are exceptionally efficient.Scriptability implies that the programmer has given AppleScriptaccess to major portions of the application's inner workings.)

These scripts are stored in a folder called "Scripts" in theTex-Edit Plus application folder and appear in an AppleScript menuwhen Tex-Edit is running. When you add new scripts to the folder,they show up in the menu instantly without your having to restartthe program.

To run a script, you just open the menu and click on a selectedscript title or use the optional floating Script Tools palette.Compiled scripts added to the new "Script Tools" folder will showup as buttons in the palette. Just option-click a button to editits script.

Even better, for scripts that you really use a lot, it's moreconvenient to assign keystroke shortcuts to activate them, which isdone by simply appending an underscore-character suffix to thescript's name. ("ScriptName_0") or, for a function key shortcut,append underscore-Fkey ("ScriptName_F5").

You can also configure various modifier keys in your keyboardshortcuts. For example, with the script Mac -> HTML_F6, pressthe F6 key, and a copy of your document gets converted to HTMLwhile you watch. I have several frequently used scripts, such asHTML markup functions and things like capitalization/togglingconsigned F-Key shortcuts, which I find speeds things upimmensely.

And of course, AppleScript can be employed to do many morethings in Tex-Edit Plus than HTML markup. Almost any repetitivetask you do can probably be AppleScripted. Style sheets are a goodexample.

A couple of dozen or so AppleScripts are bundled with theTex-Edit Plus standard download, and because Tex-Edit Plus isrecordable, you can record custom scripts of your own to automatetedious or frequently repeated tasks using the Apple Script Editorutility that is included with the Mac OS. Or visit Doug Adams'Tex-Edit PlusAppleScripts Website where you can download dozens ofprewritten scripts.

Working with Non-Mac Files

One of Tex-Edit's coolest functions is its facility forstripping DOS linefeeds and carriage-returns from text downloadedfrom the Web. I also use it as a quick viewer for readingdownloaded text files, for editing text (of course), and as aminimalist HTML editor.

In the Mac world, text editors and word processors dynamically"word-wrap" at the right margin and don't insert any specialcharacters until the end of the paragraph, at which point theyinsert a single carriage return. When viewing non-Mac originatedfiles on the Mac, each line may be preceded by an empty box(signifying the terminating linefeed [LF] character from thepreceding line). In large windows, the text may not extend to theright margin, and in small windows, there is usually an odd mixtureof alternating short and long lines.

The Mac considers each DOS-formatted line to be a separateparagraph

Tex-Edit Plus allows you to strip the DOS CRs and LFs out ofthese documents by using the Strip CR/LF command to convertdownloaded text to Mac-formatted word wrapping text. If thisdoesn't produce the desired results, you can undo the modificationand try it again with Strip leading spaces checked (above). (DOS-> Mac) or LFs -> CRs (Unix -> Mac) commands to removeuseless characters from the document. You can also use Tex-EditPlus to insert these "useless" characters into Mac-createddocuments that are to be uploaded to a DOS-Windows computer or Unixserver or system, using the add CR/LF or CRs -> LFs (Mac ->Unix) commands. Unix systems use a single linefeed character(without a carriage return) to terminate each paragraph. Thiscommand converts all carriage returns into linefeeds.

High ASCII Issues

Mac users often notice strange character symbols and misspelledwords in downloaded text, due to the Mac and MS-DOS havingdifferent protocols about using "upper" ASCII alphanumericcharacters. The ASCII convention only specifies values for thefirst 128 (out of 256) characters. The Macintosh uses the remainingupper range of characters to hold diacritical markings, foreigncharacters, typographical (curly) quotes, and other characters notfound on standard typewriters. Unhappily, MS-DOS uses those upper128 characters for a completely different set of symbols.

"The Modify dialog is Tex-Edit's most complex and powerfulfeature," says Tom Bender. "It allows you to globally change(munge) special characters in the text." You can either modify thewhole document, or just a selection of text.

If your downloaded text is filled with "wrong" characters andmisspelled words, use the Strip High ASCII Characters command todelete all characters in the upper ASCII range (128-256). Thisoption will strip many useful typographic characters (ligatures,ellipses, em dashes, curly quotes, etc.) as well as foreignlanguage characters, so you should first convert ("stupefy") anyuseful characters you wish to keep.

If a lot of nonsense characters are still visible, then tryStrip Control Characters.

Other Cleanup

Tex-Edit Plus can also normalize sentence spacing in text typedby persons who haven't unlearned the typewriter habit of followingeach full stop with two spaces. This option changes each instanceof double space characters (following a sentence) into thetypographically preferable single space when using proportionalfonts.

Tex-Edit Plus's Strip Diacritical Marks command removes foreignlanguage punctuation, such as accents, umlauts, cedillas, and thelike, converting to their ordinary (English) equivalents.

The Tex-Edit Story

Tom Bender started programming on an Apple II+ in 1981, creatinggames for his wife and friends. "They were similar to the famous Scott Adamstales," he says, "but with a different subject matter."

"I ran across a book of BASIC computer games put out byCreative Computing," he continues, "which contained a cool,one-page 'Eliza'demo for the Apple II. I implemented a greatly expanded version onmy Apple and then moved it to the IBM PC at work, and finally to my128K Mac.

"The whole Eliza concept suggests a word processor, so I setabout creating a suitable environment in which to converse with mydigital companion. The resulting Eliza had some rather good mungecapabilities, so people started asking me to create a real texteditor." Thus Tex-Edit was born.

Since then, Tom's objective has been to add to Tex-Edit'scapabilities without slowing it down or bloating it up. He has beenreasonably successful in that quest.

Tom says that a large portion of Tex-Edit Plus' feature set isuser-inspired. "The quality of suggestions and feedback that I getfrom 'ordinary users' is amazing. This kind of thing may not showup on market share reports, but I'll take quality over quantityany time.

About Tex-Edit

Tex-Edit documents normally consist of two portions ("forks").The data portion of the file is plain, unadorned ASCII text and canbe opened easily by any word processor. The character styles andparagraph formatting are stored in a separate resource fork that isignored by other word processors.

To save a document so that character styles are recognized byother word processors, first finish editing the document. Thenchoose "File -> Save As... -> File Type: RTF". RTF is astandard styled text format that can be read by nearly all wordprocessors, including Tex-Edit.

Tex-Edit Plus General Features

Tex-Edit Plus offers many useful and powerful capabilities:

  • Create, edit, view and print any text (ASCII or Unicode)document.
  • Create, edit, view and print RTF documents.
  • Create, view and print SimpleText read-only documents.
  • Powerful search and replace (grep) facilities.
  • View, copy and print PICT documents.
  • Play QuickTime and QuickTime VR movies.
  • Clean up e-mail to and from non-Mac systems.
  • Easily decode or insert any ASCII character.
  • Unlimited file size.
  • Apple Event support with full scriptability.
  • Recordable.
  • Word Services support.
  • Document handling of embedded sounds, movies, andpictures.
  • Individual paragraph formatting.
  • Line spacing, justification, paragraph spacing, indents,etc.
  • Underline paragraphs.
  • Super/subscript support.
  • Block quoting support.
  • Full support for styled text.
  • Unlimited undo and redo, even for global operations.
  • Multiple document support.
  • Selectable soft word wrapping.
  • Extensive Speech Manager support.
  • Support for Drag and Drop.
  • Support for Text Services Manager and inline input.
  • Adjustable tab spacing.
  • Smart quotes.
  • Stationery aware.
  • Simple hypertext document support.
  • Extended keyboard support.

With Tex-Edit Plus you can:

  • Quickly create, edit and print styled text documents of anysize (limited by RAM).
  • Use powerful regular expression search and replacefunctions.
  • View and print TeachText or SimpleText read-only ("ReadMe")documents.
  • Play QuickTime movies:
  • Insert attention-getting sound annotations to spice up ordinaryinteroffice mail
  • Easily create TeachText/SimpleText read-only documents,including embedded pictures.
  • Read and create RTF files.
  • Read and create UTF-16 (Unicode) text files.
  • View and print color PICT files, such as those produced by drawprograms or Apple's built-in screen snapshot utility.
  • Copy a selection from a PICT file, cropping the image for usein the company newsletter.
  • View, edit and print text documents created by virtually anyword processor or computer.
  • Reformat downloaded e-mail or text, correcting word-wrapproblems and removing extraneous, non-Mac characters.
  • Prepare text for upload to the Internet, so that people withWintel or Unix systems can view the document as it was intended tobe viewed.
  • Instantly quote a brief passage from received e-mail, allowingthe sender to remember their original message.
  • Read any text document aloud. (Listen to a SimpleText read-onlyfile, for example, as the text and pictures scroll by!)
  • Quickly optimize a document for printing, replacing generic,typewriter-era characters with professional-looking typographicallycorrect text.
  • Create simple hypertext documents.

Tex-Edit Plus is $15 shareware, and you can download it and tryit out for free to see if it does what you need it to do.

System requirements:

  • Tex-Edit Plus X: Mac OS X 10.1 or higher
  • Tex-Edit Plus: Mac System 7.1 or higher

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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