January 10, 2007

Scribes editor focuses on the text

Author: Nikos Kouremenos

Scribes is a text editor for GNOME that focuses on usability. After 30 minutes of usage, you will either love it or hate it.

Scribes is not designed with a tabbed interface. However, Scribes features an efficient and scalable alternative to tabs: the document switcher. The document switcher allows you to focus any document opened with Scribes by pressing F9.

While you're writing code or editing documents, Scribes will not show you a menu bar at the top of its window. Its interface offers minimal distractions.

Scribes does not try to be a complicated integrated development environment. Instead, it focuses exclusively on text processing and manipulation. It provides automatic word completion, smart indentation, and pair character completion. You can bookmark any lines you want to go back to by pressing Ctrl-D, then display the bookmark browser by pressing Ctrl-B. Select a bookmark and press Enter to go to the corresponding line. This comes in handy for both writers and developers.

Scribes also supports snippets, which are called Templates. Press Alt-F12 to display the Template Editor. There you can specify the name of a template, an optional description, and the content. For example, you could create a template dear and specify its content as:

Dear ${hisname},

${cursor}

Thank you,
${myname}

Now you can write dear and press the Tab key. The above text will appear, template mode will be activated, and the typing cursor will be on ${hisname}, so you can fill in the name of the person you address. When you're done, press Tab to move to ${myname}, type your name, and then Tab again to ${cursor}, where you can write your actual text. When you type your first character in the ${cursor} area, template mode is deactivated, as ${cursor} is always the last "station" of the template mode. You can find a collection of pre-made snippets can be found on Scribes' Web site.

Scribes offers both Search and Search and Replace widgets docked in the bottom of the window that holds the text. With this approach, you never have to move the search dialog box around on the screen to see what you found.

Scribes supports a big set of key combinations. For example, you can select a word by pressing Alt-W, a sentence by pressing Alt-S, and even a whole paragraph by Alt-P. If you want to quote a phrase of four words, select the words, and type "; the selected words will be enclosed by quotes! Other keys I find useful are F3, which toggles read-only mode; F6, which toggles spell checking; and Alt-R, which removes trailing spaces. If you accidentally hit a combination, or in general produce a result you did not intend to, the status bar will tell you what the last action was, and you can undo and redo to adjust the text to your liking.

Scribes' author Lateef Alabi-Oki has some innovative ideas about how a modern and easy-to-use program should behave. With Scribes, he tried to realize these usability ideas in an application that focuses on streamlining the user's workflow. The user experience is fluid, and the editor is easy and fun to use once you get used to the no-tabs paradigm.

Nikos Kouremenos is a computer science student who has been active in the open source community since 2002.