Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Era of Visual Studio Code

Roben Kleene:

Text editors, on the other hand, are a software category where the most popular options are not the oldest. According to the Stack Overflow Annual Developer Survey, Sublime Text was the most popular text editor available on the Mac from 2015–2017. Sublime Text was released in 2008, a sprightly youth compared to Excel and Illustrator. Text editors have been a category with a lot of movement: In the last 20 years, TextMate, Sublime Text, and Atom have all been the text editor with the most momentum. For big complicated desktop software, has any other category ever had so much movement?

I believe the era of new text editors emerging and quickly becoming popular has now ended with Visual Studio Code. VS Code has reached unprecedented levels of popularity and refinement, laying a foundation that could mean decades of market dominance.


With VS Code, the extension-based text editor has seemingly reached its final form. Ever since TextMate, extensions have increased in prominence and capabilities, and with VS Code, that progression appears to have culminated. There just isn’t anywhere else to go. Correspondingly, there isn’t a way a new text editor can leapfrog VS Code the same way previous text editors have been leapfrogging each other by improving extensions.

VS Code certainly has lots of features and extensions, but I remain quite happy with BBEdit and its Mac interface.


11 Comments RSS · Twitter

Interesting contention there, as I'd never heard of VS Code before this post, and now I have eye cancer from the screenshot. I bought a TextMate license many years ago, and have been happy with it. IIRC I went with TextMate over BBEdit because of the keybinding integration with the Cocoa text system, and the LaTeX bundle that it shipped with was very capable, but BBEdit is an excellent editor.

BBEdit's my go to text editor on Mac. That said, I work with Azure extensively these days, and VS Code plays very, very well with Azure & Powershell.

VS Code is a low-end disruptor for the IDE market. Its value is not in basic text editing—at which it’s decent—but all the IDE features that are tacked on, such as rich autocompletion, popup documentation, Git integration, linting, and so on. And these require minimal configuration, unlike Sublime Text, which required painful editing of configuration files. (And they are possible, unlike with BBEdit or TextMate.)

Over time it now does just about anything you’d want your IDE to do.

> With VS Code, the extension-based text editor has seemingly reached its final form.

I sure hope not.

As Nate says, it has extensive support for everything you need in an IDE. I do some node.js and React these days, and unfortunately, have not found anything better for now. Because it's otherwise a terrible text editor IMO. Things do not work like like other Mac apps and it's still driving me crazy: file opening and tabs, search, moving around in the text, keyboard shortcuts, etc. cmd-P is for quickly opening a file (typing its name), AHHHHHH. Maybe it's highly configurable, and the behavior could be adjusted somehow, but then, why not make it behave like a Mac app when one uses a Mac.

When I switch to TextMate for pretty much everything else is such a relief. And Xcode so nice as well :)

I still use Sublime Text at work because it has one of the best SystemVerilog extensions in the market, but I use VS Code for basically everything else. Once the VS Code SV extensions mature a bit more and are comparable to ST, I will make the switch completely.

This is a weird analysis. Why is he comparing popularity of free and non free software. Of course BBEdit doesn’t have super high share, it’s always been on the expensive end. Plus Mac only. The fact that a significant number of people keep paying for it (including me) indicates a good chance of long term support, I would think.

Like some other commentators here, I put a lot of value in native apps, I.e “not electron”. VS Code is just not “Mac like” enough for me, and I suspect never will be.

Also, why pick just one? I use Xcode, BBEdit, Coda and Ulysses. Bought Coda but haven’t been working on a web project yet. I have VS Code on my system but it was just too non native.

One final point - is Excel an app we want to hold up as a paragon, especially with this weeks news? And I was under the impression that Affinity was picking up on ground on Adobe.

I use BBEdit when I need something to launch really, really quickly or open a document with a guarantee that it won't crash (like something really big, or where the syntax parsing is likely to kill other editors for whatever reason). It's also a nice scratch pad, because it preserves unsaved documents between launches. I would never do serious editing work in it, though. There are too many useful feature in other editors.

I suspect VSCode is doing so well due to its extensible architecture, actual cross-platform support (runs the same on macOS, Windows, and Linux), and because it's being backed by Microsoft and thus has a huge benefit over smaller apps in that it can explore weird edge case features (like: you can launch a Docker container and edit directly inside it through an extension; that means, for instance, that I can install a Python linter, module for refactoring, etc. and not have it pollute my main system. And it will work identically across every single OS. Good luck doing that anywhere else, especially in a free editor).

That said, I doubt that the battle for text editors is over. VSCode is a great general editor, but it's awful at specific tasks and if you only ever work in one OS then yeah, it's not a great UX experience. There are definitely things that it doesn't do well, but it's pretty efficiently toeing the line with full-featured, costly IDEs thanks to its extension ecosystem, and that's really hard to fight.

My impression is that BBEdit was the editor of choice for large files, but recently I had to open a text file that was about a gigabyte in size. BBEdit errored out ("insufficient memory"), but VSCode opened it fine (albeit with word wrapping and syntax highlighting disabled). VSCode used about 1.4GB of RAM to open and move around the file.

@remmah That’s interesting. BBEdit has worked great with huge text files for me. I didn’t realize that VSCode could handle them—thought I’d read the opposite.

I am still on the 32-bit BBEdit 12, so that may have something to do with it. There was more than enough free RAM on my old MacBook though.

As for VSCode, it may have a bit of an edge over Atom and other Electron-based editors because the actual text editing engine predated Electron. That said, my text manipulation requirements are pretty basic, so I'm not sure how it performs on a large file when one needs to do something more advanced to the text aside from browse and edit a few lines.

My choice is Codelobster editor -

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