I'm looking for a standalone (or web) application that allows for very simple text editing, but also allows for personal annotation of the text by changing script colour and highlighting. Most text editors for developers doesn't allow for the above features, and Word/Pages is much too cumbersome. I'll be using it for some coding but it's primary use will be for DNA analysis (hence the annotation).

Does such an app exist?

  • Have you tried Sublime? I use it for both coding and text writing and it works very good. Sublime is free and can be found at: www.sublimetext.com
    – Alex
    Jul 31, 2013 at 7:41
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    @Alex Sublime is not free, as it states on its site: "Sublime Text 2 may be downloaded and evaluated for free, however a license must be purchased for continued use."
    – Jawa
    Jul 31, 2013 at 9:19
  • @Jawa What I meant is you can use it for free as much as you want without any functionality limited in the program.
    – Alex
    Jul 31, 2013 at 9:50
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    Sublime does not support text text highlighting or annotations. Question should actually not read "simple text editor" as programmers would see it. Actually looking for simple word processor so "TextEdit" suggestion below is good.
    – Joop
    Jul 31, 2013 at 16:00
  • Making your own major mode for Emacs might get you the best of both worlds. Learning Lisp may be an obstacle which should not be undertaken as an afternoon project, but you'd be surprised by what can be done with relative ease once you have a good grasp of the platform.
    – tripleee
    Oct 13, 2015 at 7:26

5 Answers 5


TextEdit is part of Mac OS X. You can find it in the Applications folder.


Use TextWranger. It's full of features (including syntax highlighting) and best of all it's free.


I'd vote for either TextWrangler (as has already been done) or TextMate. Both are terrific, but I love the TextMate UI, and I love even more that it's free and open source now.


Unless you want to use some sort of comments to annotate your files you will have trouble finding such an editor. By definition all source code files are just text and preferably ASCII. Annotated documents, such as RTF contain information which is not displayed to the user and serves to define things such as text color and highlights.

Thus, use a text editor with highlighting for coding (SublimeText, TextWrangler, Fraise come in mind) and use a RTF editor for text which you want to annotate. For this an easy solution is TextEdit which comes bundled with OSX.

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    -1 for saying they should be ASCII, I think now should be Unicode preferably UTF-8 (You want to be able to enter your second name don't you)
    – mmmmmm
    Jul 31, 2013 at 10:27
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    @Mark I have said 'preferably ASCII' and stand by that. I would love to be able to say that any editor and any environment can cope well with Unicode, but from my experience with developing applications in very heterogeneous environment this is not true. The only real use for Unicode inside source code files is when you either want to insert names (nice but not crucial) or use comments in other language than English (which is bad practice anyways, unless you are working on a very small project). Jul 31, 2013 at 12:23

I was hoping I would get a better answer than what you got, because I'm looking for the same thing. Anyway, I'll contribute my solution because it's closer to bridging that plain-text/rich-text divide.

I'm using SubEthaEdit, turn on "Show Modifications" and then clear all modifications. This highlights what I change, so I can delete+undo a word or line to highlight something. In this app you can save as text or a Subetha document, depending on whether you want to save the highlights but mine are almost always transitory. I like it because I can open a straight text document (source code or a log file) and immediately start making highlights without needing to convert to RTF first. It's also got spectacular regex support (and I've even used the headline feature: collaborative editing, but not for a while). Alas, you can't annotate non-distructively or use multiple colors or anything.

It's also not free, but even with all those caveats I mentioned, it has saved me many times and was worth the money. I'll keep buying things until I find the one!

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