Most people are aware of the Notepad text editor in Windows. For taking quick notes, it’s functional, though you can do more with it than just that. We previously covered how to create realistic error messages, for instance.
Development of Notepad has mostly stagnated. There haven’t been any appreciable changes since Windows 2000, if not earlier, and it can still stop a system from shutting down until you choose whether to save a file or not.
Unsurprisingly, alternatives exist, and we’ll show you some of the best.
Why replace Notepad?
This is a good question to begin with, and the answer is for the average user, Notepad does everything it needs to with its short list of features. However, if you’re reading this article we’re not going to assume you’re an average user. Chances are you want to be able to do more or know more.
Limitations to Notepad can be quite niche, but they are there and can cause problems if you run into them. It is possible for Notepad to corrupt files containing foreign characters if you absent-mindedly save them. Notepad will convert the character sets to ANSI or UTF-8, which not all files play nicely with.
If there are two things you can expect to find with direct replacements for Notepad, they’re tabular displays and line counters. Both are beneficial for developers, but of the two, tabs are likely to be of more interest to downloaders intending to write within them. Tabs need little explanation, having become indispensable with web browsers.
Line counters, on the other hand, may need a little more explanation. For coding, word wrap is not a desirable feature, as it can break lines or make it harder to view them as intended. Hence, lines can run for considerable length, and identifying them becomes much easier when they’re clearly displayed.
If one name in this realm is widely known, it’s Notepad++. Since its release in 2003, it has become the most commonly accepted alternative.
The original development purpose was (as with the other entries on this list) mostly to handle coding and development – but that’s not to say it can’t handle text, too.
Notepad++ is free, and to give you an idea of how ardent its fans are, there’s a wiki for it.
Since v3.1, it is also extensible, meaning you can enhance its default features as well. Depending on what you intend to use it for, you can add FTP support, a spellchecker or a basic game of Tetris.
Notepad++ support for “Themes” is worthy of note as well. Your mental image of Notepad is a white background with black text, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The themes included as standard are quite nice, ranging from softer contrasts to the “black screen with green text” you’ve seen in the “hacking” scenes in most films.
If you’d like to try Notepad++ without going to the bother of installing it, the developer’s website provides a choice of either .zip or .7z portable versions that can be run from a memory stick.
Notepad2‘s name makes very clear its goal of being like the existing Notepad. Even the icons are remarkably similar when they are compared. At the time of writing, Notepad2 was last updated in 2012, though it is feature-complete. The developer’s website also makes it possible to download a portable version, should you wish to try the program without going through an installation procedure.
The UI is pleasingly bright and straightforward. Right-clicking the toolbars makes it possible to tweak the program further, allowing you to bend it to your needs.
This simplicity extends itself to Notepad2’s handling of settings: rather than giving you a pop-up window containing the choices available to you, they appear within the drop-down menus. Of course, you do not have to use the drop-down menus, as Notepad2 provides shortcuts for just about everything.
One feature we found particularly interesting was transparency. You can make the Notepad2 window transparent and layer it over something else to see both. Why this is a feature we’re not sure: it likely was added when Windows 7 was Microsoft’s key product, with its Aero interface.
If there’s one limitation to Notepad2 it’s the lack of tabbed browsing. While undeniably closer to Notepad’s design, we feel the tabular browsing is something many users will come to rely on.
3. Editpad Lite
Something of a dark horse compared to Notepad2 and Notepad++, Editpad Lite is another option which does many of the same tasks equally as well. It holds a special significance for me, being one of the first programs I remember installing.
Tabbed access to multiple files is an ever-present feature, though we think Editpad Lite has the simplest interface, particularly with the “Search” bars on the bottom disabled. It looks a little dated compared to newer programs, but so does Notepad. The simple interface could prove ideal if your only intention is to write. It’s still a robust code editor but isn’t quite as obvious about it. As a neat touch it even includes an “Office 2003” view, as shown above.
Should you want a portable version of Editpad Lite, the installer allows you to create one. Not many programs come with this type of option, and it is an interesting inclusion given most portable versions are mentioned alongside the regular download.
There you have it: three of the most popular alternatives to Notepad, all of which can massively extend the simple text editor’s list of features. Whether you’re planning to write code or write text, any of these three should stand you in good stead. Given how long Notepad has been relevant for, it’s entirely possible you could pick an alternative and simply never have to deviate from it again. If you’re looking to tweak the software, Notepad++ has by far the most flexibility – provided you can find where to change many of the settings, for it is the most complex of the three as well.