Five Best Text Editors

Despite decades of advancement in computing power, nothing has replaced the usefulness of a good text editor—whether you're managing a to-do list or find yourself elbow-deep in code. Here's a look at five of the best text editors.

Photo by Jamie Cox.

Notepad++ (Windows, Free)

Notepad++ is a popular Windows-based text editor. Unlike many text editors that have been ported to and fro, Notepad++ was built from the ground up to be a lightning fast Windows editor. Notepad++ supports tabbed editing, drag and drop text movement, a multi-item clipboard, split screen editing with synchronised scrolling, find and replace across multiple documents, and file comparison. If you're using Notepad++ for editing code, it supports syntax highlighting for over 48 programming languages, offers auto-completion, and includes a built-in FTP browser for accessing and updating remote code. In fact, if you're a big Notepad++ fan, it's worth your time to check out our guide to getting more plus out of Notepad++.

Vim (Windows/Mac OS X/Linux, Free)

Vim started life as a text editor for Amiga systems and has since been ported to nearly every OS around, from Windows to BeOS to every copy of Apple's Mac OS X. Like its forefather Vi, the base version of Vim is command line, not GUI, driven. If strictly command line isn't your thing, you might consider trying one of the several GUI wrappers available for Vim. You can read more about the different ports of Vim and the accompanying GUI wrappers here.

TextMate (Mac OS X, $US54)

TextMate, a Mac OS X text editor, is heavily optimised for programmers, well-known and loved for its ability to create powerful "snippets"—text macros—templates and custom commands. All of your customisations can be packed together in Bundles to create totally custom coding environments on a per-language and even per-document basis. (Though for most programming languages, someone's likely already done the heavy lifting for you—you can just download and install or use one of the many default bundles.) TextMate is the only commercial editor in this week's Hive Five but the 30-day trial provides adequate time to take it for a free test drive.

Gedit (Windows/Mac OS X/Linux, Free)

Gedit, the default text editor for the GNOME Linux desktop, is an open source editor available for Linux environments as well as Windows and Mac OS X machines. Gedit is a GUI-based text editor with syntax highlighting, search and replace, undo, bracket matching, and a plugin system for easy expansion—like the Snippets to add text macros and Document Statistics to analyse open documents.

Emacs (Windows/Mac OS X/Linux, Free)

Emacs is another programming-oriented editor packed with features that makes coding fast and efficient. Emacs features content-sensitive editing modes, syntax coloring, macro creation and add-ons. The numerous add-ons for Emacs makes it by far the most extensible editor in this week's Hive Five.

Want to give a shoutout for your favourite text editor or a great add-on for it? Let's hear about it in the comments.


    Good ol' reliable...


    Presumably there just wasn't room in the five, but you missed Kate (KDE Advanced Text Editor). Sounds like it's the same level of functionality and power as GEdit, but it's the default editor for the KDE linux desktop environment. So if GEdit makes the list, Kate deserves a mention too.

    I'd almost suggest merging them: "GEdit/Kate: Both KDE and GNOME provide powerful default text editors with syntax highlighting, search and replace, undo, bracket matching, and a plugin system for easy expansion."

    editplus ftw!

      ^-- This

      I'm sad to see Editplus always skipped over in these lists. I've been a very happy (registered) user for many years now. It's fast & customisable, what more could you want.

    +1 for vim. If you're on a mac, macvim is an excellent choice and adds some osx commands for extra goodness...

    RJ TextEd for Windows. Free; tons of features; Text and programming features; Easy to use.

    btw, Notepad++ is good, but he menus are a mess.

    my favourite, or at least most used editors are already in your list. But another one I use for certain tasks is Textpad for windows. It's not free but as far as I've noticed the free evaluation never actually expires. I find Textpad particularly useful for anything that requires block selection, it's also pretty good for macros. Basically anything that is repetitive and particular about white spaces. I also find it a useful go-between for when I want to get a block of text laid out for easy copying into a spreadsheet correctly, or into ms word in a way that its stupid text-to-table function will actually understand.

    being a programmer i know my text editors, i would have to say UltraEdit is one of the best text editors around

      I guess you haven't really tried Vim or Emacs, then, have you?

        What? UltraEdit? You are not a programmer, and you do not know editors! Everyone knows that from the dawn of time the battle for the best editor is between vi and emacs. The other 3 on the list are there because LifeHacker HAS to do a 'top 5'.

        Get off my lawn kid

    I still mourn the loss of edlin in these new fangled OSs.

    I've loved nothing like I love Notepad++. Even though it (very) occasionally makes my computer freeze and die when I open it, but that's just what I get for being on 98 I suppose :P

    Really? Notepad2 is the best text editor. So simple, and it just works perfectly.

    I realize that is more of a full blown suite, but it's free, fast and multipurpose :)

    Notepad++ and vim are certainly my favorites.

    Crisp from the command line, & scite from Explorer's shell. Both cross platform & scite's free.

    Edlin is still in Windows 7.

    I've used textpad for years and found it very useful, easy to use and heaps of cool features.

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