Friday 5 April 2013

Editors of the textual kind

The one key component of any computer system I could call "mine" has been a solid text editor. Not a word processor -- most of the time, unless I'm working with "official" (work or school) stuff, I have no need for mixing fonts faces, sizes, colours, or inserting images into the document. I would just like to read information, or type out something without wasting time on bells and whistles.

Kudos to Microsoft for shipping such an absolute lemon of a text editor in Notepad, which couldn't open large text files or acknowledge that text files can be produced and used in non-Windows environments. This pointless truculence spurred on some great little projects in the Windows world.

This was the first ever Notepad replacement I discovered. It wasn't particularly lightweight, but solved the annoying problem of the standard Notepad being unable to handle large or binary files.

Metapad was the Notepad replacement I used, while in Windows 95/98. It was super light, opened everything in sight, and the ideal candidate for text file management on my underpowered (and -- although I didn't think so back then -- somewhat ugly) desktop. Syntax highlighting was for wimps, and on the occasion when it was badly needed, SciTE appeared to suffice.

Once I managed to scrape together enough competition winnings and had the security of a job assured (this was in 2004), I decided it was time to get my hands dirty and build my own desktop. While not quite from scratch, some reasonably smart hustling for parts meant I was able to put together a very decently powerful machine at a tight budget. This resulted in Metapad getting the boot from the brand new Windows XP install, and making way for Notepad2 (after a brief period of experimentation). This still-awesome marvel of a tool had a few more text manipulation features, and bundled in syntax highlighting, for the same relative load on the system as Metapad.

Ah, what can I say? This is the most indispensable tool for anyone using any flavour of Windows. Syntax highlighting, code-folding, lightweight project management, session management, powerful regular expression searching, file comparison, and an FTP browser. Everything anyone could ever want when dealing with text files, and then some more, aided by the rich ecosystem of available plugins. It's still around, being actively improved, and a permanent fixture on any Windows install I have to use.

Honourable mentions
EditPlus and Textpad -- these two somehow kept cropping up on a lot of other tech people's computers, and I had cause to use them sporadically. It was a little weird because these weren't free tools, but the nag screens were easily dismissed and no functionality was crippled. I would call them the WinZip of text editors -- mostly competent, gets the basics right, nags you to buy, but gets out of your way if you don't want to.

Current situation
gedit (the Notepad++ equivalent for Ubuntu) in the GUI, and vim otherwise. Not much exposition is called for here, except perhaps for smirking at emacs.

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