Bean: Simple Word Processing for OS X

Compared to Word and TextEdit, Bean is a happy, open-source alternative. It has more features than TextEdit, though not enough to be a full-fledged word processor. But that’s the point.

Like every good app, Bean has a story. Its creator, James Hoover loved to write. His tool was Microsoft Office X, which started to leave a bad taste in his mouth. Seeking a tool that “Worked like he did,” he began to research what a good writing tool should have, seeking something that worked for him. And now we have the result of that process – Bean.

In this article I’ll go over what’s included in Bean, how it implements the basic features a text editor should have, and determine whether it really is worth using.

The Main Interface

The Main Interface

Overview of Features


I’m a numbers guy, and Bean gives me all I want and more. Hitting the “Get Info” button reveals a panel with your documents statistics. Word count, character count, paragraph count, page count, line count, and more.

Even better, Bean keeps a live word count on the bottom of your document window. If you select some text, the word count for that selection is displayed.

Document Statistics

Document Statistics

File Formats

Bean supports a good spread of file formats: .rtf, .rtfd, .bean (native format, basically .rtf), .txt, and .odt (Open Office). Bean also supports (with limitations) .doc and .docx. Unfortunately it has issues with reading page margins and images. Bean uses the built-in to Mac OS X Word file reading ability, so you can expect performance around that of TextEdit.

Remember, though, Bean is not meant to be a replacement for a word processor. Bean can export to .pdf, .doc (keeping your images), and .html (sans the images, and the HTML is very, very messy).


You have the option to have Bean automatically backup your document at a set interval, and each time you close the document. There is also a manual backup button in the toolbar. Each backup is time stamped and placed in the same directory as your main copy.

This can be really helpful for preventing lost work, especially for those who aren’t OCD about hitting Command + S. Backing up is enabled per document, rather than a global setting


Headers and footers are available in Bean, but with a catch. You cannot enter custom headers or footers. Instead you choose from a list of different styles in the preferences. The list is pretty comprehensive, especially if you need standard formats, like MLA.

For example, the header can be the document title and page number. The style you choose is applied to all documents you create, not just the one you are currently working on. It would be better suited as a per document setting.

Little Features

Bean has some little features that make it unique. First, the find panel is beefed up with regular expressions. Simply put, regular expressions let you define patterns that words must match.

You can make your document float above all windows, and enter fullscreen mode when writing. You can change the the color scheme of the document (for example, green text on a black background, an old school look).

What Bean Doesn’t Do

Bean was developed to be the right tool for some people. It doesn’t aim to please the crowd, just those who have the needs that it fulfills. Bean doesn’t do footnotes. Although it supports images, they must be inline. These may be considered “crucial” by some writers – if that’s the case, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Laying Out Your Pages

Page layout is one of major differences between Bean and TextEdit. With Bean you can divide your document into columns, add images, and add tables. Adding columns is particularly easy: you enter how many columns you want, and the spacing between each.

The Columns interface

The Columns interface

Bean handles images pretty well. You can import images into your document by either dragging them right in from an external source, or by using the Picture toolbar item.

Finally, tweaking the document margins is refreshingly simple. The field for setting the top margins is on the top, likewise for the bottom, left, and right.

The Margins Interface

The Margins Interface

What I Don’t Like

A few aspects of Bean really turn me off. The floating formatting panel really gets tiring after a few uses. 90% of the time I just want to adjust the font or line spacing. The panel is filled with more advanced options that don’t get used often, or even at all. Things like: “inter-line, before paragraph, and after paragraph.”

It would be better implemented by placing the basic formatters, font, font size, bold, italic, in the toolbar. Pages does this nicely. The other formatters would stay in the panel.

Another drawback is that the preference pane is dreadfully over-cluttered. Filled with checkboxes, lots of text, and a huge number of options. Too many options! This seems like a small detail to class as a “negative”, but when you are trying to find a certain setting to adjust, it can be a tricky affair.




Bean is a simple and functional text editor. It is a great upgrade from TextEdit. It doesn’t do everything, but that’s the point. If Bean works for you, great. If it doesn’t, find another tool to use. Bean won’t come chasing after your loyalty like other products! I’ll end this with a quote from the bean website:

If you get depressed at the thought of firing up MS Word or OpenOffice, try Bean. If you use Text Edit but have to jump through hoops just to get a word count, try Bean. If you desire a simple, beautiful writing environment, try Bean

It’s certainly worth taking a look at, and is completely free to use for as long as you’d like.


Bean is a great upgrade from TextEdit. It offers a live word count, basic Microsoft Word support, and a very simple interface. Certainly worth trying out to see whether it meets your needs.