NPP vs Textpad

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The correct title of this article is Notepad++ vs Textpad. (see technical restrictions)

Which is better: Notepad++ or TextPad? This article offers an objective look at these two text editors, showing areas where each one shines and falls short.

An extensive review of all features of both text editors is outside the scope of this article, which will focus instead on those features which differentiate the editors, or which are most relevant to the practice of software development.

Contents

Handling Multiple Files

The biggest difference between Notepad++ and TextPad is the manner in which they handle multiple files.

Notepad++ achieves this via an always-present tab bar stationed just below the toolbar. This will feel familiar to users of tabbed browsers like Firefox and Opera.

Notepad++ tabs
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Notepad++ tabs

Ctrl+Tab and Ctrl+Shift+Tab allow you to move forward and backward through tabs quickly. Also, a tab's icon color signifies the file's state. Files which have not been edited since last save have a blue icon, while files which have been edited have a red icon. Read-only files have a gray icon. TextPad, on the other hand, takes a different approach by listing open files in its Document Selector pane in the upper left-hand side of the screen. This is similar in concept to the Project Explorer view in Eclipse, but without any kind of hierarchy.

Textpad document selector
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Textpad document selector

Just like in Notepad++, Ctrl+Tab and Ctrl+Shift+Tab can be used to advance through open documents. Files which have been edited since last save will appear in the Document Selector pane with an asterisk following the filename.

More than a typical text-editor, TextPad behaves like a document container. Documents do not have to exist in maximized state, and can be minimized and moved about much like in a desktop environment.

Textpad document container
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Textpad document container

TextPad also has a tabbed mode which can be enabled via View → Document Tabs. The tabs appear at the bottom of the screen.

Textpad with tabs enabled
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Textpad with tabs enabled

Even though documents in Notepad++ can't be un-maximized and moved around as in TextPad, they can be edited side-by-side via Multiple Views.

Notepad++ multiple views
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Notepad++ multiple views

Views can be kept synchronized via the Synchronize Scrolling options in the View menu.

Recording Macros

Both Notepad++ and TextPad have extensive support for Macros, which can be played back immediately or saved for later use.

When saving a macro, TextPad prompts you for a file with a .TPM extension. These files will be saved to:

C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Application Data\TextPad

TextPad Macros can be deployed to other hosts simply by dropping them in the corresponding location. There's a good number of useful Macros available for download from textpad.com.

In Notepad++, saved macros are stored in the <Macros> section of:

C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Application Data\Notepad++\shortcuts.xml

Though this makes it more challenging to share your macros with friends, Notepad++ gives you the option of attaching hotkey combos to your macros - making them easier to execute for yourself.

Syntax Highlighting

Both editors support syntax highlighting. In the case of TextPad, a dizzying array of languages is already supported. Only a small subset of these are shipped by default, but the important ones are there.

TextPad uses the term "Document Class" to refer to the grouping of a syntax scheme, file extension filters, and miscellaneous other settings. Creating a new Document Class is easy if you have a syntax file (*.SYN), but creating one of those requires you to understand the SYN file syntax enough to edit one yourself.

Notepad++ supports most popular languages OOTB with the notable exception of JSP. You can hack it however by applying ASP highlighting to your JSP files - this tends to produce acceptable results.

Herein lies an important difference between the two editors. Notepad++ allows you to select the language of a file (for the purpose of syntax highlighting) independently of the file-extension. TextPad give you no such option - it exclusively uses the file-extension of an open document to determine the syntax highlighting scheme.

In addition to allowing you to switch between languages, Notepad++ makes it easy to create your own via the User Define Dialog.

Notepad++ user defined highlighting dialog
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Notepad++ user defined highlighting dialog

It's possible to define colors and patterns for most important aspects of syntax highlighting including keywords, comment delimiters, treatment of numbers and strings, and folder indicators.

Extras

Each of these editors offers some special extra features to set it appart.

TextPad offers a built-in spell checker and a "Clip Library" which contains a number of useful characters and character sequences that can be difficult to type via a standard keyboard. One segment of the library contains the entire set of ANSI Characters, any of which can be injected into the current document with a double-click.

Textpad clip library
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Textpad clip library

Notepad++ touts an extensibility platform which permits willing contributors to make useful plugins. Some plugins that come standard include a HEX-Editor and a filesystem explorer.

Notepad++ filesystem explorer
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Notepad++ filesystem explorer

Licensing

Both editors are downloadable, but they're not both Free.

TextPad is only freely available as an evaluation version, and it will remind you of this every time you launch the app.

Textpad license reminder
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Textpad license reminder

In fact, TextPad's EULA precludes usage of the evaluation version for business purposes. Upgrading to a business license is not expensive, but it's certainly not free.

Notepad++ on the other hand is hosted by SourceForge and distributed under the GPL.

Final Word

Ultimately, choice of text-editor depends heavily on use-case, budget and support requirements. They're both quite capable and have many of the same great features.

To date, all content and code developed for Jimbojw.com has been composed in either Notepad++, gedit or Screem.

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