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May 11, 2009


Coda & Espresso





Mac Dev Tools Worth Having

For a lot of people, the Mac is seen as the PC for a “creative person”. Very “artsy.” Now, I’ve spent years (decades) developing code on Sun workstations, DEC equipment, and PC’s – the Mac, and the tools that are available on it beat all that stuff by a wide margin.

For starters, Mac OS X is itself a Linux environment. So no more shoe-horning a WAMP environment onto a PC. It’s not needed (although I do use MAMP for the Mac because Apple chose not to install some of the standard PHP extensions as standard, but for most developers this may not be needed).

But what IDE does one run? Sure, you can install the ever-present Eclipse platform. Which is capable of pretty much anything and everything if you locate/install/configure/incant the right stuff. For me, Eclipse was just too much work to get running, too slow, and too idiosynchratic to use on a daily basis.

Thus enters Coda, by Panic. Coda combines a solid code editor, a rock-solid FTP client, a terminal, a CSS editor, Subversion, and site management in one package. If you code in Rails or work with CMS-based sites, the inclusion of a SSH terminal which remembers passwords is a life saver. No more neededing to reach for Terminal or iTerm when you need to launch mongrel or change some folder protection – just open a tab, hit the button and you’re in.

Subversion support is a recent addition to Coda and it works well. I still find it more reliable to do high volume operations from the command line, but for ongoing code changes the way Coda shows you what’s changed and what needs to be added to your repository is pretty damn good.

Coda also supports multi-file search and Regex search. Both of which can also do replace. You don’t appreciate the value of these features until you need them. There is also support for snippets and the latest major release also supports plug-ins. So the text-manipulation capabilities of Coda are now able to grow beyond what the Panic developers have time to do. Coda supports FTP and SFTP and allows for live-editing of a site’s files right on the server. This is also something one doesn’t appreciate until one needs it.

For $99, Coda is a solid investment. I’ve built everything from small client sites to medium sized WordPress and Joomla CMS sites to very large PHP-mySQL and Rails sites with it, and Coda has come through every time. I have never hit a case where I had to say “it won’t let me do that” on something I was working on. Which is what an IDE should be able to claim.

But …

There are a lot of times where I need to do a small site for a client and I don’t need a big IDE. I need something small that can deploy the small site to possibly several domain installations (for proofing or mirroring). I still want to be able to edit and browse the files on the server, but I don’t need the project management. And it has to be fast.

The latest MacHeist served up Espresso, by MacRabbit (makers of the excellent CSSEdit). Espresso uses project files instead of a built-in project manager … which is actually what I wanted since the number of projects I have floating around kind of overwhelms Coda’s interface. Rather than use conventional tabs, Espresso uses a list of open files and previews. This takes a little getting used to, but it actually works better than tabs once you gave more than a dozen files open.

As expected, the CSS editor is great in Espresso. The code editor is also very good, with inteligent tag completion and all that good stuff. The system is extensible by “sugars” so as this gets into more developers hands I expect the language support to continue to improve, much as it did with TextMate.

Snippets are supported, but no Subversion. Which is OK for what I intend to use this for. I don’t mind firing up a SVN client every few days as the need to check in isn’t as high on smaller projects. The FTP support is one thing I really love about Espresso. You can define multiple FTP sites, so you can deploy to your staging server, the client’s server, and potentially other servers as well (mirrors, portfolios, etc. etc.).  You can also browse and edit in place for each FTP desitination, which is great for quick touch-ups.

I did have a few FTP connection problems with Espresso when I was working from a hotel, Coda worked like a charm. But that was Espresso 1.0.1 … MacRabbit made stability improvements since that release, so I expect those problems are gone now as well.

At around $80, Espresso is a little on the pricey side compared to Coda. Coda simply does more and lists for only $20 more. Had I not gotten Espresso as part of the MacHeist bundle, I might not have bothered with it. Which isn’t a knock on Espresso as a product, just that for the list price it’s hard to justify not getting Coda instead. If Espresso was closer to $40, it’d be a no-brainer to get it in addition to Coda.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 18 2009

    Thank you wuth this sincere, solid and deep review of them. I was searching for it!

    V from Italy

  2. Jerry
    May 28 2009

    I also got Espresso as part of MacHeist. Didn’t think I’d need Coda, but now they’ve got me looking at it with this three-day 50% off deal. Would I be correct to assume that you would call Coda for $50 a no-brainer as well?

    • May 28 2009

      Yes. Coda for $50 is a complete no-brainer – you’d spend that on something like Versions just for a SVN client.

  3. Jerry
    May 28 2009

    Thanks! And thanks for the review–very helpful and timely.

  4. Eno
    Jun 25 2009

    Actually Mac OS X is not a Linux environment. It is more like FreeBSD than Linux. Since Linux and FreeBSD are both based on Unix, some of the commands are similar or the same, but they are completel different beasts under the hood.

  5. Jul 1 2009

    From a developer’s standpoint, though, it’s a *nix environment. Cash, sed, awk, grep, ls, etc. are all there. I guess I should have said “*nix” instead of “Linux”. Ah well.

  6. Jul 6 2009

    Interesting read, but I think you’re being too generous to Espresso.

    I’ve been a Coda user from day one and I also got Espresso via MacHeist. Sadly, I’ve found Espresso virtually useless despite being very promising in many ways. Its CSS editor is nice, of course, but I have CSSEdit, which has the virtue of not having Espresso’s other non-functional features. FTP access remains twitchy (and I don’t know how many times I’ve typed in access details and then lost them because I forgot to click the save widget), while there’s zero support for obvious use cases like local hosting (there’s simply no way to convince Espresso to preview a file via MAMP, say). And finally Espresso’s autocomplete is horribly broken.

    Espresso has taken a very clever approach to embracing existing defacto standards (it can use TextMate’s language bundles, for example). But somehow it just fails to be useful because every single thing it does seems not to work quite right — in pretty much exactly the way Coda does work right.

  7. Jul 6 2009

    Espresso is still a bit rough and I’m concerned that there’ve been no updates in a couple of months. FTP works fine for me – except sometimes when I’m working from a hotel room. I don’t think I’ve had an issue with MAMP, but I don’t remember for sure – I usually proof things in Firefox because of all the tools I have loaded in there.

    That “save” button on the server settings annoys the hell out of me too.


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