New Notepads: Better, stronger, faster

These free replacements for Windows Notepad range from 'just plain better' to 'programmer's dream.'

Much as coelacanths have changed only slightly despite millions of years of evolution, some bundled Windows apps have scarcely progressed since the dawn of Microsoft's operating system. Today's Notepad text editor, for one, barely differs from the 1985 version.

Although a text editor should be a lightweight tool (and an inexpensive one), it should still pack a decent punch. If you need or want more from a text editor than you get from Notepad -- but you don't want to waste money or system resources -- we have six free options for you.

(For links to all of these downloadable text editors in one convenient place, see our "New Notepads" collection.)

Everyday Improvements for Taking Notes

If you don't care about syntax highlighting or other coding features, and you just want "Notepad, but better," look at Ted Notepad, which delivers improved just-plain-text editing for simple notes, memos, to-do lists, and other text-oriented tasks. It looks a lot like classic Notepad, but has quite a few more options, such as improved searching, sorting, and conversion functions (for dealing with text files from Unix or Mac environments.)

The versatile Notepad Tabs goes beyond single-file editing. In addition to the tabbed interface that allows you to have multiple files open, Notepad Tabs offers the ability to save sets of files in groups, so you can open several files at once. It even includes a small file browser on the main screen to make opening files easier. The sole drawback is that the browser shows only .txt files, when you might need to open many other formats such as .html or .cpp. (You can still open these via the standard Open dialog box, of course.)

Powerhouse Text Editors for Coders

The following programs are all perfectly good for taking notes, but they also offer functionality mostly of interest to coders, Web mavens, or sysadmins. If you often need to work with structured text such as HTML or source code, consider these editors.

Residing in the Goldilocks zone between "too much" and "too little" functionality is Notepad2. While it doesn't support tabs, it does have a lot of useful features for working with an opened file, including flexible syntax highlighting, encoding conversion, block formatting (for coders, indent or "outdent" blocks of code), case conversion, and more. As a stand-alone .exe file of under 700KB, it's also a good portable app to put on a USB drive or a small netbook.

Aimed primarily at programmers, TinyEdit boasts a tabbed interface and built-in support for syntax highlighting for a host of programming, scripting, and markup languages. This very small program (less than 600KB) runs as a stand-alone .exe file, no install needed, making it perfect to slip onto a USB drive. Unfortunately, the interface is marred by somewhat broken English (one dialog box asks, 'Are you sure to associate with main support files with TinyEdit?'), and the Find dialog box forgets selected options (such as 'whole word') when you open it.

Another program focused heavily on multiple file usage, ConText has a built-in browser that's similar to Notepad Tabs' but lists many different types of files. ConText comes with a large suite of syntax highlighters for programmers, as well as a template for you to make your own. It also allows you to search all open files for a given string, and shows the results in an output window -- ideal for mass changes or analysis.

Finally, at the top of the functionality pile is Notepad++, a full-featured text-editing powerhouse masquerading as a humble Notepad replacement. The interface is a bit cluttered and busy with overly long menus, but the feature set is immense. Tabbed browsing, syntax highlighting, macro recording, text processing (convert smart quotes to plain quotes, and much more), and even an FTP tool are all built in. The only drawbacks: The program has so many options, some users may be overwhelmed. And at 10MB post-install, Notepad++ isn't exactly lightweight.

Any of these six downloads will handle the basic job of editing text -- and manage it better than Notepad. The trade-off is between size and functionality: A program bloated with features you will never use is not better than one that omits those features entirely. Because "text is text," there's no reason not to have more than one of these free programs installed for different purposes, or to keep one of the more complex editors on your main system and one of the smaller editors on your netbook or USB drive.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Microsoftsoftwareofficehardware systemsdesktop pcsdownloadsFreeware / sharewarefreewareWord Processingshareware

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ian Harac

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?