Veteran editors Notepad++ and Geany hit milestone versions
There are still good, modern, graphical text editors that are not Electron-based
One of the best FOSS text editors for Windows, Notepad++, is turning 20, while cross platform Geany just hit version 2.0 as it turns 18 years old.
Notepad++'s version 8.6 is the twentieth anniversary release of one of the go-to FOSS text editors for Windows. Yes, Notepad is always there, and it even gets occasional updates, but it's extremely rudimentary. We last looked at Notepad++ when it reached version 8. but since then it has received some useful new features.
If you use an Arm-powered Windows machine, such as the ThinkPad X13S, there is now a native Arm64 version. It still supports x86-32 as well, and there are portable versions which work without being installed locally – handy if you don't have admin rights. There is even a usefully recent version for Windows XP if you are still using that geriatric OS. This release adds multi-select, allowing you to manipulate multiple instances of the same text at once, which looks confusing but very powerful.
Notepad++ will not, to be honest, win any awards for beauty, but it might do for speed, size and functionality (click to enlarge)
It is a staple on all of the Reg FOSS desk's Windows partitions, thanks to its inclusion in the essential Windows post-install setup tool Ninite. Ninite will install – and update – a whole swath of FOSS and freeware tools for Windows, making setup of a new machine doable in just a couple of clicks. And if you keep the Ninite installer file around, you can re-run it later and it will update everything it installed first time around. Ninite does offer other programmers' editors, such as Eclipse and Microsoft Visual Studio Code – but they are behemoths by comparison. VSCode is implemented as an Electron app, meaning that it's huge, embeds an entire copy of Chromium, and scoffs RAM like it's going out of fashion. Notepad++ is a native Win32 app, making it tiny and fast: the download is less than 5MB, one twentieth the size of VSCode.
Sluggish, bloated editors are not just a problem on Windows. Gargantuan Electron apps are distressingly prevalent on Linux and macOS as well. This vulture is guilty of using some, and even recommending them – because some of them can do things that nothing else can. That's not true in the case of plain text editors, though. You don't have to put up with apps that take a good fraction of a gigabyte for this.
Geany 2 is small, fast, lightweight, and it runs natively on Linux, 64-bit Windows and on macOS (click to enlarge)
Geany is a good example. It straddles the line between a text editor and an IDE: it can manage multi-project files, automatically call out to compilers and suchlike, and parse their output to highlight errors. We last mentioned it nearly a decade ago but the project recently reached voting age – at least for humans – and after this milestone in maturity its developers called the latest release version 2.0. It has better support for dark mode, a new tree view in its sidebar, adds a bunch of new supported file types, and can detect if the user changes the type of a file and re-do its syntax highlighting to match.
Geany is based on the same underlying text-editing engine as Notepad++, called Scintilla. Although it is included in several Linux distros, especially among lighter-weight ones, it is also available in native Windows and macOS versions, too. (Although currently only for x86-64 Windows.) On Linux, it too is about a 5MB download, although there's an optional plugin pack as well. About half a dozen come bundled, but the optional download adds a few dozen more, although it adds over 30MB to the download. There is a PPA repo for Geany 2 on current versions of Ubuntu, and it's also available as a Flatpak. (There's a snap package of version 1.33, but version 1.38 – the last release before 2.0 – is already in the Ubuntu repositories anyway.)
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It's particularly worth a look for Mac users. The built-in macOS text editor, TextEdit, is a perfectly capable tool, but rather than a programmer's tool, it's a rich-text editor with formatting and which natively uses RTF. There's nothing wrong with that, but it makes it bigger and slower. Although it's a fully graphical app, Geany is smaller, starts faster, and can do syntax highlighting and so on.
The Reg FOSS Desk's default plain-text editor is the minuscule TextEd, a whole 115kB download. While Geany isn't that small, it's still lean and mean, it does a lot more, and it has a native Arm64 build, too.