Why would anyone use Notepad as a primary editor?

From time to time I see people mentioning that they are using Notepad as their primary editor. Web site developers, I think, are the most common case. Why would one be using Notepad? I mean, I have been programming for Windows since Windows 2.0 and always thought Notepad was a horrible development editor. There are tons of free editors available that are at least able to display line/column numbers, have better Find/Replace functionality and usually are even able colorize markup. In fact, I can't imaging living without color in my editor anymore! If I found myself on a platform that didn't have one, I would write one myself 🙂

If you really use Notepad, what prevents you from downoading a better editor? Or does word 'Notepad' actually mean 'my favorite free text editor'? 🙂

Comments (22)
  1. adamw says:

    Mainly because it’s rock solid stable, and fast (in terms of loading itself). Also, it doesn’t try and be "smart" – it doesn’t go into a special mode when I drag a binary file on it, it doesn’t try and reformat what I type, it doesn’t pop up autocomplete suggestions and it basically just lets me get on with what I want to do.

    Too many programs try to do more than their remit – I don’t need colour, help, advice, or formatting rules forced down my throat when I just need to throw together something quickly. I don’t care what format it’s saved in. I don’t care about the character set. I don’t care that someone else has modified it. I just need to type quickly, and for that, Notepad is perfect.

  2. Paul Hester says:

    metapad is my personal favorite…


  3. Todd Spatafore says:

    I use it because many web developer jobs that you see advertised on Craig’s List require "hand coding" using Notepad, vi, or emacs. Although I think this is crazy, you have to play the game to get a job these days.

  4. It’s an elite thing. But some of us consider even notepad to be too sissy-n00bish. I do all of my development using the command prompt with "copy con myfile.c" — I don’t need to go to the previous line, or even edit anything, as I don’t make mistakes. File loading/saving, psssh … fancy-schamcy unneeded features. Sometimes, even the copy command seems a bit too fancy … I prefer to directly input everything in binary with a copper wire attached to the keyboard port.

  5. Mikhail Arkhipov (MSFT) says:

    Vi and Emacs are not quite Notepad 🙂 I don’t use much of intellisense myself, but I do find coloring useful.

  6. People who use Notepad on anything other than an emergency basis are, universally, people who don’t really understand technology, and who see Notepad as the only usable alternative to swizzy GUIs.

  7. To Mike: people who generalize suck 🙂

    I use Notepad fairly frequently to make edits to existing HTML or to quickly put test out an idea.

    I prefer to do most of my HTML coding in VS environment — in HTML view. I like syntax coloring, line/column numbering and even Intellisense, although that is something I could take or leave.

    I can’t seem to find fondness for Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or any other tool which attempts to "help" me with coding. I don’t believe in VS Design view (or any HTML Design view, for that matter) — not only because it mucks with my code, but also because it misrepresents the process of HTML coding is and what the consequences of each change are.

    Since we’re in generalization mode, I would say that most of the bad HTML, unmaintainable code is produced using HTML Design views. If I were Jakob Nielsen, I would say something like: "HTML Design View: 99% Bad".

    Note however, I still believe that there is a need for a RAD environment for HTML developers. I just don’t believe that the current HTML Design View as we know it cuts anywhere close.

  8. I’d be pretty annoyed if I found one of my developers using Notepad as their exclusive coding environment – to be ABLE to use Notepad for development is fair enough – to use it exclusively will reduce productivity. Some people see stuff like Intellisense, color coding and drag-n-drop editing as ‘eye candy’, to me they’re productivity boosters, anything which lets me concentrate more on the structure and functionality of my application and less on the actual process of typing in the code itself is a boon.

    The ‘purists’ and ‘l33t hackers’ who insist that ‘real coders’ only use VI or Emacs / Notepad with the exclusion of any IDEs (and I include the likes of Visual Slickedit, IntelliJ IDEA etc…) have likely not developed real, enterprise level apps – or at least they haven’t finished them yet 🙂

  9. Lorenzo says:

    I think that most of the people who claims to be using Notepad simply don’t mean it and insted mean that they are using an ASCII editor with no bells and whistles.

    For writing HTML I couldn’t live without CuteHTML which I found terrific but I now like HTML-Kit even which, even with it’s small bugs is rock solid.

    For simple ASCII file editing I use EditPad Lite since it supports multi-file editing on one window (how do you call that, tabbed editing?) has line and colum numbering (I couldn’t live without that when I’m editing ASCII file with records stored in it) and is even able 😉 to load files > 20 Kb


  10. i’ve been using notepad2 (freeware) : http://www.flos-freeware.ch/notepad2.html

    it includes line numbering and color coding. it still loads up just as fast as notepad. i used notepad when i first started out, so that i could force myself to learn things like html and javascript. when i started doing asp development, i used interdev because of the color coding and line numbers. however, i have stopped using interdev completely and use notepad2 (of course i still use vs.net for .net work).

    it all depends on how you program. for me, it feels as if i have more "control" over my code when i use notepad2. from past experiences with frontpage and other wysiwyg editors, it’s worth writing it yourself rather than fixing the generated code. plus it makes you learn the language better, in my opinion.

  11. I’m using gvim, as I like the syntax highlighting, scripting support, customization, etc. etc. It’s a nice, FAST editor. When I’m opening multiple files, switching between them, speed and the functionality are most important. As for a text editor vs. IDE, the difference is a LOT of IDE’s don’t handle complicated OO design very well. Not in my opinion anyways. When I do use an IDE, I generally like to replace the editor in them with VI, for the reasons stated above.

    Notepad – it’s got one use. When you’re needing a QUICK edit on a file, and you don’t have another STRAIGHT text editor handy. Here’s an example – you’re on a remote machine, and need to look a the hosts file. Why load a full editing environment that’s not needed? Notepad is a fast editor and simple editor which works ok for most simple edits. Plus it doesn’t try and save any funky formatting that config files may choke on. Wordpad and others use RTF or other formats and if you don’t pay attention, that can mess things up.

  12. Lorenzo, you’d think so, but you’d be wrong. An insane number of people actually use actual Notepad for HTML, programming, or what-have-you.

    Dmitri, while my generalization was slightly tongue-in-cheek, I’m going to stand by it. The problem with Notepad is not that it’s a plain-text editor — it’s that it’s a LOUSY plain text editor. Anyone who’s editing text (particularly semi-structured text like HTML or C#) in Notepad on a regular basis is crazy — Notepad is a quick-and-dirty basic thing without any real power-editing features. Anyone who spends time seriously editing text (a group which certainly should include any programmer or HTML writer) will have developed some facility with a better text editor, whether it be vi, Emacs, PFE, Textpad, or something else. The people who, despite years of experience, only know the clicky tools and Notepad are usually of suspect cluefulness.

    Scott, while the ‘IDEs are useless for everyone’ people are crazy, those who say you need IDEs to do real work are equally crazy. While I’m using VS.Net right now, I’ve done years of solid work with Emacs, and was about as productive. It’d be a different story for GUIs, probably, but for Web work, an editor, a build file, and a version control tool aren’t appreciably inferior to an IDE.

  13. Mike, does one tongue-in-cheek balance the other one out? 🙂 My first statement was a generalization in itself.

    I am with you on the Notepad being a lousy editor. Hey, if there was a better baseline plain text (or even XML) editor in Windows, wouldn’t that be great?

    Mikhail, who do we talk to here about having an XML/XHTML editor being built into Longhorn? 🙂

  14. Mikhail Arkhipov (MSFT) says:

    I know some people 🙂 There is also plenty of LH bloggers on MSDN 🙂 However, you know what happens if something begin coming with Windows… 😉

  15. Well, that’s how we users are. We either whine that you don’t have a feature or we whine that you do. It’s what I call a "whine-whine" situation 🙂

  16. James Risto says:

    Seriously … I have 2 machines on my desk at work, servers galore, machine at home, VM on machine at home, Mom’s, friends … Notepad is on all of them. Nothing else is. And its paid for on all of them.

  17. I used notepad extensively for the first few years of development. Large ASP/HTML/JavaScript/DHTML websites were developed using just a few instances notepad and a few instances of MS IE/Netscape opened up (those were the days Netscape still had to be supported!)

    Why I used Notepad:

    1. When I first learnt to code HTML/ASP – it was conveninent to type in notepad and understand how exactly the execution happens instead of using something like VI 6.0 which would create a thousand files of its own and you’re not sure what exactly is happening.

    2. Notepad provided for the cleanest HTML/ASP code (or even for other languages) because of non-existence of auto-generated code

    3. Color coding didn’t really matter because if you got used to it, it would be difficult to move to a different editor.

    4. Downloading and evaluating editors took a lot of time and the most commonly available text editor with peers was also Notepad.

  18. David G. says:

    Perhaps you are asking the wrong question. The question is: why would anyone code in an editor that doesn’t use regular expressions for editing? For example, in vim, which, by the way, has color coding for just about any language, I can take out all lines of code that share comments:


    And that’s just for starters. I have opened up the complete text to "War and Peace" in less than 1 second, and have performed complex regular expressions on its text which have completd in less than one second. With Konsole, I can switch from one document to another with ease and without wait.

    Also, if you include "set number" in your configuration file, you can see where the lines begin, and what number corresponds to that line. If you change the size of the window, the text will still wrap around visually so that you can see it completely, but the code stays with its corresponding line number. Having to scroll from left to right is unproductive.

    So if I want to switch from line 300 to line 5, I just type ":5". If I want to delete line 10-14, I just type ":10,14d". If I want to delete 2 lines from the cursor, I type "2dd". If want to repeat a command, I just type "." And the list goes on.

  19. Peter Thornhill says:

    I know several people who are consultants and often works on other peoples computers. They usually limit themselves to notepad since that is what is always availble.

    Personally I just started using the e text editor http://www.e-texteditor.com. It is not exactly a power editor, but it is small and fast, and it has the tabbed editing feature I can’t live without. It also have a really cool visual undo feature which I have never seen in any other editor.

  20. Zach says:

    Its, there, it opens, I am done. I normally have 20 notepads open at a time (to the point I created a quick menu option to kill all notepads)

    I personally use notepad because I have not found anything that I like yet, and until I do, or I have time to write one, I would prefer to have nothing, instead of going nuts because what I am using almost does what I want it to.

    Funny thing is, there actually is one ap that does everything I want, well more than most – and thats Frontpage 2003.

    If I am working on script, its fast to tell where my error is. But most importantly – it has multi-line regex find and replace, and that beats writing a quick php script to do the same.

    But honestly – its there – it gets used.

  21. Craig says:

    I used to use notepad, why? because it was there and guaranteed true ASCII, which is essential when writing PERL CGI scripts!

    And not too many years ago there was no way I was downloading somke third party software from god know who, that might have god know what virus/malicious code, just to get a text editor?, I trust stuff that comes with my OS more than any other program.

    But yes not having line numbers was a killer, because I do make mistakes!

    I now use SourceEdit, it has tabbed multi page handling, colour coding, line numbers, find/replace and other stuff I can’t be bothered to look at, I have far more important things to do like write code than learn how to use some GUI interface.

    As always though there is a BUT, SourceEdit is unstable, it crashes on occasion, I set the "Language" for my file to PERL, it shows colour coding for PERL.

    I go back to the file when changes are needed and it’s forgotten the default colour coding language for the page, and I can’t be doing with keep having to change it everytime, so I go without colour coding for PERL and let PERL tell me about any errors.

    It does ‘auto’ work for HTML files and I do find it helpfull to flag stupid errors like a missing hyphen in a comment etc..

    All in all, if MS released a new version of notepad with better find/replace, line numbers, colour coding (that worked) and multi-page handling, i’d go back to it!

  22. Tim says:

    I don’t use Notepad much myself, and I’ve now got my system configured to use Windows vim for anything requiring a basic text editor.

    However, I have a friend who still uses Notepad and nothing else.  I asked him about it again today, and he said anything else gets too annoying.

    He did mention, though, that the one thing Notepad currently lacks is line numbers.  I tried to find a suggestion box for Microsoft to let them know, but that was a fruitless search (on Google and MSN).

    So, maybe this can count as letting Microsoft know that in addition to the features they added to Notepad in XP, here’s one more for them to add in Vista.


    10,487 days

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