News & Articles:

A Week with Atom

A text editor is a very personal thing.  Choosing a text editor is not something to be done lightly.  Wars have been fought over less, as anyone who has ended up sitting between vi and emacs users can testify.

Now I’m a bit old school and  have always been a vi (well, vim) person at heart.  It’s old school, but it’s what I’m used to, what I understand, and I know a whole lot of cunning keypress combinations that do some clever stuff.  I still use it from time to time for quick edits.  More recently I became a convert to Sublime Text.  I never thought I could come to terms with a “point and click” editor, but it convinced me.  I liked cool stuff like a built-in spell checker. And it somehow felt a little bit more refined than good old vi.  It is, however, not free (as in beer).

A couple of weeks ago I was pointed to the release of Atom by an article on El Reg –  a text editor that was free (as in freedom) and free (as in beer).  I thought I’d give it a spin.

Installation on my trusty Linux box was a breeze.  (Atom comes as .deb, .rpm or source).  Word is that Atom is also available for Mac and Windows.

Firing up the editor, I was confronted with something that looked very like Sublime Text.  This is clearly the source of inspiration for much of the UI, and a quick experiment revealed that many of the keyboard shortcuts from Sublime worked just fine in Atom, and much of the overall UI was very similar, if not always exactly the same.  No major problem with converting, there, then.  The menus contained all the things that would be expected, and everything looked reasonably intuitive.  There were a few rough edges, but this was the first release after all.

At the time I was working with reStructuredText, and when I opened up my project I immediately missed syntax highlighting (which Sublime does out of the box).  The lead me to Atom’s package manager, and a quick search found me a package to add that did the business.  Even better, I found a package that used Pandoc to give a preview of my reStructuredText in a pane of the editor.  A couple of clicks and that package “just worked”.  I saw the first reason not to go back to Sublime any time soon.

My project is managed with Git, and this is where Atom starts to do some really cool stuff (not surprising as it comes from Github).  When I opened up all my project, I got a handy pane listing all the files, and a single click on any one launched it into the editor.  As I edited, I got change bars at the side of my text – different change bars for altered and new text.  Once I had finished with a file, it was highlighted in the file list to remind me that it needed to be checked up.  When I created a file in the project it immediately appeared in the file pane, highlighted to remind me that it needed to be added to Git.  This all happened out of the box, presumably just by Atom spotting the Git folder in my project.

So, I’m not heading back to Sublime any time soon.  For me, Atom is one of those free (as in beer) bits of software that you can’t actually believe are free (as in beer).

Give it a spin!  You might just like it …

(The video announcing Atom is really very good. And, hey, every editor needs stickers.)

Posted in Technical, Views

Tags: , ,