BBEdit: Needs improved behaviour and better interface for soft wrap

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 6th, 2011 • 10:08 am

On Easter Sunday a couple of weeks ago, I backed up a couple of small MySQL databases that I administer online. I then proceeded to try and open one of the MySQL dumps in my text editor of choice, i.e. BBEdit, because I just wanted to quickly scan its contents to make sure everything was there.

I got a complete application freeze with the Spinning Beach Ball of Death every time I tried to open the file. It wasn’t a huge file (a few hundred kilobytes). The exact same file opened instantly in Mac OS X’s own TextEdit.

I sent an e-mail to BareBones’s tech support and moved on to something else.

To my surprise, Rich Siegel responded to my e-mail the very same day. He said he couldn’t reproduce the problem and asked me to take a sample of the frozen application and send it to him. I did, and he responded by indicating that the problem was likely due to my default settings for soft wrapping.

Sure enough, as soon as I turned soft wrap off altogether in BBEdit’s preferences, the application was able to open my MySQL dump instantly without any problems. Rich also kindly reminded me that “soft wrapping to a character width will always be faster than soft wrapping to the Page Guide or window width, so if you need soft wrapping, that might be worth considering as well.

And it’s true that, if I turned soft wrap back on but changed the setting from “Page Width” to “Character Width” (with the default value of 80 characters), again BBEdit was able to open the dump instantly with lines soft wrapped to 80 characters.

However, as I couldn’t help but point out to Rich, this situation raises a number of questions:

  1. TextEdit does soft wrapping to the document window’s width (not to a fixed character width) by default and it has no problem doing the soft wrapping instantly when I open the same MySQL dump with it. I can understand BBEdit taking a few seconds, maybe, but becoming entirely unresponsive? for several minutes? It doesn’t quite make sense.
  2. If BBEdit really needs some time for computations relating to soft wrapping to the document window’s width, why can’t BBEdit throw a small dialog sheet with progress bar during that time? The unresponsiveness seems to indicate that the application is actually frozen and not busy computing anything. And in fact, it shows up as unresponsive (in red) in Mac OS X’s Activity Monitor, and while the CPU % used by the application fluctuates a bit, it never goes anywhere near 100%, which would seem to indicate that the application is actually frozen and not just “extremely busy to the point that it can no longer communicate its status to the rest of the OS environment.” I’ve also tried leaving the application “running” in this frozen state for a couple of minutes. It still does not come back to its normal state after such a long delay. Is it really too busy computing the soft wrapping, or is it just frozen?
  3. If the soft wrapping to window width feature does not work right and leads to a freeze so easily, why is it even offered as a feature? Maybe most BBEdit users use soft wrapping to a specific character width and never notice the problem, but what’s so wrong about wanting soft wrapping to window width, especially if it’s given as an option?

I am afraid that, until these questions are given a proper answer, this will remain as a bad mark on BBEdit for me. I have now changed my default preference setting to soft wrapping to a character width of 80, because I still need soft wrapping of some sort and I suppose I can live with this setting.

But I also find it rather disappointing that there appears to be no way, in the user interface, to switch from one flavour of soft wrapping (from soft wrapping to character width to soft wrapping to window width, for example) for a specific document, one I know wouldn’t cause any problems because it’s just a few paragraphs of regular text. As far as I can tell, once you choose to soft wrap to character width in BBEdit’s preferences, that’s the only kind of soft wrapping that’s available in the user interface, i.e. with the “Text Options” menu in the document toolbar or in the “Text Display” submenu in the “View” menu.

Like I said, I can live with this, but it still does not make it right. It seems to me that such a mature, feature-rich (and expensive) text editor should be doing a much better job in this particular department.

One Response to “BBEdit: Needs improved behaviour and better interface for soft wrap”

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