Operating System

Choosing the right editor

Microsoft Word and its open source counterparts are excellent at creating nice looking documents. No one wants to give potential employers a resume written in raw ASCII. However, sometimes you need to work on files at a much lower level than office programs will allow. For that reason, there are a number of text editors out there that are worth looking into depending on what you want to do.


Let’s start at the command line. Generally there is no reason to edit anything from the command line on Windows, so we will assume a Unix environment in this paragraph. Bash beginners will want to try out nano first. Nano is a very simple and newbie-friendly editor. Nano’s control scheme is simple and its commands are all right at the bottom of the screen. It is simple, easy, and requires no explanation.

Another command line editor is Vim (or Vi). Vim is considerably more convoluted than Nano, and requires a lot more explanation and teaching. Fortunately, Vim has its own tutorial program. Type vimtutor at the command line and it will open a text file that teaches you the basics of vim in about a half hour. Vim is nice because it is designed so that if you know what you’re doing you can edit a file without ever taking your hands off the keyboard. This makes for a much more efficient editing process.

There are a couple of good graphical editors built into Windows. The venerable Notepad is the most common one (Text Edit and gedit are Notepad’s OS X and Ubuntu equivalents, respectively). Notepad is nice and easy, but sometimes it is a little bit too barebones. For example, files that are edited in Linux or OS X will show up with the lines all crammed together in Notepad because Notepad cannot recognize either of those operating systems’ newline characters. For a slightly better Windows editor, try WordPad. It also comes with Windows, but it has a few more features than Notepad and it doesn’t have any of the same weird problems like the aforementioned one with newlines.

If you want to even go another step up from WordPad, there is Notepad++. Notepad++ is a third party program that is great for scripting and light programming. It has built in syntax highlighting and supports regex when finding and replacing. Notepad++ is designed for programming, and it does that much better than any of the other graphical text editors we have mentioned so far.


The highest level of editors is an Integrated Development Environment, or IDE. IDEs come in many shapes and sizes, and are intended for many languages. Visual Studio is used with C++, C#, and many of Microsoft’s .NET languages. Code::Blocks is a very nice C/C++ editor (although we all know that if you’re coding in C, Vim is the only editor that is hardcore enough for you). The IDE I will be discussing is Eclipse. Eclipse is often used for Java development, but it is compatible with a variety of plugins that allow it to edit C++, PHP, Javascript, and any other language you can think of (LISP, anyone?). Eclipse is also ideal for editing large projects. It lets you have several different files open at once and can navigate a directory structure without having to open explorer like in Word or Notepad++. The only negative with Eclipse is that it can be very obtuse and lots of good functionality gets lost because it is not readily visible.

So there you have it. A basic list of text editors, going from lowest to highest level. All of these have their pros and cons, and different situations call for different editors. In the end, as with all choices of software, the biggest factor is personal preference. Try some different editors and see which one you like. And remember, there are always more options out there.