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.


ExpanDrive for Windows

Recently I found a quite awesome piece of software, and I thought I’d share it with you.

ExpanDrive is basically an SFTP file system driver for Windows. What it does in plain English is turn an SFTP share on a remote computer (say, for instance, my virtual server on the other side of the world) and turn it into a drive letter on my laptop. Like so:

My Computer using ExpandDrive
My Computer using ExpandDrive

This is the first piece of software I’ve found that does this, and does it well enough that I can just click on the drive, click on any file inside the drive, and it automatically copies and opens in the appropriate application. Saving inside the application also works. For instance, I had a word document lying around on my server, so I thought I’d test it out. I opened it up just like a normal file, edited it, saved it, and so on, and it just all worked normally.

The only difference from a local drive or a Samba share is the speed at which things happen. There is a noticeable difference (to be expected, it going over several ADSL connections). Opening a text file took about half to one second, saving it about the same.

The people who make this software say that it’s “rediculously simple”. They are very right, it is. Anybody who has used WinSCP would be familiar with that software’s connection screen. ExpanDrive’s is very similar:

ExpanDrive Main Window
ExpanDrive Main Window

One bug I have noticed is that the drive usage is wrong. I know for a fact my vserver doesn’t have 12TB of storage space available (as shown in picture above). I’m actually using about 30% of 12GB, so I’m guessing they just checked total disk space wrong.

The only downside is to this software is cost. It’s $39.95USD for a single license (a license can be used for multiple SFTP shares). While it’s not a huge amount, it’s more than I’d like to pay for something like this (in my mind, this sort of thing is worth about $20USD). I haven’t bought it yet, I’m still using the trial (which lasts for 30 days). But I think I will.


Customizing Windows

I just thought today I might share with you some of the customizations I’ve made to my Windows Vista installation to make it a bit more friendly.

Last week I stumbled upon this blog post from LifeHacker, and I’ve since implemented it’s suggestions fully (click for full size):


Basically the idea is to double the size of the taskbar and then create groups of icons for the most commonly used programs. Instead of having to click twice to get into Outlook or PuTTY, I now only have to click once. The hardest part is working out which icons are the best to put onto the taskbar. The image above is missing Notepad2 and Firefox, since I originally left them off. They have since been placed on the taskbar as well.

The instant messsaging client I use is Pidgin, and apart from Skype (which it doesn’t handle), it’s the only IM client I ever use. Since about 50% of my time on my computer is wasted in chatrooms and such, Pidgin has a high importance for me. Thus, I’ve made the Buddy List window dock into the side of my screen, so it’s never behind any other window, even when the other window is maximised. It’s best explained with a screenshot.

What happens is that when the Buddy List is the approximate height of the screen, floating, and is then dragged to either side of the screen (I used to have it on the left), it will snap into place and become sort of a taskbar as far as other windows are concerned. To do this with Pidgin, you’ll have to enable this functionality:

  1. Go to the Tools menu, and select Plugins.
  2. Scroll down the window until you see ‘Windows Pidgin Options’. If it’s not enabled (the tickbox on the left), enable it.
  3. Otherwise, click on it once to highlight it and click ‘Configure Plugin’.
  4. In the window that comes up, click the tickbox next to ‘Dockable Buddy List’, and click Close twice.
  5. You can now drag your Buddy List to either side of the screen and have it docked, ready and waiting to start a new conversation.

If you’re the type that notices such things, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not using the Aero interface (the see-through window effect). And for good reason too. As far as I can tell, all it does is hog memory and CPU, and make my machine very sluggish. Here is a good tutorial on how to do it.

Those are the three biggest changes I’ve made to the user interface in Vista, and all have made me much more productive. If only my laptop had a second screen…