A Quick Look at Panic’s Nova

I recently became aware that Nova (Panic’s next gen replacement for Coda) has been out since September, and decided to give it a quick spin.

Now, I’m currently working on an internal IDE that runs in Chrome so this is of special interest to me. In particular, I was wondering if Panic had come up with new magic sauce to advance the “state of the art” in lightweight platform-native IDEs, the way they did when they first shipped Coda.

I remember my first complaint about Coda was that its CSS editing tools were not up-to-par with CSSEdit, which Cabel (who has been known to reply to questions and suggestions directly) said was something they’d hoped to license, but ended up having to do themselves. (Turns out the CSSEdit people were working on Espresso, an ambitious and interesting but perpetually not-quite-there yet Coda rival.) Anyway, Coda’s CSS tools eventually got decent, but never caught up with CSSEdit.

Luckily, I became so ridiculously fluent in CSS (which I’d rate as the second-hardest language to learn that I’ve learned, after regular expressions) that I’ve not really needed anything beyond a basic text editor in years. (At the time, I regarded CSS with confusion and disdain and hoped to learn as little about it as possible.)

Anyway, some quick observations:

  1. It’s beautiful. Yay.
  2. It seems very much like a native vscode. Yay.
  3. It’s not interoperable with vscode extensions (and that’s likely very hard to do) and I haven’t looked into how hard it would be to “port” an extension from vscode. Boo.
  4. It doesn’t appear to leverage existing quasi-standards, the way Sublime leveraged TextMate stuff, and vscode leverages… stuff. Boo.
  5. It doesn’t handle terminals as gracefully as vscode. vscode’s terminal by default appears as needed, at the bottom of the main window, and tucks itself into a tiny space with a click. Boo.
  6. Running node package scripts is clunky (it requires a third-party extension that isn’t nearly as nice as what vscode has gotten me used to; of course vscode recently removed it). I don’t want Panic to over-focus on node users, because Coda’s over-focus on PHP users is one reason I stopped using it. Still, boo.
  7. Nova supports themes. Not a surprise. I couldn’t quickly find documentation on how to create a new theme, but I imagine it won’t be terribly difficult and it will be feasible to convert themes from other popular things to Nova. Meh.
  8. Nova lets you theme its overall UI, code editors, and terminals separately! This is awesome, since it allows you to easily differentiate panes at a glance, rather than everything looking pretty much identical. Yay.
  9. I was disappointed, when trying to open a Remote Project, that it does not automatically (or with a click) imports server settings from Transmit, of which I have been a user since 1.0). I had just made a quick fix to one of my demos using Transmit, which let me open (i.e. log into) the server, open the file (on the server) directly with BBEdit, make the fix, hit save the way I would for a desktop file, and reload the site to check the fix worked — that’s the workflow it needs to at least match. Boo.

Nova renders color swatches on the line-count column as opposed to the way vscode does it (inline in the text, somewhat disconcertingly). In both cases you can click to get a color-picker, but Nova’s is much nicer (it has spaces for you to keep common colors, for example, but seriously — use css variables!).

This is nice, but I don’t see any assistance for things like setting fonts, or borders. Although I have a license for Espresso somewhere or other, I’m not going to reinstall it just to take a screenshot, but here’s a capture from their website (yes, it lives!):

The user’s cursor is in a rule, and in addition to the text, the values are exposed as the UI shown above. This is basically a tiny part of what CSSEdit was doing, over ten years ago — my receipt for CSSEdit 2.5 is dated 2007. CSSEdit also allowed you to open a web page, edit its underlying styles live, and then save those changes directly to the sources, kind of like a better and automatic round-trip version of the workflow many of us use in Chrome/Safari/Firefox using the Elements panel.

The first extension I tried to use was from standardjs, which I love. I didn’t notice this until later:

This is not good. It reminds me of Lotus Notes telling me it needs me to do five specific things to do what I obviously want to do. Automatically loading dependencies is kind of a solved problem, and a stupid hassle to do yourself, these days… Boo.

It’s hard to compete with a free tool that’s backed by Microsoft. And vscode has become a lot of people’s, especially web-developers’, preferred editor. It’s easy to see why. Because any web developer must pretty much know all the tech that underlies vscode, it has a particularly rich extension library.

Jetbrains suite of java-based tools has also earned a huge following. (Sublime Text—once seemingly everyone’s favorite editor—hasn’t received an update since 2019. The team seems to have switched their focus to Sublime Merge.)

Overall, my initial reaction to Nova is slightly more negative than positive. I’m sorry to say this but I’m unconvinced.

Chocolat

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 4.46.16 PM
Chocolat is an ambitious programmer’s text editor, but it falls short (at least right now) in lots of little ways. E.g. integrating web-based documentation is a nice touch, but what about jQuery?

I discovered Chocolat by accident a month or so back. I can’t exactly remember how I learned about it — I saw a reference to it when reading the documentation of another product I use (I think it might have been Ulysses III) and so I gave it a spin. There was — and remains — a terrible problem with the way Chocolat identifies symbols in Javascript files, and I got into a bit of an argument with one of the developers on github over it, and set it aside. The thing is, Chocolat is an opinionated piece of software, and the downside of that is that one might not like all the opinions. E.g. in their FAQ is the question “will you add a minimap?” the answer to which is “Never!” That said, I like most of Chocolat’s opinions.

Well, there’s a new MacHeist “nano” bundle out and it’s particularly interesting for developers since it includes Hype (the would-be HTML5-based Flash replacement), Chocolat (a new programmer’s text editor which has a lot of potential), and — if some unknown number of people buy the bundle — PaintCode. I should mention that I bought the bundle for PaintCode and then realized it wasn’t actually included. Grrr. Oh well, Chocolat for $20 is actually a pretty good deal.

Here’s what differentiates Chocolat from my two favorite text editors (BBEdit and Sublime) right now:

Chocolat's symbol map is great when it works.
Chocolat’s symbol map is great when it works.

Chocolat tries to show a "symbol map" of your source file, but can't cope with code modules wrapped in anonymous functions (which unfortunately means most well-written Javascript library code). Note the empty rectangle where symbols should be.
Sadly, Chocolat can’t cope with code modules wrapped in anonymous functions (which unfortunately means most well-written Javascript library code). Apparently there are no functions in this source file.

  • Chocolat displays a symbol map (i.e. a list of object and function definitions you can use for quickly navigating source files) — the map is nice, but functionally it’s inferior to BBEdit (which can find symbols declared inside anonymous functions). Espresso remains the best in this respect, since it not only finds all the symbols you could ask for, it displays a nice symbol map too.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 5.03.38 PM

  • Rather than giving you the choice of viewing two files side-by-side or one file, Chocolat lets you look at as many files as you care to side-by-side simply by selecting them.
  • Chocolat attempts to autocomplete Javascript (and does a pretty good job of it, including inferring the expected types for function parameters, and allowing you to tab around auto-inserted method calls TextMate-style). The only downside is that only works on currently open files. I imagine it’s even better with Obj-C (but haven’t tried).

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 5.07.14 PM

  • Chocolat attempts to integrate Safari (complete with debugging tools) by displaying it side-by-side with your code. This works pretty well.
  • Chocolat attempts to provide integrated documentation (e.g. select queryGetSelectorAll in a Javascript file and hit Command-Shift-J and it will look it up on MDN and show the documentation side-by-side with your code.
  • Chocolat does not attempt to integrate source control (git, hg, svn, p4, etc.) — I actually like this because I don’t want my text editor to do source control.

 

8 errors. Thanks.
8 errors. Um, ok. Thanks, I guess.

 

  • Chocolat is scriptable via Node.js. (Sublime is scriptable via Python, which is awesome too, but doesn’t happen to be the language I code in every day.) So far the available “mixins” seem pretty primitive (e.g. the jshint mixin tells me that there are “12 errors” in a file, but gives me no clue where or what they are).

For a while I thought Chocolat was a bit sluggish, so I started checking for signs of bloat. I did a quick comparison and BBEdit is actually the leanest of the three editors at 26MB on disk; Sublime 2 is 27MB, Sublime 3 is 28MB, and Chocolat is 34MB. Espresso, incidentally, is 18MB. But it turns out that the problem is I was using a “slow monitor” (i.e. my third monitor which is hooked up using one of those USB dongles). After comparing Chocolat, BBEdit, and Sublime on this display I concluded that BBEdit is even more awesome than I realized (because it appears to do minimal screen updates when scrolling), Chocolat is not bad at all, and Sublime is actually the worst. Again — avoid using USB-powered displays for editing text and you won’t care.

So here’s how it looks right now: Chocolat has the potential to become my favorite text editor since it’s heavily based on Javascript which means anything it doesn’t do well right now I can probably fix if I care to. BBEdit is the most polished, but the hardest to customize. Sublime remains — of course — the coolest, although given that Chocolat has support for both side-by-side editing, supports TextMate themes and snippets, and has “vim mode” it might take that crown, at least on Mac OS X.

But, Chocolat’s multi-file search is far inferior to BBEdit’s (it’s about on par with Sublime’s), its Regex support is also signficantly inferior to BBEdit’s, and it has no diff support (whereas BBEdit is my preferred tool for resolving differences between source files) — although I’m perfectly happy to use BBEdit as a dedicated diff front end, and do my text editing elsewhere.

Chocolat ★★★★ is $49 normally, currently available as part of Macheist Nanobundle 4 ($20).

I may review some of the other apps in the bundle later. In particular I have strong — mostly negative — opinions of Hype and Intensity Pro.