In Praise of Atom (aka Why I Quit Sublime Text)

By September 8, 2015Creative

Text editors are important.  If you do any sort of work with the internet (and chances are you do), you owe it to yourself to learn the basics of the front end languages of the web (HTML, CSS, JavaScript & jQuery).  Although it may be daunting at first, front end web basics are not as difficult as learning the ins and outs of digital marketing. With just a barebones understanding of HTML & CSS you can edit webpages with subtle phrases like this:

Google

 

Think of the possibilities!

Whether you’re working with frontend languages like HTML, CSS, SASS/SCSS, JavaScript/jQuery, etc. or backend languages like Ruby, NodeJS or Python you’ll need a text editor. Text editors are essentially just word processors (like Microsoft Word) that allow you to write plain text files that computers can read.  Chances are you already have a crude text editor on your computer, you could write a whole website in Notepad if you wanted to (believe me, you don’t).

Advanced software developers that dedicate their efforts to specific languages use integrated development environments (IDEs), which include compilers, interpreters and other stuff to create a complete environment to run their software.  Some popular IDEs include RubyMine (for Ruby/Ruby on Rails), WebStorm (for JavaScript & NodeJS), & PHPStorm (for PHP).).  However, IDEs can be an overkill for lightweight coding tasks. You probably won’t need that much power or functionality, and you definitely don’t need the price tag.

There are many options out there for general/lightweight text editors. I think the best of the bunch is Atom. I made the switch a few months ago from Sublime Text and haven’t looked back.

Here’s why I switched to Atom, and why I think you should too.

The Price

First of all, Atom is free & open source. That’s right – the full, whole-enchilada version of Atom is free. What’s that, you say? You thought Sublime Text was free?  Most people use the free “demo” version that gives you an occasional pop-up asking you to purchase the full version. If you really miss it, Atom even has a package that creates a popup message similar to Sublime Text.

Regular Updates & Support

Atom was developed by Github, everyone’s favorite distributed version control site. Having the backing of such a well known and respected company is a wonderful thing and allows Atom to be frequently updated.  There’s usually an update a week, which makes me feel good knowing this is a product that is being continually tweaked and improved.  On the contrary, Sublime Text is updated once or twice a year.

I checked their Twitter account (@AtomEditor) while writing this, here were the last two tweets outlining a new update as well as some awesome new features by the community:

Picture1

Features (Packages)

Atom has a bunch of great built in features, but the real magic comes from packages. Packages are like plugins, and installing them is easy. Open the preferences pane, find a package, click “install”.  That’s it. Packages really extend the power of Atom, and new ones are constantly being added.  

Here are some of my favorites:

Webbox-Color

Webbox-color adds a nice bit of functionality to CSS in Atom.  Any color value (including plain English colors and hex values) gets filled in behind the code in the CSS.  If you’re one of the sad souls who hasn’t memorized the hex color values this is quite handy, allowing you to confirm your color choices in CSS without having to reload the project.

Picture2

Color Picker

Color Picker works wonderfully alongside the webbox-color package. Right-click or hit a hotkey while entering a CSS color value and a color chart pops right up (familiar to any photoshop users out there).  Choose your color and the corresponding hex value gets auto-filled. Handy!

Picture3

Atom-Linter

Atom-Linter makes it super easy to install linters for whatever language libraries you need. Much easier & less confusing that Package Control in Sublime Text. Linters help catch syntax errors as you’re typing, which can help prevent major pull-your-hair-out moments because of something silly like a missing semicolon.  You can lint JavaScript, Ruby, CSS, SCSS, NodeJS, whatever you’re using.  The red line number in the picture below tells me I’m missing a semicolon.

Picture4

 

When a file is saved, you get a green checkmark telling you there are no syntax issues. Winning!

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Themes

Developers can tend to be very, very picky about their development environments. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve spent hours looking through different color themes for text editors, and Atom is no exception. Once I found that I could use my Flatland Dark syntax theme with Atom I made the switch.  It’s easy to try all kinds of wacky theme combinations you want.  

So there you have it. Atom is a free, regularly updated, powerful, customizable text editor with the backing of a tech giant. What’s not to love?  Install Atom and give yourself 30 minutes to get your packages, colors and preferences just right. Once you find that special package that Sublime doesn’t have you’ll be hooked.  Atom is the perfect way to help you jumpstart your knowledge of web technologies.  
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