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Espresso

by Rob Friesel

Espresso banner iconWhile banging through the home-stretch of Ortho 1.0, I decided to give MacRabbit’s Espresso editor a try. I’m “between” editors right now — feeling no special love or loyalty to any one text editor — and noting Espresso’s public beta, I decided it was worthy of some exploration.

THE SHORT VERSION: I liked it alright but there was nothing about it that blew me away.

First, the stuff that I did like:

  1. The “lite” style previews that appear in the right-hand sidebar while editing CSS files.  That’s a nice touch.  (But what do you expect from the makers of CSSEdit?)
  2. The default editor font (Espresso Mono) was actually pretty easy to read and by the time I got around to writing this, I realized that I never once considered switching it to Consolas (my fixed-width favorite of ’08 and ’09-to-date).
  3. From the sidebar:  single-click to view, double-click to add it to the workspace.
  4. The cold-folding interface was cool.  I wound up not using it1 that much, but I liked it.
  5. MacRabbit’s clever little beta software graphic.

Stuff that took some getting used to:

  1. The layout.  It took me a while to get oriented.  Especially since the toolbar just seemed so… sparse.
  2. Dirty document indication.  My first reaction is to look for the darkened center of the main window’s red “close” jewel — and if the active document is dirty then this window jewel is dirty, too.  But if you have a dirty document that is not the active document, but the active document is not dirty, then the window’s close jewel is not dirty.  It took me a while to realize that I should also be looking for blue dots next to the files open in the workspace.  I feel like this needs some work still.
  3. Workspace vs. tabs.  I like tabbed interfaces, so that’s my own bias here.  But it took me a while to get used to the idea that Espresso’s left-hand sidebar was home to all the files in the project and also all the open files in the workspace.  In light of my comments about the dirty file indicators (vide supra), I felt that this made it too easy to forget to save documents.  (Not that Espresso doesn’t prompt you on the way out…)  Anyway:  wasn’t sold on that aspect of the interface.
  4. Codesense and auto-complete seemed…  incomplete?  Example, when editing a CSS file, Espresso felt compelled to suggest all the properties in the world — just start typing (“fo…”) and then hit down a few times and enter and suddenly font-family is there.  But then the actual values for these properties were not suggested, even when there was a finite number of responses.  Not recommending Lucida Grande when I’m entering font-family? Sure. But not suggesting visible vs. hidden vs. collapse for visibility? That’s not OK2

Stuff I didn’t like:

  1. Not enough “baked-in” syntax highlighting options.  Which shouldn’t have been a big deal because of the “sugars” and how easy it’s supposed to be to extend Espresso but…
  2. …I found that it was not in fact very easy to extend Espresso.  Or perhaps more accurately, I invested entirely too much time trying to figure out how to get started writing a sugar or two of my own but it wasn’t clear.  I’m not even saying that I wanted it to be obvious but it just seemed like the documentation was buried and what little I found was poor3.
  3. The currently set syntax highlighting should not be buried in a menu.  That needs to be in the toolbar or in a status bar.  It needs to be immediately accessible.  Especially if your application is not “nesting” syntax highlighting.
  4. Why can’t I preview my project’s images from within Espresso…?
  5. The document mark-up tree in the right-hand sidebar.  At first I thought it was neat.  But eventually it just felt distracting and not terribly useful.

Overall grade?  B- — it’s pretty strong for its beta phase but I didn’t see anything terribly innovative or compelling.  Which was sad because I loved the name and the icon4.

  1. I never use code-folding features as much as I think I will []
  2. Of course, I say that that’s “not OK” mostly because I still think that I can set visibility: none;. []
  3. And don’t give me that crap about going to the forums.  I hate forums.  Forums and user communities are nice in theory but they’re absolutely shitty for documentation unless a developer (or someone in a similar role) is actively to separate the wheat from the chaff and eventually turn the real winning comments etc. into real bona fide official documentation. []
  4. Not to mention Espresso Mono. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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