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 may recall that I've long been a big fan of Tom Bender's Tex-Edit Plus styled text editor application, which, along with email clients and Web browsers, is one 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 data archiving. It doesn't handle PDF or Word-formatted documents (although it reads and writes RTF documents nicely and displays the text of Word documents in a pinch), so I use other applications to handle 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, word processing was the "killer app". I started out with Microsoft Word 4, upgrading in 1993 to Word 5.1.

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

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

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

After Word

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Tex-Edit

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

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

Tex-Edit Plus is small, fast, easy-to-use, requires little memory, and has a clean, uncluttered interface - not that there is any shortage of other good text editors. Apple bundles a very decent one with OS X: TextEdit, and BareBones Software makes a couple of superb ones - the powerful BBEdit much beloved of serious Web authors, and TextWrangler, which is also amazingly powerful and capable for a freeware application. There are many others.

The Sweet Spot

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

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

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

Classic and OS X Versions

Another point that may be of particular interest to readers of Low End Mac is that classic Tex-Edit Plus, which is still available, is transparently compatible with Tex-Edit Plus X. I still use both, often in tandem, with one old one running natively and the other in Classic Mode. Particularly on my older machines like my Pismo and G3 iBook, I find that TE+ running in Classic Mode is much more lively and responsive than the OS X version.

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

The Classic version of TE+ is one of the greatest Mac applications of all time, and the OS X version is even better, retaining all the goodness of its predecessor and adding some cool new stuff like the ability to support the built in OS X spell check (the lack of spell checking being perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the Classic application). There is also a new floating tool palette that can be displayed or hidden with a keystroke. Files created with either the OS X or the Classic versions of are fully forward and backward compatible. (TE+ is so far only PowerPC native, but it's so fast that performance under Rosetta will be more than acceptable on Intel-based Macs).

Scripting Tex-Edit

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

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

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

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

You can also configure various modifier keys in your keyboard shortcuts. For example, with the script Mac -> HTML_F6, press the F6 key, and a copy of your document gets converted to HTML while you watch. I have several frequently used scripts, such as HTML markup functions and things like capitalization/toggling consigned F-Key shortcuts, which I find speeds things up immensely.

And of course, AppleScript can be employed to do many more things in Tex-Edit Plus than HTML markup. Almost any repetitive task you do can probably be AppleScripted. Style sheets are a good example.

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

Working with Non-Mac Files

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

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

The Mac considers each DOS-formatted line to be a separate paragraph

Tex-Edit Plus allows you to strip the DOS CRs and LFs out of these documents by using the Strip CR/LF command to convert downloaded text to Mac-formatted word wrapping text. If this doesn't produce the desired results, you can undo the modification and try it again with Strip leading spaces checked (above). (DOS -> Mac) or LFs -> CRs (Unix -> Mac) commands to remove useless characters from the document. You can also use Tex-Edit Plus to insert these "useless" characters into Mac-created documents that are to be uploaded to a DOS-Windows computer or Unix server 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. This command converts all carriage returns into linefeeds.

High ASCII Issues

Mac users often notice strange character symbols and misspelled words in downloaded text, due to the Mac and MS-DOS having different protocols about using "upper" ASCII alphanumeric characters. The ASCII convention only specifies values for the first 128 (out of 256) characters. The Macintosh uses the remaining upper range of characters to hold diacritical markings, foreign characters, typographical (curly) quotes, and other characters not found on standard typewriters. Unhappily, MS-DOS uses those upper 128 characters for a completely different set of symbols.

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

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

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

Other Cleanup

Tex-Edit Plus can also normalize sentence spacing in text typed by persons who haven't unlearned the typewriter habit of following each full stop with two spaces. This option changes each instance of double space characters (following a sentence) into the typographically preferable single space when using proportional fonts.

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

The Tex-Edit Story

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

"I ran across a book of BASIC computer games put out by Creative Computing," he continues, "which contained a cool, one-page 'Eliza' demo for the Apple II. I implemented a greatly expanded version on my Apple and then moved it to the IBM PC at work, and finally to my 128K Mac.

"The whole Eliza concept suggests a word processor, so I set about creating a suitable environment in which to converse with my digital companion. The resulting Eliza had some rather good munge capabilities, so people started asking me to create a real text editor." Thus Tex-Edit was born.

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

Tom says that a large portion of Tex-Edit Plus' feature set is user-inspired. "The quality of suggestions and feedback that I get from 'ordinary users' is amazing. This kind of thing may not show up on market share reports, but I'll take quality over quantity any 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 can be opened easily by any word processor. The character styles and paragraph formatting are stored in a separate resource fork that is ignored by other word processors.

To save a document so that character styles are recognized by other word processors, first finish editing the document. Then choose "File -> Save As... -> File Type: RTF". RTF is a standard styled text format that can be read by nearly all word processors, 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, and pictures.
  • 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 any size (limited by RAM).
  • Use powerful regular expression search and replace functions.
  • View and print TeachText or SimpleText read-only ("ReadMe") documents.
  • Play QuickTime movies:
  • Insert attention-getting sound annotations to spice up ordinary interoffice 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 draw programs or Apple's built-in screen snapshot utility.
  • Copy a selection from a PICT file, cropping the image for use in the company newsletter.
  • View, edit and print text documents created by virtually any word processor or computer.
  • Reformat downloaded e-mail or text, correcting word-wrap problems and removing extraneous, non-Mac characters.
  • Prepare text for upload to the Internet, so that people with Wintel or Unix systems can view the document as it was intended to be viewed.
  • Instantly quote a brief passage from received e-mail, allowing the sender to remember their original message.
  • Read any text document aloud. (Listen to a SimpleText read-only file, for example, as the text and pictures scroll by!)
  • Quickly optimize a document for printing, replacing generic, typewriter-era characters with professional-looking typographically correct text.
  • Create simple hypertext documents.

Tex-Edit Plus is $15 shareware, and you can download it and try it 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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