Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
Pluses for a Notepad Alternative
by Alan German
utility in Windows has always provided a quick way to
create and edit simple text files, but it also has some
limitations, not the least of which are its inability to
handle more than one file at a time, and the lack of a
spell checker. Notepad++, an open-source program,
released under the GNU General Public License (GPL),
provides a ready alternative to Microsoft's old warhorse,
and offers a vast array of additional features.
Executing the 2MB installation file produces a simple
wizard that prompts for the selection of the default
language, license agreement, program location, and a wide
variety of program components. For most users, the
default selections will probably be quite acceptable. The
actual installation takes only seconds, and provides a
desktop-icon with which to launch the new program.
Running the program produces a blank page that is ready
to accept typed text. However, the enhanced nature of the
program is very evident by the large number of menu
options arrayed across the top of the window and a second
line, almost full of icons, for various program actions.
The other obvious differences are the fact that the
current page appears as a tab, and the left side of the
page contains line numbers.
Some of the
menu options, such as File, Edit and View, are standard
items in Windows' programs, but others, such as TextFX
and Plugins, are specific to Notepad++. Similarly, the
well-known icons for actions such as New File, Open and
Save, are accompanied by a variety of unfamiliar items.
Hovering the mouse over any individual icon pops up an
explanatory text box, so icons such as Synchronize
Vertical Scrolling, and Light Explorer, can be readily
identified. But, even so, the precise purpose of such
icons is not necessarily apparent.
And, here is one minor drawback of Notepad++. While many
of the program's operations are quite intuitive, the
information relating to unfamiliar features is only
available over the Internet, through a series of links
provided in the Help menu. Furthermore, the help files on
the web, while containing some very useful information,
are not particularly well structured. One has to look
through a number of sections of material to locate a
specific item of interest, rather than having a
well-defined and orderly series of pages aligned
specifically to each of the program's menu items.
Nevertheless, the basic program operations are very
intuitive. Start typing on the blank page and text
accumulates, just as if you were using Notepad, wrapping
around onto the next line automatically. In this simple
text entry mode, the line numbers actually
refer to individual paragraphs rather than the lines of
text themselves. The line numbers come into their own
when using Notepad++ as a program editor. The Language
menu has options for about four dozen programming
languages including C++, Fortran and Visual Basic. Also
Notepad++ understands the syntax of these languages and
assists the programmer by, for example, providing numbers
for the individual lines of code, handy for finding and
fixing compilation errors, and by highlighting specific
code structures (e.g. HTML tags) in different colours.
As noted previously, there are many menu items and, in
turn, each menu item has a large number of options. Given
that Notepad++ is a multi-file text editor, such features
as File Save All (open files), Close All, and
Close All But Active Document are very useful. The Edit
menu includes an extensive series of find and replace
commands, and some unusual options such as Trim Trailing
Spaces. Similarly the View menu has an option to Show End
of Line that results in CR LF being displayed at the end
of each paragraph of text.
Some of the more obscure items that you may not find in
other editors are in the Run menu. Launch in Firefox, or
Launch in IE, displays an HTML file in a web browser; and
Google Search launches the well-known search engine to
seek hits based on a word or phrase highlighted in the
text. Other useful commands include TextFX Tools
Clean Email > Quoting which can be used to strip the
quotation characters out of E-mail messages, and PlugIns
Light Explorer that provides a disk directory tree
in a column to the left of the text page.
It is also possible to display two open files in
side-by-side windows, but, the process for doing this is
not intuitive. The help system indicates that you need to
right click on one of the file tabs and select Go to
another View. You can then use Plugins Compare to
visually highlight any differences between the two files
in their respective display windows. Here is where
clicking on the icon to Synchronize Vertical Scrolling
becomes useful. Scrolling down one file's contents now
causes the contents of the file in the second window to
scroll in unison, so that similarities, and differences,
in the files become very apparent.
On a basic level, Notepad++ functions just as simply as
its Windows' cousin, but it has many more available
features. All you have to do is dig around the menu
system to identify the different options and,
occasionally, consult the web-based help system to figure
out how specific aspects of the program work. But, if you
find any deficiency in the Windows' original, it is quite
likely that Notepad++ will provide the tool(s) that you
need. And, it costs nothing to find out.
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Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON K2G 1S6
opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.
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