The Power of Mac

TextEdit, a Hidden Powerhouse That Comes Free with OS X

Eric Schwarz - 2003.03.26

From day one, the Mac has come with a word processor. Except for MacWrite, which shipped with the earliest Mac, they were usually pretty useless, except maybe HTML editing, viewing ReadMe files, and creating universal .txt files. They've improved over the years, from TeachText, to SimpleText, to TextEdit in OS X.

Due to the reputation of its older relatives, TextEdit is usually overlooked.


TextEdit is surprisingly powerful, although few activate its hidden features. It uses the somewhat standard RTF format for formatted documents and .txt for plain text. Besides it being a really Cocoa application - allowing the full compliment of OS X goodies (Text Palette, Color Picker, Services, Quartz, etc.) - it boasts (or merely whispers) some features that AppleWorks doesn't have, such as spell-check-as-you-type and multiple-level undoes.

Granted, it is missing some features that are found in Word and AppleWorks, but for most things it's rather useful. I've switched from the aging AppleWorks 6 to TextEdit, not only because it's more stable, but it "matches" OS X better. Hopefully the word processing module of the rumored "iWorks" suite will be a more powerful version of this.

TextEdit as a Real Word Processor

TextEdit is pretty bland to begin with - there are a few things you'll need to do to make it comparable to anything (this assumes you're using Jaguar - if you have 10.1, the instructions are a little different). First, open the preferences, and choose Rich Text and Wrap to Page under New Document Attributes. Next, set your default fonts, and pick Check spelling as you type and Show ruler under Editing.

By pressing command-R, you will see a ruler, not unlike that in most word processors, complete with alignment, line spacing, and tabs. It's a bit plain, but it works. By pressing command-T, you will get the standard OS X font window. Again, not fancy, but also not much of a drain on resources.

Hidden Features

TextEdit can open and edit HTML files as either the source or WYSIWYG. [Editor's note: That's either/or. You can't toggle between the two modes.]

Besides that, TextEdit features find and replace (not so hidden) and some high-end font tools. You can place pictures and other documents in TextEdit documents and export documents for Word and AppleWorks.

Although you must convert Word and AppleWorks files to RTF before they can be opened in TextEdit, it's not that much of a hassle.

TextEdit Might Just Be What You Need

If you only use the word processing module from AppleWorks or think Word is just too darned expensive, you might want to try TextEdit as your main word processor. Judging from improvements since the version that came with OS X 10.1, it's bound to get even better. LEM

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