TL; DR: In 2002, SweetScape Software Co-Founders Lowell and Graeme Sweet set out to create the perfect hex editor. The father-and-son endeavor aimed to streamline data editing with a tool that incorporated multiple user-suggested features and an intuitive interface conducive to collaboration. The result was the 010 Editor, a powerful and easy-to-use platform for editing raw data, one byte at a time. We recently sat down with Graeme, who told us how his family-run company is focused on continuously innovating new solutions and building software that directly addresses customer pain points.
Since the early days of software, developers have created a wide range of file formats, from binaries and archives to images and documents. Because some formats could only be accessed — let alone edited — by specialized software, it was often more convenient to actually edit a file by processing its raw data. Thus, the need for hex editors arose — one of the earliest of which was IBM’s SUPERZAP, which could understand the format of executables and the raw data within. In the following years, many more editors would arrive on the scene, but few provided the seamless usability and collaborative capabilities of the 010 Editor by SweetScape Software.
Before co-founding SweetScape as a family business in 2002, Graeme Sweet had worked in IT for several years, where he wrote professional software related to ocean virtualization. At one point, Graeme and his team hit a snag when they encountered some possibly corrupted datasets.
“We were working on giant binary datasets that we couldn’t understand, and I was sure the company that gave it to us had made a mistake,” he said.
In an attempt to solve the issue, Graeme searched the internet for a tool that would help him process the data. With no suitable tool to be found, Graeme then decided to make his own editor.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” he said.
In time, Graeme had built the highly customized 010 Editor, complete with binary templates and a user-friendly interface. Shortly after its launch, the 010 Editor exploded in popularity, gaining the attention of several Fortune 500 companies.
The extremely versatile tool can be used as a text or hex editor, making it easy to fix anything from a small HTML script to a major file corruption on a hard drive. Gaining widespread popularity, the 010 Editor now has users in more than 70 countries worldwide.
“It was going so well that I actually left my job — people were using it from all around the world,” Graeme said. “We couldn’t even imagine this 20 years ago.”
The Goal: To Encourage Collaboration With Binary Templates
In response to the problem Graeme encountered while working with binaries, one of the earliest features included in the 010 Editor was the ability to use binary templates. Binary files most often take the form of compiled programs, but may also include images, videos, and auditory media. When viewed with a hex editor, binary files appear as several blocks of hexadecimal values, each with its own offset or address within the file.
While these values represent important data attributes, they can be confusing and repetitive without some parsing. Luckily, 010 Editor takes it a step further by displaying the file’s data structure hierarchy.
010 Editor parses files by loading the corresponding file format template. Because files of the same format are structured very similarly, templates let users jump right to the desired data. Alternatively, values can be manually selected with the cursor and then searched for in the template. SweetScape’s collection of binary templates includes some of the most common file formats, including RAR, MP3, and PDF. These templates can also be edited to include automated scripts and custom variables.
010 Editor boasts unmatched flexibility when it comes to editing. Aside from its support for substantially large files — exceeding 100GB — 010 Editor can be used in a manner inspired by Google Docs for collaborative editing.
“Collaboration has been huge in the last five to 10 years, with social media and people wanting to share things and work together,” Graeme said. “One person can write a little template for their data format and upload it — and then all the other 010 Editor users around the world can use it and update it.”
Graeme also noted that very large datasets are best handled locally, rather than through the internet, meaning that a quick template load will allow all participants to parse the file on their own machines while still maintaining consistency.
The Push for a Powerful Yet Simplified Interface
While hex editors are capable of editing files and binaries in ways that most programs cannot, their UIs are often overwhelming, with a simple window displaying byte after byte of very similar-looking hex values. As such, most editors sacrifice user-friendliness for power, but SweetScape’s 010 Editor takes a more balanced approach.
In addition to using templates, 010 Editor makes the experience less overwhelming with a simplified UI packed with hidden features, including automatic find-and-replace functions.
“There’s been a real push in the industry to simplify interfaces and make them more user-friendly,” Graeme said. “We’re always trying to make it look simple, but still powerful at the same time.”
010 Editor allows for several different views, including the Workspace View, which features a file explorer, highlighter options, and bookmarks. 010 Editor also boasts a refreshing variety of analysis tools that make it easier to find, modify, and compare data.
For example, the Binary Comparison tool lets users compare two similar files side by side and byte by byte. On the other hand, 010 Editor’s Histogram tool displays data visually to record byte occurrences. Additionally, 010 Editor is capable of computing numerous checksum algorithms and converting data between ASCII, EBCDIC, Unicode, and UTF-8. Many of these features were inspired by data trends as well as customer feedback.
A Rise to Success Spurred by Customer Feedback
The 010 Editor allows developers to edit essentially anything — just as its motto states. The impressive versatility of 010 Editor means that SweetScape has a broad-reaching customer base that encompasses numerous industries and solves a wide variety of problems.
When SweetScape first launched, the 010 Editor was very simple. However, it soon became one of the world’s most popular hex editors, as the Sweets would continuously tweak the software to comply with customer suggestions.
Although hex editors are primarily associated with binary files, non-binary files, including text documents, can also be read. As a result, SweetScape’s clients began using 010 Editor for text editing more often.
“We started off on the hex-editing side, but people saw that this could be used as a text editor,” Graeme said. “Now they’re always saying ‘I’m used to this other text editor, can you do this?’ so we’ve been trying to improve the text editor side.”
010 Editor’s enhanced text editing features include index highlighting, scripting, and the ability to import/export data in multiple formats.
A Family-Run Company That Zeroes In on User Need
010 Editor’s impressive list of features was inspired by a mix of customer feedback, technology trends, and Graeme’s own necessity for a suitable editor.
“We’ve evolved the software using feedback from our customers, taking hints about how we can make this better,” Graeme said. “These are real ideas from people that we’ve implemented that I didn’t even think about.”
Graeme told us the biggest advantage offered by the 010 Editor is the time it saves users — sometimes cutting tedious tasks down by days or weeks.
Hex editors can be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from the recovery of corrupted photos to the integration of large software patches. Because users have such an expansive scope of needs, 010 Editor is an ideal solution for countless problems. As such, SweetScape’s goal is to perfect the 010 Editor and make advanced file editing far less time-consuming. And, considering Graeme’s initial frustrations with unreadable datasets, SweetScape deeply understands the value of convenience and usability.
In 2002, the number of hex editors on the scene was sparse. The ones that did exist were incapable of doing what Graeme had in mind, so he decided to take matters into his own hands — he ran into a problem, independently solved it, and then shared that solution with the world. In turn, people across continents now share templates with one another to take the guesswork out of parsing and editing raw data.