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The Best Free Text Editors for Windows, Linux, and Mac

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We all use text editors to take notes, save web addresses, write code, as well as other uses. Every operating system comes with a default, basic text editor, but most of us install our own enhanced text editors to get more features.

In this article, we’ve gathered links to many different text editors used for different purposes. You can use text editors for basic text editing and taking notes, writing programming code, producing LaTeX documents, writing a book, among many other uses.

Notepad and WordPad Replacements

Are you looking for more capabilities than the default Notepad in Windows? Would you rather use a graphical text editor in Linux, rather than the built-in vi? There are many options for useful, text editors out there.

Some employ a tabbed interface, such as Jarte (which is based on the WordPad word processing engine and integrates easily with WordWeb), EditPad Lite (which also has the automatic backup), and Notetab Light (which can also calculate the value of mathematical expressions entered in the program). Jarte, EditPad Lite, and Notetab Light are all only available for Windows. Jarte is also available as a portable program.

Typically, Vi is the default text editor in Linux operating systems and it’s a keyboard intensive program with no graphical user interface (GUI). A good text editor for Windows that has hotkeys available for its 312 text-processing functions, innovative features, and timesaving tools is TED Notepad, which is also available as a portable program. Emacs is also available for both Windows and Linux, and is customizable. It also includes a file compare utility and a file manager. You can also add Org-mode to Emacs, which is a personal information management and outlining tool. If you prefer text editors with GUIs, Vim and gEdit are both good options and are available. Vim is essentially the graphical version of Vi. For help editing text files in Vi or Vim, see our Beginner’s Guide.

GetDiz is a Notepad replacement for Windows that allows you to edit many text files quickly from within Windows Explorer and has enhanced functionality for dealing with DIZ and NFO files. It can also display ASCII art correctly. Another ASCII text formatter for Windows is TextMorph, which can also convert text to and from HTML and clean up emails (remove all the “>” symbols, etc.), and search and replace by words or multiple paragraphs.

Programmer’s Text Editors

There are many text editors that provide useful functionality for programmers. Most support syntax highlighting for many programming languages, multiple document editing, and are extendable with plugins. Some also allow editing of remote files through FTP.

PSPad not only supports syntax highlighting, but also matching bracket highlighting for most popular programming languages. It also has a hex editor, macro recorder, and a differencing tool. PSPad also easily integrates with the free version of the free version of the TopStyle CSS editor. Notepad++ also supports bracket highlighting and macro recording. It also supports syntax folding and is highly customizable through plugins using the included plugin manager. Both PSPad and Notepad++ are only available for Windows.

The cross-platform (Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X) editor, jEdit, supports syntax highlighting for over 200 programming languages and auto indent, as well as a differencing utility, an FTP browser, and block selecting. It is also extendable using plugins and macros, and there are hundreds of plugins and macros available through the built-in plugin manager feature.

Programmer’s Notepad for Windows supports syntax highlighting using schemes, both built-in and user-defined, code folding and outlining, a tabbed interface with multi-level split views, and the ability to export to HTML (using CSS) and RTF.

If you like the Vi editor in Linux, but prefer a graphical editor that also serves well as a programmer’s text editor, Editra and Komodo Edit are good options. They both provide Vi emulation, as well as support for syntax highlighting in many programming languages and code folding. Editra has a tabbed interface, allows block (un)commenting and (un)indenting, and is extendable using the built-in plugin downloader/installer. Komodo Edit supports background syntax checking and contains a toolbox with shell command integration, macros, and code snippets. Both Editra and Komodo Edit are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

Other options include the following:

  • Crimson Editor – A very small editor for Windows containing a directory tree view window
  • PowerPad – A powerful, easy-to-use editor for Windows and Linux that has a tabbed interface, and supports auto-indent, line numbering and a Python-based scripting language
  • Geany – A small and fast IDE for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that supports code folding, code navigation, a build system, and a plugin interface
  • Notepad2 – A fast, light-weight text editor like Notepad for Windows with syntax highlighting and runs as a portable program

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Microsoft Word Replacements

There are also free programs that act as replacements for Microsoft Word. They can be used as text editors, but they have more formatting features than simple text editors. You can add images and tables, change fonts and color, and insert hyperlinks.

AbiWord runs on Windows and Linux and can read and write OpenOffice.org documents, Microsoft Word documents, WordPerfect documents, Rich Text Format documents, and HTML web pages. It has advanced document layout options such as tables, bullets, numbered lists, images, styles, footnotes, and endnotes. It even has a Mail Merge utility like Microsoft Word. You can extend AbiWord with a variety of plugins, which can be selected when you install AbiWord. A portable version is also available that you can run from a USB flash drive.

Angel Writer is a small rich text editor for Windows with a high performance rate that allows you to easily create impressive documents.

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Minimalist Text Editors

If you get distracted when you write by the plethora of features in text editors and word processors, you might want to try one of the so-called “minimalist” text editors out there. They are “no-frills” editors that either don’t offer any formatting features or many of the other features of modern word processors, and even third-party text editors, or the features are hidden until you want them. Without all the fancy features staring you in the face, you can concentrate on the task of writing. Below is a list of some of the minimalist text editors we found.

  • Dark Room– Available for Windows, requires .NET Framework 2.0, and is available as a portable program.
  • JDarkRoom– Available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X
  • Q10– Available for Windows and as a portable program
  • CopyWriter– Available for Windows and as a portable program
  • WriteMonkey– Available for Windows and as a portable program
  • Bookwrite– Available for Windows and Linux
  • Scribes– Available for Linux
  • FocusWriter – Available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, and as a portable program for Windows

You can even download Word 5.5 from Microsoft for free and run it under DOSBox in Windows.

If you want a simple text editor with the ability to count down from a set word count, try yEdit2 for Windows. If you have to write a certain number of words, yEdit2 can make it easier.

Secure Text Editors

You can also use a text editor as secure place to store private information. There are several text editors that either include encryption as a feature or are specially designed for securely storing text. Notepad++, mentioned in the Programmer’s Text Editors section above, allows you to add encryption functionality using the SecurePad plugin, which is available through the built-in Plugin Manager. SecurePad will encrypt selected text in the current document or the whole document.

Steganos LockNote is a small, simple method for securely storing chunks of information in files. For example, if you purchase a download-only program, you can use LockNote to store the product key or serial number that goes with that program in the same folder, so you always know where to find it.

  • CryptNote – Available for Windows and as a portable program
  • CryptoTE– Available for Windows and Linux, and as a portable program for Windows
  • NotepadCrypt– Available for Windows as a portable program
  • Xint– Available for Windows
  • f0dder’s fSekrit – Available for Windows and as a portable program

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LaTeX Editors

Do you write a lot of scientific papers, documents, or books? If so, there are several text editors that allow you to easily use TeX/LaTeX (document markup language and document preparation system) through a graphical interface to create mathematical content and structured documents like academic articles, theses, and books.

  • LaTeX Editor (LEd)– Available for Windows and as a portable program
  • LyX– Available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X
  • WinEdt– Available for Windows
  • TeXstudio– Available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X and as a portable program on Windows and Mac OS X
  • Texmaker – Available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X

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Novel Writing Editor

There’s even an editor that’s meant for writing novels, called yWriter5, available for Windows and Linux. It breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you to keep track of your work. However, yWriter5 does not suggest plot ideas, character names, or write any part of your novel for you. The creative task of writing is still up to you, yWriter5 just makes it easier.

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Once you find a text editor you like to replace Notepad, you can actually replace Notepad in Windows 7 with your preferred text editor. You can also add additional options to your favorite text editor.

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 04/28/12

Comments (34)

  1. philipp

    SCITE FTW!

  2. Thomas

    vi

  3. Ahlqvis

    For Mac OS: TextMate

  4. Callum Booth

    Sublime Text 2 not getting any love?

  5. TheDoorkeeper

    I like FocusWriter and use it and Geany on Ubuntu. Haven’t gotten around to installing them on Windows.

  6. Dark Reality

    Notepad is not that bad for Q&D notes and text file editing.

    I used EditPad Lite but quit a few years ago. I forget why. Something really bothered me, though. Something they changed… I don’t recall. I switched to Notepad++, but it’s a little too much for me. I like that it’s available from PortableApps; I keep the standard installation at home and a portable one on my portable hard drive.

    I’m curious about yWriter, and the author does say that it can be run from a portable drive.

    Since you pointed out the novel writing app, which is a little too ambitious, I think, for the scope of the article, you might also have mentioned Wiki on a Stick. It’s a single file wiki that can be edited in any modern browser. It’s not a proper file editor as it keeps all its info within, but for a project like a novel, a wiki is not a bad idea. I attempted NaNoWriMo in 2009 using Wiki on a Stick. (Next time I will use My Writing Spot, which saves your files to your Google account, and is accessible on the web and on smartphones and tablets via a paid app (which I bought).)

  7. r

    I’ll use any text editor that edits text

  8. Eric F.

    you missed my personal favorite, and the one that I often use in place of Notepad, TextPad (http://www.textpad.com)!

  9. BMills

    Another good secure text editor is Crypditor. It’s similar to Locknote, but has a tabbed interface.

    http://www.protectcom.de/crypditor/eng/

  10. Juri

    Sublime Text 2…it’s not free, I know, but it is definitely worth the money!!

  11. Squ36

    @Callum Booth : Yeah he’s definitely my personal favorite. I use it every day at work, and my coworkers are now using it too :)

  12. TheFu

    90% vim – quick, efficient like no other editor.
    8% Geany – when I remember (usually when coding perl, python, ruby); It really is a very nice, light-weight editor.
    1% Eclipse – when writing Android/Java. It is too painful even for that.
    0.9% Notepad++ – when stuck on “that” platform.
    0.1% Nano – when there isn’t any other choice.

    Often, ‘cat >> foo.sh’ works just fine too.

    For word processing, it is mostly web-text entry fields or LibreOffice. Meh.

    For secure text storage, I usually just put the words into a password manager like KeePassX or use an old NoteCase (F/LOSS version) with AES outliner. Different outlines can be encrypted or not. Had versions for every platform I needed … Windows, Linux, Maemo, so it is still used.

    Excellent article. Lots of good choices and information.

  13. Phubai

    Mac OSX: TextWrangler is exceptional

    Linux: Medit

    I most often use vi or vim when in OSX or Linux, and notepad in Windows. This article has generated some curiosity and I’m going to look at some of the windows offerings.

    Thanks!

  14. Kevalin

    Thanks for a really informative article. I’m particularly interested in some of the encryptable editors, since I’m currently on a mission to gather all my many passwords in one place outside “the cloud”, but I’ve been hesitant about turning one of my 2 GB jump drives into a vault for a note that will be less that 10 kbs in size, no matter how important that note might be.

    This will give me some options to look at that will let me keep some of my more commonly-used passwords close by, but keep them more secure than trying to hide a notepad file in amongst the rest of my stuff.

  15. Baradoch

    The Write Brothers ScriptWriter for screen scripts.
    Adobe’s FrameMaker for technical documents.
    MadCap for Structured documents.
    The list goes on and on … :)

  16. Kew

    I definitelly vote for TED Notepad. It is the only one that can actually open 400 MB file and edit it in REAL-time. Well I know that most text editors “are able to” open big files, but have you ever tried to do it? Just loading takes ages an every keystroke is either a zzzzz or a torture!

    But not in TED Notepad. Loading 400 MB database dump file takes expectably long (as long as copying the file to another disk) and then all keystrokes are prompt and swift as if only a few KB of text was being edited. Those few of us, who need to open such extremely big files should try it out…. :-)

    P.S. My dump files only have about 10.000 lines (though each of them is very very very long). I should perhaps mention that homepage of TED Notepad says that “only huge files with less then million lines are this prompt”. So I guess it cannot promptly handle files with too many tons of lines fast enough yet? But I dont really care, since I dont have files with more than half a ton lines :-)

  17. sudobash

    vim is not vi with a gui. “VIM – Vi IMproved” Vim has the option to compile with a gui, but it has many other improvements.

    Vim is the ultimate text editor for programmers on Linux, Mac, and Windows. :)

  18. Martijn Van Loocke

    I swear by notepad++. When I switched to linux for my thesis I tried out several editors but in the end I installed notepad++ with wine (though that makes it slightly unstable). What I like the most about it is the keyboard shortcuts. Many editors have some shortcuts but notepad++ has them all.

    An example is Ctrl+Q; This comments the line based on the language you are currently writing in. I haven’t found that in another editor. Another is Ctrl+Shift+Up or Down. This moves one or several lines up or down without copy pasting.

  19. clickfire

    I just discovered notepad++ and I’m loving it. You can select copy and paste columns.

  20. LadyFitzgerald

    I don’t even use text editors. The closest I ever come to needing one is to strip formatting, such as text color, from something I copied to the clipboard, such as when copying text from one webpage and pasting into an email. I use my post it note program. I just double click on its icon in the task bar, paste to the blank post it note, copy it again, then drop the note. The result, when pasted where ever, is text without any formatting.

    Anything more than that, I just use Word.

  21. Pablo Greg

    Nice list, my personal favorite: bluefish, CSS and HTML oriented, but with programming capabilities.

  22. Ed

    TextPad for Windows. Best Notepad replacement ever.

  23. Citrus Rain

    I’ve been using bluefish on linux. Surpised you didn’t mention it.

  24. Larry Z

    Mac users, why bother with any of the above? TextEdit, the simple word processor that comes free with every Mac OS X (any version) is more than adequate.

  25. mmg1818

    EditPadPro6

  26. Jim Christiansen

    I’ve been using Note Tab Light for many years and it is quite full featured and comes in a more powerful paid for version.
    http://www.notetab.com/

  27. tommy2rs

    Been using Metapad to replace Notepad for years. No file size limit and it can be used as a portable app.

  28. miki

    notepad++ forever

  29. Nerdview

    There are lots of them out there but when you are working on hundreds of servers and workstations and need to write something down quick you always know notepad will be there on any windows system. I don’t use anything else because I don’t want to get used to something that i can’t install on everything.

  30. Andrew

    Gotta give props to UltraEdit. It’s a little pricey, but it does just about everything except butter my toast.

  31. tyme2tb

    SciTE (Scintilla Text Editor) is the one I have always liked.

  32. Koss

    I think there is a forgotten category: Editors for large text files. A lot of editors hang trying to open files of 500MB or 5 GB.
    For example, Jalatext (http://www.jalatext.com) is optimized for deal with this kind of files.

  33. astral_cyborg

    I used to have TED Notepad, but now I use AkelPad.

  34. toady

    Great article. Didn’t know there were encrypting editors. I’m going to try locknote.
    Thanx.

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