Windows 10 Notepad

In a world where fancy, hyper-connected, note-taking apps litter the landscape, one app stands alone in its lightweight simplicity: Windows Notepad. Here’s why it’s still a great choice for taking notes.

The Benefits of Notepad

The humble Windows Notepad has been with us for 35 years now, tucked into every version of Windows since Windows 1.0. It has a simple job: To easily view, create, and edit text files, which are one of the most fundamental building blocks of modern computing.

Even in this day and age, Notepad is still a useful tool for making quick notes on your computer. Sure, there are specialized note-taking apps that support more sophisticated formatting, data structuring, or cloud-based synchronization between platforms. But for some people, the extra features just mean extra baggage that they’d rather not deal with. Here’s why Notepad is still great.

It’s Quick and Lightweight

When you want to write something down, you want to do it quickly while the idea is still fresh. In that way, Notepad shines. Click the Notepad icon and the program pops on-screen in a flash. There’s no waiting for libraries and fancy features to load into memory before you can use the program. When inspiration strikes, every moment counts, and Notepad is ready and waiting to capture your ideas.

By the way, if you want a quick way to timestamp your notes with Notepad, just hit F5, and the current date and time will be instantly inserted into your file.

Windows 10 Notepad Example

It Uses a Future-Proof Storage Format

Text files are as old as personal computers themselves (older, in fact), and as long as Windows writes its text files to an industry-standard format like ASCII or Unicode, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to read your notes on any computer platform far into the future. Other programs write their specially formatted notes in proprietary file formats or even databases that may not be easily readable in the future.

RELATED: What Are Character Encodings Like ANSI and Unicode, and How Do They Differ?

You Stay in Control

Notepad lets you save your notes (as text files) exactly where you want them, and you have no one but your operating system to answer to about how you organize, copy, or back them up. You can migrate your notes to another app by opening them in any app that understands text files.

If you use a note-taking app, your notes might be locked behind a paid subscription account and stored in the cloud. The company storing the data is the gatekeeper of your ideas.

If the app stores data locally in a non-obvious location on your hard drive in a proprietary format and some future disaster recovery scenario has you picking through the ashes of your data, trying to find and recover your actual note data in File Explorer will be tricky.

Privacy and Security Are Up to You

With cloud-synchronized note-taking apps, your notes get pushed out over the internet and are viewable on any device with the app. That means there are more potential ways to access that data outside of your purview, including accidentally by family or friends who may borrow your device from time to time.

Also, your cloud-synchronized notes are often stored on remote servers behind a publically accessible login, which means your credentials can be stolen and your data accessed from anywhere on Earth. One security breach in your account and all of your potentially sensitive or private notes are open for them to see.

With a text file in Notepad, the data is completely in your hands, stored on your local device. As long as you follow safe computing habits and keep your machine secure, the text file is not going anywhere unless you copy it first.

Dealing With Notepad’s Drawbacks

The Windows 95 Notepad Icon

We love Notepad, but we can’t say it is always the best solution for everyone. For overall convenience, you might choose another app. But there are also ways to address Notepad’s shortcomings.

No Fancy Text Formatting

It’s true: if you need text formatting features, such as bold, italics, or changing font sizes, Notepad is not the solution. You can, however, use symbols and punctuation for simple formatting. Asterisks make great bullet points, tabs can form indented lists, ALL CAPS serve as good headers, and repeated dashes or equal signs make great line separators. And, don’t forget the classic _adding emphasis_ using the underscore character.

If you really can’t live without bold text, try WordPad. If you need fancy pagination, try a word processing app like Microsoft Word.

RELATED: What's the Difference Between Notepad and WordPad in Windows?

No Cloud Syncing or Backup

If you prefer to work in the text format medium and also want cloud backup or synchronization capabilities, store your Notepad text files in a cloud file service like Dropbox or OneDrive. Every time you hit save in Notepad, your changes will end up on every device that uses the cloud app.

No Encryption or Account-Based Security

Sure, text files aren’t locked away behind an encrypted account by default—unless you store them in an encrypted file partition managed by something like VeraCrypt or Microsoft’s Bitlocker. And if you prefer to restrict access to your notes by password, there are other ways to keep the notes private, including not letting people you don’t trust use your computer.

Lack of a Search Feature

Sure, you can search within a text file with Notepad by hitting Ctrl+F to open the Find dialog. But what if you have 500 text files and you need to find information in one of them? In that case, Windows Search comes to the rescue, letting you search within as many text files as you want.

No Organizational Features

If you like to organize your notes by concept or date, create a logical folder structure in File Explorer, and copy your text file to the appropriate location.

How to Use Notepad to Take Notes

Why not try out Notepad right now? It’s easy: just click your “Start” button, type “Notepad,” hit enter, and you’re ready to go.

An example of Notepad in Windows 10

You might be surprised at the ease at which you can jump right into note-taking any time you like.

Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a Staff Writer for How-To Geek. For over 14 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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