The old guard of Mac indy apps has thrived for more than 25 years

It seems like it was only yesterday that I first used BareBones Software’s BBEdit, but in actuality, yesterday is so far away—25 years, in fact. With all the twists and turns across more than two decades of Apple as a company, Mac hardware, and the underlying operating system, you might think that BBEdit stands alone as a continuously-developed app shepherded largely or exclusively by the same independent developer—an app without a giant company behind it. As it turns out, BBEdit is one of several apps that’s been around the block more than a few times.

The longevity of indie apps is more extraordinary when you consider the changes Apple put the Mac through from the early 1990s to 2018. Apple switched from Motorola 680×0 processors to PowerPC to Intel chips, from 32-bit to 64-bit code, and among supported coding languages. It revved System 7 to 8 to 9, then to Unix across now 15 major releases (from 10.0 to 10.14). That’s a lot for any individual programmer or small company to cope with.

Bare Bones’s head honcho, Rich Siegel, and the developers behind three other long-running Mac software programs shared with me their insight on development histories for over 25 years, what’s changed the most during that time, and any hidden treasures users haven’t yet found.

BBEdit: More than a text editor

BBEdit emerged first as something more like a demo of a text editor in 1989, then developed into a feature-complete but free app in 1992. Bare Bones released it as a fully-supported commercial program with version 2.5 on May 11, 1993, and it’s from that date they count its anniversary, despite its bragging rights for a longer vintage. Founder Rich Siegel continues to drive development today from Rhode Island.

bbedit12 mac iconBare Bones Software

“We’ve extensively rewritten, upgraded, and optimized [BBEdit’s] internal architecture,” said Siegel. But the program continues to scratch the same itch it did at its start. “Even though it has evolved a great deal, BBEdit has stayed very close to its fundamental mission: empowering its users to accomplish tasks which would challenge or defeat other tools.”

BBEdit has added many features over the years, including clever and highly configurable auto-completion, website management, and multi-file search. While it began life as a coding tool, it now offers a minimalist environment with powerful search-and-replace and text-shuffling tools that appeals to programmers, writers (I spent hours in it daily), HTML coders, and people who have to massage text from one shape into another.

Siegel said one of the most unusual features BBEdit incorporated was built-in FTP and SFTP editing. Before it was integrated, BBEdit could work with file-transfer software like Fetch (see below) in a kind of round-trip arrangement. Siegel said a customer created a plug-in, and Bare Bones adopted his code and incorporated it.

But Siegel said what he would never have imagined adding is a “lorem ipsum” generator, which appeared in the recent 12.5 release. This generates placeholder text, and the option dates back decades in page-layout software. “There’s been a remarkable level of interest in that feature,” he said.