From days immemorial (i.e. for about a decade), Yutaka Emura’s EmEditor was my preferred editor for all kinds of plain text, including HTML/XML documents and source code outside of full-fledged IDEs. Back in the day, EmEditor was one of the first editors to fully support Unicode. Indeed, I switched to EmEditor from two earlier favorites because their authors refused to add Unicode support, claiming it wasn’t important!
Those days are thankfully behind us, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any modern text editor that doesn’t support Unicode. That’s a good thing, too, because EmEditor is now afflicted by bit rot in its user interface. As the program accrued more and more features, the UI became a labyrinthine mess of multi-level menus, multi-line toolbars, and multi-tabbed dialogs. Worse, EmEditor relies on third-party plug-ins for some basic functionality, and the plug-in mechanism is poorly integrated with the standard UI.
So I cast about for an alternative: light-weight, not too expensive, and comparable in feature set, but with a cleaner and simpler UI. Happily, EditPad Pro by Jan Goyvaerts fits the bill exactly. A few EmEditor specialties are missing, such as support for CSV tables and LaTeX syntax highlighting. But all I need for my daily use is there, and packaged into a slick and attractive UI that’s considerably more accessible than EmEditor’s.
Here’s a quick rundown of things I liked about EditPad Pro in the couple of days I’ve been using it, regardless of whether they are also provided by EmEditor (most are):
- Good black-on-white color schemes for syntax highlighting. This is surprisingly rare, as most programmers seem to be stuck in the Unix terminal days and demand white-on-black color schemes. EditPad Pro even offers my favorite Visual Studio scheme for all supported programming languages.
- Highlighting matched and mismatched braces and tags, and commands to jump to matches and insert missing ones. Here’s another rarity: the hotkeys work out of the box on a German keyboard! Most UIs blithely assume an American keyboard where characters such as square brackets can be part of a hotkey.
- The text font defaults to Consolas if available, and the entire UI scales correctly in Windows high DPI mode, even with my current 150% setting. That should be standard but in reality it’s so rare that it deserves special accolades.
- Excellent documentation through an extensive help file that’s also available as a PDF manual. Jan Goyvaerts has co-authored the Regular Expressions Cookbook, and a full hundred manual pages are devoted to an in-depth explanation of regular expressions (which are of course fully supported by EditPad Pro).
- Added 2013-03-19: During the last month, I had asked several questions on the official forum for registered users. All were answered quickly and precisely by Jan Goyvaerts himself. Customer service doesn’t get any better than that!
- Other nice things: syntax-sensitive spell-checking, hexadecimal and navigation views, code folding, multi-file projects, and an optional tray icon for easy note-taking.
Speaking of projects, the implementation is somewhat unusual in that they only contain open files by default. Closed files are immediately removed from the project. That’s the default because it’s legacy behavior from earlier versions. The current version also offers “managed” projects which behave as in other editors, i.e. files remain part of their project even when closed. That was an early stumbling block for me but it’s been the only one so far, and it’s well explained in the user manual.
So if you’re looking for a good programmer’s editor on Windows, I suggest you give EditPad Pro a try, and perhaps also EmEditor if you prefer more features over a simpler UI. Among the other options I evaluated, the most famous ones were Notepad++ and Sublime Text, and I wanted to say a few words about those as well.
Notepad++ is a free and open-source project, and a surprisingly good one at that. The UI is simple but solid and there’s an actual user manual, although it can’t quite compete with EditPad’s or EmEditor’s. Noteworthy problems include sketchy high DPI scaling (e.g. document tabs) and an extreme case of the aforementioned white-on-black addiction in color schemes. If there weren’t any commercial options I’d invest a week in customizing Notepad++ and probably get a decent result. As it stands, though, I’d rather pay someone else for a more polished and powerful editor.
Sublime Text 2 is a commercial Mac fan favorite that’s also available for Windows and Linux. As you’d expect from software popular with Apple users, the UI is pretty and minimalistic – there’s no toolbar at all, only a menu and a status bar. That’s no big deal for a program used daily from a keyboard, and neither is the somewhat limited functionality since all the basics are pretty well covered. What is a big deal is the total lack of documentation in a US$70 product. The Help menu links to a “work in progress” web page which links to a user-written guide roughly on the same level as the one in the free NotePad++.
Worse, if you’re running Windows in high DPI mode you’ll find deciphering Sublime Text’s UI somewhere between difficult and impossible. It uses a font that’s tiny even at 96 DPI and does not scale at all. There’s actually a “Retina” version for OS X that presumably doubles all UI sizes, but the author has so far neither ported that UI to Windows nor even replied to multiple requests for such a port in his own forum. Even if you don’t presently care about DPI scaling, you should ask yourself if you really want to buy Windows software from someone who completely ignores Windows-specific issues. My answer is “hell no.”