Product Review:
Boxer 99 (v 8.01)


David Mertz, Ph.D.
Gnosis Software, Inc.
January 2001

At A Glance

Creator: David Hamel <sp@gjt.org>
Price/License: $59. Close-source, commercial.
Home Page: http://www.boxersoftware.com
Requirements: Win32

Background

Attentive readers of Webreview.com will have noticed that I have reviewed quite a few text editors in the last six months. A certain bias has been evident in my reviews: I prefer multi-platform (because I work on numerous platforms myself); and I prefer open-source (purely as a political matter, I am not likely to modify the source code personally). Of course, even stronger than those biases is my preference for a text editor that is powerful, flexible, and friendly.

Boxer 99 is an editor that falls on the negative side of the above biases. In fact, even though it is not all that expensive, its $59 cost crosses my mental threshold between the "insignificant" $20-30 of some shareware editors, and the "should I really buy this?" doubts of more expensive products.

With so much going against it, what can I write about Boxer 99? Just this: Boxer is the editor I actually launch when I want to get work done as quickly, efficiently, and with as little effort as possible (i.e. when I am not trying something else out just to see what it can do). At least when I am working on a Win32 platform; or on OS/2 and running Boxer/2 (similar features, but not specifically reviewed here). Boxer just simply works the way I want an editor to, with no surprises or bugs, and with an amazingly well-designed interface.

What Is Boxer 99?

Boxer 99 is a Win32 GUI text editor designed both for writing programming code and for writing prose (like this article, or README's, HOWTO's, etc). Older companion versions of Boxer exist for DOS and OS/2. Boxer 99 includes many features that programmers expect in a text editor.

An Editor To Love

What really sets Boxer apart from many editors is how well arranged its features are. Boxer 99 supports many configurable key-bindings, but I prefer to stick with the default one. With other editors, a feature might be present, but hidden and/or require too many keystrokes. With Boxer, every feature is in the menu I expect, and the CUA-ish keystrokes are logically organized and intuitive. Moreover, configuration of Boxer is fiendly and done entirely within dialogs and menus (no arcane configuration files)

Beyond good organization, the interface has the right elements: optional filetabs, syntax hightlighting, optional toolbar, optional line numbers, visible bookmarks. The appearance is clean, but at the same time presents all the information needed for working with complex projects of related files.

Easy to find are a number of sophisticated features (each individually found in other editors I have reviewed, but not in combination). Let's just list a few. Templates are kept in a popup window that allows selection of template sets and individual items. Generally this is useful for insertion of code constructs or other blocks that tend to get re-used. Spell checker with dictionaries available for the main Western European languages. Multiple clipboards act as an ad hoc template area, and are definitely better than just one clipboard. Bookmarks have already been mentioned, they are a way to quickly jump between areas of interest.

For working with text, Boxer offers a number of things many editors lack. Columnar selection is a must for playing with tables and end-line comment blocks. The set of block operations in Boxer is particularly rich: Change case (upper, lower, proper, sentence); indent/unindent; sort; do math calculations on blocks with numbers; do a block wordcount; comment/uncomment; etc. In addition, a nice feature most editors lack is the ability to search across all buffers and in disk files (with flexible selection of file patterns). Sure you could use an external program like grep, but the integration is nice.

The thing that really sells me on Boxer above other editors is that Boxer handles indentation and word wrapping right. Boxer knows when you have started an indented paragraph (including hanging or right shifted first line); it lets you wrap different paragraphs to their own widths; it handles email quoting; and right/left/center/justified paragraph formats. Every other editor I have looked at has at least one subtle glitch (or big ones) in formatting paragraphs they are OK for code, but no good for prose. Boxer does it right!

It Can't Be that Good!

As much as I like Boxer 99, there are still a few things I could wish were better. Some are small, some more fundamental. First some small ones: I have grown to like onscreen hightlighting of matching open/close blocks (parens, brackets, etc). Boxer lets you jump to a "mate," but doesn't highlight it automatically. A few editors have a "hypersearch" type feature that displays all matches to a given pattern. FTE does this with an onscreen highlight, jEdit with a navigable results window either way is nice, and would be useful in Boxer.

Second, some bigger things: In a bad decision, the quite effective macro capability of earlier Boxer versions was dropped from Boxer 99. The documentation claims that templates fulfill most of the same requirement; maybe true, but most is not all. Also, although the search/replace engine handles regular expressions to a certain degree, it lacks back references in either search or replace patterns. Without this, regular expressions are missing one of their best aspects. Still another complaint I would have is that the syntax highlighting modes are not quite powerful enough. Specifically, Python uses triple quotes for multi-line strings, but Boxer 99 cannot highlight these (because the plain quote already marks single-line strings). A bit more powerful highlighter could handle this better.

If I had my complete wish list, I would want two more features in Boxer 99. These are not widely supported in other editors, so these are not really complaints. But my ideal would still have them. Folding is hugely useful for dealing with long and hierarchical text files (programming code, HTML, even prose with sections). Workspaces/projects would be a nice addition for opening and shutting a collection of related files (and maybe preserving window options for an editing session).

About The Author

There is hardly anything David Mertz feels more strongly about than text-editors. It stands to reason after a tally of the hours and minutes of his days. You can find out copious biographical details by rooting around at http://gnosis.cx/publish/.