Windows ships with Notepad, a bare bones text editor that manages to be both handy and next to useless. So if you do any regular text editing you need something more, an editor that can reformat text, record macros, do syntax highlighting, that supports regular expressions in its search/replace dialog, or knows about ftp. Perhaps you need an editor that does code folding or that supports the concept of a multi-file project. Maybe you’ve watched the loopy Ruby On Rails screencasts and are intrigued by TextMate.
In the past and on various systems I have used a slew of editors, including emacs, vi, Brief, BBEdit, Crimson, and probably dozens of others. Years ago, I settled on UltraEdit for Windows and been using it since, upgrading now and then, but occasionally I look for alternatives. For instance, I am currently at UE Version 9.10 and am looking to upgrade to 12.20. It’s only twenty-five bucks to upgrade but is it still the best thing going? Are there more nimble, capable editors out there now? Of course, I’ve seen TextMate, occasionally used TextPad and Crimson, but know there are others.
I use Visual Studio 2005, and it has a nice code editor and is just fine for a full-on MS development undertaking, but waiting to load that IDE to edit a file is like waiting in line and going through security to take a plane from Dallas to Fort Worth. This is probably true of whatever IDE you use.
Update (Jan 8, 2006): This article touches on lightweight editors such as TED Notepad, Notepad2, TheGun, TopGun, QuickEdit, and EDXOR. It then does a drive-by on a couple Windows incarnations of TextMate before digging into beefier programmers’ editors, including PSPad, Notepad++, EditPlus, UltraEdit, TextPad, Crimson, jEdit, and Vim/gVim/WinVi. A few also-rans are mentioned at the end for good measure.
If you just want a little more than Notepad, but don’t need fancy features, there are some replacements that you might like.
TED Notepad is a decent Notepad replacement. It feels like the normal Notepad application except that it has lots more features in its menus. It’s free and worth checking out.
Notepad2 is a worthy Notepad replacement with some neat features, such as transparency, search and replace that supports regular expressions, syntax highlighting, bookmarks, column selections, bracket matching, and more.
From hutch, TheGun is a very lightweight text editor (6144 bytes) that is perfect if you want small; it is 1/10th the size of Notepad.exe that ships with Windows XP. A little larger (18732 bytes), Top Gun sports a few more features. Both are written in Assembler. QuickEdit is a programmer’s editor that might appeal to the more hardcore techies out there (and still small at 38,652 bytes). These are all “registry safe” programs.
Another tiny text editor is EDXOR, which is only 30720 bytes but contains transformation functions such as Reverse, Rot13, Qcypher, Base64, and others.
For lightweight editing, all of the above are fine; your specific needs and preferences will determine which is best for you.
Yeah yeah, it’s great, it’s magical, it’s the greatest innovation since water. Unfortunately, if you want TextMate on Windows you will have to wait. There is no Windows variant and Allan Odgaard appears to have zero interest in creating one. On the bright side, however, some others are working on the TextMate-inspired e for Windows. Though it feels not-quite-there, it is promising; I find the milestone history and visual undo features particularly interesting (see the right side of the screenshot below). Context menus do not work, Alt keys don’t open the menus, and the cool directory-file sidecar that TextMate has seems to be missing. All of this is at first glance, so it all may be hidden away in some clever Macintosh idiom, but I didn’t find it.
There’s also InType,
though nothing is available to download and try. You can get on their mailing list for info. From their website “Intype is a powerful and intuitive code editor for Windows with lightning fast response. It is easily extensible and customizable, thanks to support for scripting and native plug-ins. It makes development in any programming or scripting language quick and easy.”
Update (Jan 8, 06): An alpha release of Intype is now available. So far it supports bundles and next to nothing else, except editing files. It indeed appears to be headed in the direction of TextMate, but lags a cut or two behind e. For example, there is no visual undo or history.
Less Snooty Options
So, you aren’t a TextMate groupie but you still want a good text editor. Relax, there are many from which to choose, even if you don’t want to spend money for a great editor.
Below is a quick overview of several Windows text editors and a screenshot of each. In each text has been selected and the right mouse button context menu is shown. Also, where project, code or clipboard explorers, or output windows are available, they are enabled.
Free and packed with features, PSPad is an intriguing option. Currently at version 4.5.2, Its features include FTP support, projects, regular expressions, bracket and syntax highlighting, spell checking, macros, text difference, templates, HTML preview, hex editing, reformatting, column mode, code explorer, compiler and external tool integration, and more. It comes with the free version of TopStyle Lite for CSS editing.
The only apparent downside is a lack of code folding support. Since PSPad has a code explorer, it’s not that bad, but code folding would be great. If I’m overlooking it, please tell me how to enable folding.
Update (Jan 8, 2006): Further use of PSPad reveals some cursor oddities that give it an unfinished feel. Also the PSPad forums seem to indicate that the developer is having difficulty finding a solution to code folding, a much-requested feature by the PSPad user community. If you’re interested in these sorts of things, PSPad is written in Object Pascal.
Notepad++ supports macros, code folding, syntax highlighting, bracket highlighting, function completion, regular expression searching, bookmarks, plugins, launching in browsers, and more. It is currently at version 3.9 and was last updated in April of 2006.
Though it has a serene look to it, Notepad++ feels a little weird to me. It’s tough to put my finger on why, though, so it might work great for you.
Priced at $30, EditPlus is at version 2.30 (last update on 11/14/2006) and supports the usual cast of features, including macros, projects, FTP, code folding, syntax and bracket highlighting, spell checking, and so on.
UltraEdit has been my editor of choice for years. Regularly updated and now at version 12.20, IDM products include UltraCompare, UltraEdit Studio, and UltraSentry. UltraEdit is about $50 (â‚¬ 38). UE supports syntax highlighting, code folding, FTP, sorting lines, emailing files, hex editing, macros, column mode, reformatting, HTML validation, projects, and on and on.
Besides the edit window, in the screenshot below the file explorer, output window, function explorer, and clipboard explorer are open.
UltraCompare, shown below, is a file compare utility that supports merging. A bundle with UltraEdit and UltraCompare is about $65 (â‚¬ 49).
TextPad, currently at version 4.7.3, is a capable text editor with a decent feature set (such as macros) but it suffers from odd key mappings and having nothing special to recommend it. In addition, it is $30 (Â£16.50) and has not been updated since June 19, 2004. Some people like it, but I see no reason to recommend it. Sorry.
Crimson Editor is another fine but outdated editor, not updated since fall of 2004. However, it is free, so if it does all you need, it isn’t bad. The last version was 3.70 and supports macros, templates, FTP, regular expression searching, and projects.
Update (Jan 8, 2006): Loved by some and sporting some features, jEdit is slow and marred by its icky Java goodness. If you are fashionably rebellious or tied to Java, this might be a good choice. Otherwise, look elsewhere.
Update (Jan 8, 2006): vi lovers — you know who you are — will probably already know about this, but if not or if you like puzzles, give Vim or gVim a shot. Vim is a superset of the vi editor and gVim wraps a GUI around this obtuse textual masterpiece. (If Vim or gVim doesn’t do it for you but you still need your vi, give WinVi a shot.)
Still other text editors exist for Windows.
Zeus is an editor and IDE that runs $45. It supports class browsing, CVS, VSS, and more.
SciTE is part of Scintilla and supports all the latest features.
EditPad Pro is yet another text editor and costs $49. A lite version is free.
EmEditor is another text editor with decent features available in Professional, Standard, and Free versions. The free version is pretty stripped-down.
Bottom line, I still like UltraEdit and may still upgrade, but PSPad has to be the best bang for the buck. It has earned a place on my system next to UltraEdit, and has to be the editor of choice in situations where $50 is too much to spend. In fact, if I did not already have an UltraEdit license (taking the upgrade price down to $25), I would just stick with PSPad.
Update (Jan 8, 2006): PSPad has me a bit worried (see above). A little flakiness with it is making that UltraEdit upgrade look more attractive.