I have a friend who is trying to learn Python on Mac OS X. She does not have prior experience with programming. I am looking for an editor that is:

  • Free and easy to get started with
  • Support at least for Python syntax highlighting

What are her options? Anything available in the App Store?


6 Answers 6


My favorite editor for writing any scripting language, not just Python but Ruby, perl, etc… is Textmate. Since I do this for a living I am still using TextMate version 1 that I paid for ages ago. Textmate version 2 is now open source software and as such is free to download and even change. Both versions can be downloaded from the Macromates Download page.

I prefer Textmate to BBEdit for writing in scripting languages because BBEdit doesn't allow editing while it is running a script. For all of my other text editing needs I prefer BBEdit and it is set as my system default for most types of text files. Every Mac I have owned has had a copy of BBEdit, since about 1989.

If you want to get a taste of what BBEdit is like, your friend can try BBEdit's little brother, TextWrangler. This works the same way, and for scripting languages, has the same shortcomings as BBEdit. TextWrangler is available on the Mac App Store for free.

  • Thanks! I am confused though. When I go to the Macromates site, I see that there is a link for purchasing TextMate, but you mentioned it is free to download and change. What is the purchasing link for?
    – Josh
    Oct 11, 2013 at 20:59
  • Textmate 1.5.11 is not free or open source. Download the first link in the table, for Textmate 2,0 alpha, which is free open source software. Version 1 has a 30 day demo.
    – Ɱark Ƭ
    Oct 11, 2013 at 21:03
  • Textmate 2.0 looks good. Vim however has all the same features and is more widely used I believe, hence has better support and feature set. If you start her on vim now, which is slightly more difficult than Textmate to begin with, she will thank you later as she continues her programming career.
    – Deesbek
    Oct 11, 2013 at 21:11
  • @Deesbeck - that is pure option and does not really help. (My opinion of vi is that having separate modes for editing and others really breaks my flow and makes me significantly less productive )
    – mmmmmm
    Oct 12, 2013 at 18:41

I started web development using Aptana Studio. It is a great IDE, and is free. It's also nice that it has a white-on-black theme. They do well at releasing new versions with improvements. You can read more and download it at their website.

  • 1
    Note that this is a packaged version of Eclipse
    – mmmmmm
    Oct 12, 2013 at 18:34

MacVim is excellent and free! It has all the power of vim that is already installed and available via the command line on osx 10.8.5 if you don't want to install anything new, but the linked program has the niceties of Apple edit commands on top of the power of vi(m).

  • 1
    vim has a steep learning curve and definitely doesn't meet the "easy to get started with" criteria.
    – Ɱark Ƭ
    Oct 11, 2013 at 21:09
  • @MarkThalman I would agree that to be a power vi user, the learning curve is steep, but here the recommendation is for a GUI version of the program that has all the bells and whistles, but the common copy, paste, quit commands that Mac users assume have no learning curve. I'd +1 this, personally.
    – bmike
    Oct 11, 2013 at 21:31
  • @bmike when you say vi, to me that means a terminal. The reason I learned vi in the first place was to be able to edit files without having to download anything, since not all Unix packages included EMACS. Didn't the pre-edited answer mention no download, which I thought was what differentiated this from the other answers.
    – Ɱark Ƭ
    Oct 11, 2013 at 21:44
  • @MarkThalman Click the edit link above the last edit to see the history. It started clearly recommending MacVIM but didn't have a link to the package. It did go on to praise vi which isn't exactly the main thrust here IMO.
    – bmike
    Oct 11, 2013 at 21:46
  • LOL, ppl, it's all good. I just like all versions of vi. Clearly for somebody learning to code a nice front end would be easier to navigate than the command line version IMHO. Anyway, I think we are all in agreement here. It is a matter of personal preference.
    – Deesbek
    Oct 11, 2013 at 21:51

For a free start, try:
Sublime Text - it's free to try for as long as she wishes, but requires a paid license for extended use. It is also something the user can grow with.
Komodo Edit from ActiveState - this is limited in features compared to the commercial Komodo IDE, but it should do for someone starting to learn programming.


Emacs is free and includes python mode that does python syntax highlighting and also allows you to edit in emacs and interact with the python interpreter and allows use of the python debugger.

The version that comes with OSX and runs in the terminal does this. However for a GUI version that performs like a normal OSX app I would use Aquamacs which also has what I think is the better python mode

You can also get a fuller python development environment using suggestions from here. This includes fuller code completion, interfacing with ipython, use of virtualenv.


PyCharm is an IDE for python. The free version (which I think is very recent) will work for many python projects it includes syntax highlighting, debugger and integration with version control.

The paid for version deals with web frameworks and databases.

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