by Roman Zolotarev

You can use plain text for everything. Writing technical documentation and prose, keeping notes and making plans. Usually, I type my words into Vim, but today I am composing this page in TextEdit.app.

Why? TextEdit is the best way of introducing plain text to people who just started learning or to those who touches their computer occasionally.

What people use today and why they should not.

Text Processors. Microsoft Word, Pages.app, OpenOffice, and similar apps are suitable for creating printable documents and printing them on paper, but not for text editing. There excellent pieces of software distract you from writing words. You rarely use any of their features, but they slow you down.

Cloud Services. Google Docs, Evernote, Notes.app, etc. Cloud services are beautiful and convenient, but the sad truth is that there is no cloud, it is just someone else’s computer. Do you trust those corporation? You should not. They can accidentally block your account, lose your data, and you rarely can get any support in such emergent cases. What if they shut the service down? Can you transfer your data out. Is data format portable? Can you use that cloud when you are offline? If yes, does it reliably sync your devices? Can you make backups and validate them? How easy is it to restore?

Text Editors. When you are learning to program or just making quick text edits, use TextEdit. As soon as you get serious about programming or writing, of course, you have to use powerful text editors like Vim or Emacs.

Why plain text

This file format is straightforward and portable. You can open and edit your plain text files on any computer or phone. All operating systems support plain text natively and will always support it. You can edit your files with any of text editors, no need to convert, import or export anything. It just works. Everywhere.

Plain text files are small and easy to manage. Plain text tools are very powerful. Text editors are just a tip of an iceberg. With plain text you get super powers of version control, rendering to printable documents and web pages, simpler backup, restore, and encryption.

TextEdit.app is good for beginners

It is fast, simple, beginner-friendly. It supports plain text format. It is pre-installed on every Mac. Learn it once, use for years. You get auto save and versions for free. TextEdit has everything you need and has nothing else.

To start using it for plain text files, you better set these sane defaults.

Note: You can also adjust default font and size by clicking on Change beside Plain text font.

TextEdit.app > Plain text

You can always adjust font size in the current window with ⌘+ and ⌘-.

Optionally go to Preferences > Open and Save. Check When Opening a File to Display HTML files as HTML as code instead of formatted text.

TextEdit.app > HTML as code

Now you can close TextEdit window and open a new one in plain text format.

TextEdit.app is good for quick edits only

You can write some prose in TextEdit, but editing long texts, especially across multiple files, is inefficient. To be honest, I switched to Vim for editing this page as soon as the draft was ready. Plain text is awesome!

Illustration: TextEdit.app