I should note upfront this is not a review of Nova, the wonderful new editor and development environment from the ever-delightful misfit crew at Panic. Honestly, this is more of an homage because I loved Nova as soon as I first opened it up1 and knew it felt like home.
The first question that Nova demands is — a text editor? For my Mac? Aren’t there already a bunch of those and aren’t they all … free? There certainly are and I have and continue to use many of them, if only because trying out new editors and development tools fills a certain bottomless, nerdy need. BBEdit has been a companion of mine since my first ever Mac, just over 20 years ago, and sits reliably along the left edge of my screen ready for whatever text I throw at it. Ulysses is my writerly writing tool of choice across devices and I quite like the immersive experience of using it on an iPad. I’ve spent decades at this point futzing with my tmux and vim setup and have the muscle memory and scar tissue to show for it — I even sorted out how to use a Raspberry Pi alongside my iPad (via Blink) as a development environment that I almost kind of … like? VS Code has been dayjob daily driver for a few years now and, honestly, the worst thing I could say about it is that it feels like I’m running a perpetual beta but, hey. Free.
Nova, though, feels right. It feels like home and so much of what I immediately took to about it is the ineffable, the unquantifiable — the feel. Some of that, I have to believe, owes to being a nerd of a certain vintage, who will always appreciate handhewn Mac software to cross platform alternatives, but the Mac has evolved enough over the years that I don’t think nostalgia would carry all the way through.
Nova is very much a modern Mac app, it’s opinionated, and looks sharp as hell. It’s also a very modern app for web developers that doesn’t assume we’re just syncing static files to a server somewhere. There is support for your language of choice with lovely zeroconf code completion, themes that feel native, and tools that help you craft thoroughly modern build pipelines via tasks. Nova’s tasks interface is honestly one of the best I’ve seen and if you’re the type of front end developer who’s been hesitant to dig into automating your workflow, tasks alone are worth the price of the software.
Git is built right in, as is a terminal. You can split screens, with tabs galore, in whatever way you see fit. I’ve never been the type to craft snippet libraries but for those of you who habitually minimize your keystrokes, you’ll be plenty happy with the text clips. All of this is configurable and customizable beyond what is sane or healthy, yet without letting you tangle yourself into a state of pure jank that requires a full reset or hours of googling.
None of this is groundbreaking, you might call it table stakes for an editor in 2020, but Panic has never been the type of software company that competes on feature lists, just as the Mac was never a computer for anyone running down specs. The whole being very much greater than the sum of the features and themes and extensions. It’s an app that feels fresh — especially if you’re coming from Nova’s parent app, Coda — and familiar all at once. If it’s possible for software to be immediately comfortable, Nova certainly is.
Panic knows what they’re up against here — it’s right there at the top of the website. Their competition is free and some of it is built by the biggest, most well-resourced software companies in history. They knew it was going to be a tough sell before they even started and what they’ve built is absolutely worth getting to know.
I’ve been test driving various betas for about a month now and built a bunch of stuff — including this site! — using it. ↩︎