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By Tyler Sticka

Published on March 4th, 2014


GitHub introduced a new text editor called Atom last week, and reactions (at least in my Twitter feed) seem divided between fervent desire and snide disregard. For every few people shamelessly begging for invites, you’ll find one or two bemoaning how fickle we all are, how crowded this software category has become, or how our obsession with the “latest and greatest” distracts us from what really matters (what we make).

Some of these emotions are likely the result of the unspoken assumption that everyone in our industry must always know everything (Lyza called this the knowledge burden). But I also believe, regardless of industry, that a natural friction exists between makers and their tools.

We’ve yet to invent a device capable of directly converting our thoughts into physical manifestations. Until we do, tools can only approximate our intent. This means that the distance between idea and execution is often defined by the capability of our tools and our mastery thereof. They tell us what we can and can’t do.

It’s a complicated relationship.

 Some remain faithful to a specific toolset for as long as possible, cultivating an intense and focused knowledge of every feature, quirk and workaround. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was so fond of Esterbrook & Co.’s Radio Pen No. 914 that he bought all of their remaining stock when they stopped producing it. The pens lasted him through the remainder of the strip’s nearly fifty-year run.

Others transition quickly, abandoning their previous workflow as soon as they feel it may be working against them. English post-punk band The Fall have remained vital and prolific for nearly four decades, in part because of frontman Mark E. Smith’s infamous propensity for changing the band’s lineup with little or no warning.

We’ve yet to discover that magic “one size fits all” process. Until we do, we should encourage the accelerating expansion of available tools while remaining skeptical of any that claim to be everything to everyone. Choice encourages diversity in the types of thought processes our medium supports.

In other words, tools are important. Not for their own sake, but for those they empower to create. Welcome!


Heath Howard said:

Great point. Competition is always good and one-size-fits-all usually doesn’t fit anyone well. Lots of players in a space targeting different yet very specific needs or groups will usually provide the best solutions. I wish we had this kind of competition in graphic design, but Adobe still reigns as undisputed king there.

Michael Hallinan said:

For me, it’s upgrade exhaustion. Finally figure out Grunt and Gulp comes along. Get the Sass working and here’s Sass3 with better ways of doing the same stuff. Finally get Sublime configured just so and here comes Atom. It’s really the result of the pace of change at this point in the 25-year-old web’s lifecycle. Atom looks to have some needed improvements and new functionality, and the GitHub tie sure gives it cred.

My rule to wait for a version number greater than zero in front of the decimal point, and I’m sticking to it.