Over the Christmas holidays, among the guests we entertained were a young couple, both Mac people, one of whom I had counselled about the purchase of a Mac back in the summer. She is delighted with her new MacBook, and I asked what she was using for software. Pretty much just the applications with which it came bundled, it turned out. Word processor? TextEdit.
That got me wondering what proportion of Mac users, especially new ones, do likewise, and also made me recall a tale I heard back in the day about someone who had actually published a community newsletter using TextEdit’s ancient ancestor—TeachText—which was extremely basic.
These days, TextEdit is actually an amazingly powerful and capable mini word processor, and there’s no question that one could easily desktop publish a quite professional-looking newsletter with it, although it wouldn’t be my first recommendation for that purpose. TextEdit now supports some pretty advanced near page-layout functions, such as text kerning, ligatures, baseline adjustments, and style copying and pasting. If you aren’t familiar with those terms, you will more than likely never miss the capabilities they refer to, but if you have use for them, they are there, and you don’t have to pay a cent extra to get them.
Today’s TextEdit also supports creation and application of style sheets, tables, the insertion of TIFF, PICT, JPEG, and GIF graphics into document pages, and conversion of documents to HTML format, although there’s not much in the way of HTML markup tools.
TextEdit also can also save documents in Word format (both .DOC and .DOCX), and Word users opening the saved document will see some text edit formatting, such as tables, bullets, and numbering, although not TextEdit’s stylesheets. Other document save options include .TXT, .RTF, .HTML, and .OTD (Open Text Document). You can specify either RTF or plain text as the default file format in the Preferences. And, of course, you can create instant PDF documents from TextEdit using either the Save as PDF command in the File Menu, or OS X’s handy Print to PDF capability. You have to pay extra for that on a Windows machine.
Spelling and grammar-checking are both supported thanks to TextEdit’s integration with OS X’s powerful built-in editing and proofing engine, and you can call up OS X’s built-in dictionary and thesaurus by pressing Command + Control + D for any word moused over without even having to highlight the word.
Lists and tables? No problem with the Lists dropdown menu in the toolbar or the Lists tool palette from the Format -> Text menu, and the Tables tool palette.
TextEdit also now supports autocomplete. Just begin typing a word, then press Esc. A dropdown list will appear displaying all words in the OS X dictionary beginning with the letters you’ve typed.
With all these features, it’s a conundrum as to why Apple opted not to include a word count function in TextEdit. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, an excellent free alternative to TextEdit is the Open Source lightweight word processor Bean, which is fully Cocoa, and includes word count on an in-depth statistics panel. Bean is elegant, fast and more powerful than one would expect in a free word processor, but that’s a topic for another day.