Tropical Software Observations

22 September 2010

Posted by Yasith Fernando

at 5:03 PM


Labels: , ,

Evaluating Redcar

Intro and Background

It has been about 2 weeks since I started developing RoR and Ruby apps in general at Favorite Medium. When I got started I had an OS X environment that I was new to and Textmate as my editor. I choose Textmate because (let's be honest...) it seems to be very popular with rails developers. But I had already used and developed in ruby using IDEs such as NetBeans and Rubymine. And I still tend to prefer an IDE over a text editor.

However, now I feel more comfortable with Textmate as I have used it for over two weeks. I will be evaluating Redcar and will be comparing it (well yes, my attitude towards Redcar is that it is really inspired by Textmate) with the experience I had with Textmate. To be fair, I haven't used Textmate extensively and I am for sure missing out on some great features it may have. So forgive me if I make any inaccurate assumptions in this post.

I am doing this evaluation as a ruby developer. So developers of other languages might look at this editor under a different light.

What is Redcar

Redcar is a free and open source text editor written in ruby (but runs on jruby. You don't need to have jruby installed in order to install Redcar though. It will auto-magically download a version of jruby and other needed libs for its use). It has a Textmate-like feel to it. It also supports Textmate bundles (one of the strong points of Textmate)! Right now it has an active, healthy community around it. But it's a very young project that is still under heavy development (ex:- it doesn't have a save all function :( ).

Let's break it down to pros and cons.


  • It's Open Source (thus free as in free beer and freedom!)

  • Has a good momentum behind it (at the time of this writing).

  • Supports Textmate bundles (This means a lot. If you have used Textmate you would know that a lot of nice features of Textmate come through bundles) and themes.

  • Written in pure ruby and runs on jruby (this is good news if you are a ruby developer - it will be easy to extend and write plugins in ruby).

  • Cross platform (I think I know more than 10 people who wanted to find 'the Textmate for Linux/Windows').

  • Extensible (no editor in this world will ever behave and do everything just like you would want it to. You will have to customize it at some point. And the author can't implement every feature under the sun. A good plugin system is very important).

  • Easy learning curve if you are coming from Textmate (Redcar supports most Textmate shortcuts although it's not a one to one mapping. It also has a lot of functionality that can be found in Textmate, where they are identified by the same names).

  • Last but not least, Redcar comes with the 'cool-latest-greatest' feeling attached. So you can always feel good using and hacking it.


  • Uncertainty about future support and longevity of the project (Redcar is great. And it's very promising. But we don't know where it will stand in another two years. Editors are things that people choose, learn, and live with. If I am to commit my self to an editor I need to be sure that it will be supported and actively developed for the near future. If the development stalls I can't afford to take it over and carry it on. But then Redcar is so similar to Textmate, so in the event of Redcar suffering a early death one could always go back to Textmate or to one of its many clones out there.)

  • Lack of features – For its age Redcar definitely supports a ton of features! But if you want a full and complete product Redcar is not that (at least at the time of writing it's not. But I hope it will be able to come to that level in the near future). But with the active development community and the passion behind it. I hope that it can reach a level where it has a healthy set of complete features pretty soon.

  • Lack of maturity – You will see it in the UI sometimes, and everywhere else. This is perfectly natural for a new project.

    Requirement of Java - I am not sure whether this is even a con. But some people might not feel very comfortable having to install java if they don't already have it (you already have Java pre-installed in OS X for example...).

All in all I feel I will give this a try and see how things go. I have just gone through the documentation and installed and used Redcar for like 2 hours. You can't tell what's working and what's not during such a small amount of time. Issues with stability and performance might pop up during prolonged usage. But I have a positive outlook about this. There is an upcoming rails project and I am going to use Redcar for it. Let's see how things go.

If you are excited by new tech and if you are in to ruby/rails and Textmate definitely do check out this new editor. Its worth the while.