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Review of Two Editors: Sublime Text 2 and SlickEdit

While IDEs are the predominant tools for coding and debugging in Java and .NET languages, many developers in other languages don't like the heaviness of a full IDE and prefer to work in an editor. Editors today are far more feature laden than their forebears, but still retain the familiar agility and quick response of earlier products. They exist in the space below IDEs and above simple text editors. Many of the leading products in this market segment are open source: notably, emacs and JEdit at the high-end, and vim and Notepad++ in the sleeker end of the range. There are, of course, many other products to choose from.

In this review, I examine two paid alternatives. They're part of a small group of products that compete successfully with open-source offerings, generally based on unique features that appeal enough to their core audiences to warrant payment. One product, SlickEdit, has been around since the early 1990s; the other, Sublime Text 2, is a more-recent arrival that, of late, has been riding a wave of popularity.


The first thing that strikes you with any editor is the visual presentation. In this regard, Sublime Text takes a more minimalist approach than SlickEdit. In the main editing mode, only the side pane listing the file system, the file menu, and tabbed windows for editing files is in view. If that's too cluttered, distraction-free mode gets rid of the UI entirely, showing only the file you're editing.

SlickEdit, on the other hand, is full of toolbars and tool windows that can be opened and closed. The toolbars can be docked on any side of the screen or undocked and left floating. Tool windows can also be undocked and left floating. The UI is very customizable — almost to a fault.

Figure 1: The SlickEdit development environment.

Sublime has visual features that seem to go against the minimalist approach: The right side of the editing window contains a preview of the file you're editing with tiny text. The intent, I believe, of this preview (called a "minimap") is to show the overall shape of the file and provide an idea of where you are in the file. My experience is that it's really cool eye candy, but has little functional benefit. However, this effect is far enough out of the way to not be distracting and cool enough to leave on.

Figure 2: The Sublime Text screen. Note the minimap of the file along the right edge. The lightly highlighted box roughly a quarter of the way down from the top of the minimap indicates the location of the code in the main portion of the editing pane.

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