Adobe Brackets is a pretty good alternative to Sublime Text

Adobe Brackets working on a CSS file. Adobe Photoshop is in the background.

These days, there are many different options for writing HTML source. Depending on your needs, Adobe Brackets might be the best option.

To write HTML, I mostly use Notepad on Windows. It comes free with the Windows operating system, and since I have a legit Windows installation, I have a legit copy of Notepad.

For the time being, I will continue to use Notepad for most of my Web pages. But if I ever decide to move up from Notepad, I’d more likely go with Brackets than Sublime Text.

Sublime is marketed as the text editor you’ll fall in love with. Once I changed the garish color scheme on a black background to something a bit easier on my aging eyes, I did start liking it.

The Sublime trial period can theoretically be anything from a few seconds to a few years. But if you keep using it after a few weeks, I think you need to admit that you’ve fallen in love with it and you should buy it.

Maybe you can’t afford it right now, and I’ve definitely been there. That’s no excuse to keep using the program like you never intend to pay the registration fee. If I ever write a program like that, I will expect the users to pay me.

That’s why I removed Sublime from the computers at this place I was working at, and replaced it with Brackets. I couldn’t imagine the bean counters there shelling out for Sublime licenses. Brackets is free, it only costs you the electricity and Internet connection to download it.

The Sublime registration fee explains only my decision to remove Sublime, not my decision of what to replace it with, since there are free text editors besides Brackets available.

Sublime still doesn’t offer site licenses, nor educational discounts. However, for educational institutions, it is stipulated that

Let’s say, hypothetically, that a class at Wayne State University that is to use Sublime has ten students and will meet in a computer lab with a dozen computers.

If I understand correctly, in the hypothetical scenario the instructor will need to requisition $800 for eight licenses. That doesn’t sound like much, since Wayne State probably spends much more than that on Apple and Microsoft licenses.

But what about smaller schools with smaller budgets? It doesn’t say much about their integrity to have students using programs that remind them at random intervals that the program is not registered.

At a demo day at Grand Circus, a school that doesn’t set a very high moral bar in other regards, I saw one student with an unregistered version of Sublime on his laptop.

And I am aware of Grand Circus grads who’ve been out for a few years already and are still using Sublime unregistered.

After using Sublime for a few weeks last year, I came to a point where I thought I had enough information to make the decision to buy a Sublime license or remove the program.

I decided I like Sublime, but not enough to pay $70 for it (they increased the price at some point since then). I never installed it at home, so it was just a matter of removing it from the computers at the place I was working at.

With Sublime out, it was time to pick a substitute. At home that meant continuing to use Notepad. On the Macs at my work at the time, it was not so easy, since TextEdit is too bound up with the WYSIWYG editing paradigm.

Given that those Macs have legit installations (aside from the occasional license verification glitch) of the more famous Adobe programs (like Photoshop and Illustrator), it seemed only logical they should also have the new Adobe text editor.

Syntax highlighting, that’s to be expected of any text editor, with the obvious exception of editors that come with the operating system. Brackets has that feature, no surprise there.

If I recall correctly, Sublime does not show line numbers by default, but those can be easily activated if you want them. Brackets shows line numbers by default, but this is not a major detail that would convince me one way or the other.

The pop-ups in Brackets, that’s what started to convince me. If you hover on a color declaration, like, say #40ff80, Brackets will pop up a little square showing you precisely that color.

If you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you get a sense of how these hexadecimal numbers correlate to RGB (red, green, blue) colors. But still, the pop-up is a big help.

Seeing the exact color in the pop-up makes it easier to decide if that’s the color I want or if I need to tweak it (as in maybe more red and less blue, or less green and more blue, etc.).

These also work with CSS gradients. The screenshot at the top shows a pop-up for a linear gradient from off-white to a blue shaded with green. It even shows the angle of the gradient.

More helpful still are the pop-ups for images. Whatever your image naming scheme, if you have lots of images it can be hard to remember which is which.

Notepad won’t tell you that an image URL is wrong; it won’t be until you preview the page that you will see the red X, or the wrong image in the wrong spot.

Brackets is also very helpful with URLs, both for images and for other pages. If you know the path, Brackets will complete it for you as you go along.

Adobe Brackets working on a page of the Artists of Michigan website

It was just yesterday that I decided to download and install Brackets on my home computer. I can always go back to Notepad.

This is what finally convinced me: as I work on the website ArtistsofMichigan.org, I often need to open multiple pages on Notepad. Sometimes I make a mistake and open the same page twice.

Then, if I make changes in both Notepad windows… let’s just say it’s confusing.

With Brackets, you can “open” a folder. You get a directory listing on the left side of the window, and then it’s a lot easier to keep track of which files you have open and which of those files have unsaved changes.

I read somewhere that since Brackets is built on Web technologies, it is slow. But for what I’m using it for, I have not noticed any slowness.

Consider also that my computer at home is an old Gateway computer with Windows 8.2 (it originally came with Windows 8). The blue shirts at Best Buy tried to dissuade me from buying it.

Running JUnit tests from NetBeans on my home computer is somewhat slow compared to other computers I’ve run those on. Like a test suite that runs in 30 seconds on a newer computer might take a full minute on mine.

But Brackets runs just fine. The pop-ups are prompt and URL auto-completion is very fast, faster than my thought process, in many cases.

So maybe I will stick with Brackets for writing HTML and XHTML, and CSS and JavaScript. And it looks like Brackets also has support for HTML and CSS pre-processors.

As for actual computer programming, like with Java or Objective-C, I’d much rather use the text editor of the relevant IDE, like NetBeans, XCode or Microsoft Visual Studio (which is available for Mac OS X now, by the way).

You might have heard of Scala, a computer programming language for the Java Virtual Machine. Looks like IntelliJ is the primary IDE for Scala. And then I was surprised to see Sublime and Atom listed as IDEs for Scala.

So theoretically I might be able to use Brackets to write Scala source code. Nah, I’m going to see if I can jump through the hoops to get Scala in my NetBeans installation.

UPDATE, March 28, 2018: Now that I’ve been using Brackets for actual HTML source editing for a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that it can be slow at start-up.

Sometimes it’ll be unresponsive after seeming to start up, and I have to use Task Manager to close it. But then I open it again and it works just fine.

So if I just need to make one quick change to one file, I use Notepad. But if I need to make changes synchronized across several files, it is still worthwhile to open Brackets and suffer the occasional hiccup.

The auto-complete still throws me off sometimes, but it isn’t as annoying as the auto-complete in Sublime. Though I do wish auto-complete is extended to HTML element classes.

I have yet to use Brackets for JavaScript, so I won’t comment on that yet. My expectation is that it is no better and no worse than Sublime when it comes to JavaScript.

To sum up: Adobe Brackets is an excellent editor for HTML and CSS.

is a composer and photographer from Detroit, Michigan. He has been working on a Java program to display certain mathematical diagrams.

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