For the last few years I’ve been following with interest a tiny little program called Notepad2. Essentially it’s just a text editor (very similar to Notepad included with Windows), but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve.

For starters, it has syntax highlighting. And I argue, very very nice syntax highlighting. I much prefer it to other editors I have installed on my computers (Dev-C++, Visual Studio, Emacs) as well as others I’ve used in the past (GEdit, Kate). Arguably though it’s not as complex as any of these editors. In addition, it does line wrap, line numbering, and more. Pretty much every part of the editor is configurable. It also automatically detects between Windows, UNIX and MacOS 9 line endings (very useful when you swap source code between Windows and GNU/Linux).

Notepad2 editing a Patch file
Notepad2 editing a Patch file

There’s a lot of things it doesn’t do though. It’s not a fully-fledged IDE, by any means. It has no idea about projects, function parameter hinting, Makefiles, or anything like that. If you want an IDE, look elsewhere. Which is why I have Visual Studio installed. It does everything, and then some more (in a few gigabytes of disk space).

Above all else though, there is one very handy reason why I have Notepad2 installed. It’s because it can completely replace Notepad. Because Notepad2 is only a single file, like Notepad, with no other dependencies except Windows itself, it just slots in. After removing all the security on the Notepad.exe file in the Windows folder, you can just copy and paste Notepad2 in. And then all the links and file extensions pointing to Notepad just open Notepad2 instead. If this sounds pretty cool, you can learn how to do it here (XP) or here (Vista). I wish there was an installer for Notepad2 that did all this automatically; at the moment Notepad2 is just distributed as a bare executable file. But I certainly won’t be complaining too loudly.

If you’re looking for a simple editor for when a full IDE isn’t necessary, or you’re still using the default Notepad for everything (shock horror), then I’d definitely give Notepad2 a go. Even if you don’t fully replace the original Notepad, it’s still a pretty cool upgrade from Notepad.