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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Upgrade your Notepad

I know that Minesweeper is often cited as the greatest time-wasting program installed in Windows, but consider Notepad: I wonder how much time is squandered using this ineffective program. It's meant to be a lightweight app, but it's unfortunately equally light on functionality. A short list of shorcomings: no recently-used file list; the tab key inserts an annoyingly invisible tab character whose width is unadjustable, and cannot be configured to insert spaces; tabbing a selected area doesn't shift the text rightward - the selection is deleted, replaced by a dumb tab; search and replace are cumbersome. Notepad is a seriously deficient program. What a shame that it's the default editor for textual files.

On the other end of the spectrum is emacs, which has origins in Unix yet can be configured to run on Windows. It takes a while to launch and still longer to fully comprehend. A platform unto itself, it is truly powerful, but it feels clunky on Windows. (I haven't used it in years, although, like a massive distant star, it still exerts an invisible gravitational force of attraction on me.)

There is no shortage of alternative editors available, at varying levels of mediocrity and price, but I've long awaited one that satisfies these important criteria:
1. Lightweight, efficient, and quick-launching
2. Richly functional out of the box, and optimally, extensible
3. Clean and intuitive
4. Portable (installation-free)
5. Free

There exists an editor scoring high against all these requirements: PSPad.

PSPad is completely free. It can be installed, or you can simply unpack the .cab file into a folder. Like Foxit (mentioned below), it will pseudo-install itself when first run, enabling the usual shell integrations. (I find this form of late-installation to be tremendously clever and wonder why more programs don't act this way.) Since it stores configurations in a .ini file, you can easily synchronize the entire folder between machines (using FolderShare, for example, described below).

PSPad's features are as rich as any editor I've used. Column selections are possible. Regular expression and incremental search are supported. Syntax highlighting is provided for every language I could think of. Tab handling is fully customizable, including smart tabs. PSPad is fully configurable. Even so, if there's a feature missing, you can add it with WSH scripting.
Oh, and it even comes with a drop-in replacement for notepad.exe, which will launch PSPad even for those programs hard-coded to use notepad.


Blogger Brian said...

What... no Textpad mention?

2:32 PM

Blogger Jeff Kowalski said...

It's probably a matter of preference. TextPad may be good, but PSPad is both good and free.

10:47 AM


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