My timeline of text editors

I’ve been coding on and off since the beginning of the 90’s and along this journey I’ve been stumbling over quite a few editors and IDE:s. In this post I will go through some of them. It’s a selection of editors I either very much enjoyed working in or hated with a burning passion. I very much doubt that anyone might find this interesting or useful, but it’s sometimes nice to walk down memory lane.

Edlin (1980) (DOS)

Edlin.exe – Line editor, very archaic.

Edlin was the very first text file editor I used. Since it was shipped with MS-DOS 3.30 it was the only editor on the early PC’s DOS era. You could only edit one line at the time. It was all-right if you needed to tweak the autoexec.bat and config.sys, but to write anything complex and large would be unthinkable. If I wasn’t such a persisting child, edlin would probably had me losing my interests in computers.

What I like(d) about Edlin:

  • Nice with a bundled editor in DOS.

What I dislike(d):

  • Too bad the bundled editor was Edlin.
  • Unusable

What I use(d) it for:

  • Editting autoexec.bat and config.sys

More about Edlin on Wikipedia

MS Editor (1991) (DOS)

MS Editor – Capable editor for its time.

MS Editor was a huge step up from Edlin with menus, search/replace, copy/paste functions and pretty easy to edit large files. What many people doesn’t know is that was actually the QBasic editor but stripped down. Edit became a proper standalone product with MS-DOS 6. I mainly used Edit for editing batch files in DOS. I would actually say that this editor was much better than Notepad we got with MS-Windows.

What I like(d) about MS Editor:

  • Copy, Paste, Search, Replace, multiple buffers

What I dislike(d):

  • Not much, extremely simple, no features for coding.

What I use(d) it for:

  • Editing batch files
  • Reading text files
  • Writing text files

Read more about the MS Editor on Wikipedia

QuickBASIC (1985) (DOS)

Quick Basic – The first IDE I used. You can see the resemblance to MS Editor.

In the beginning it was BASIC. As a kid this was the first programming language I came across. Me and my younger brother wrote an endless amount of small text games and some programs that painted some graphics on the screen. The difference from QBasic was that on Quick Basic you could compile your BASIC source code to executables and show them on a friends computer.

What I like(d) about Quick Basic:

  • Multiple buffers, Debugger

What I dislike(d):

  • Syntax highlightning

What I use(d) it for:

  • Writing programs and games in Basic

Read more about QuickBASIC on Wikipedia

Turbo C++ 3.0 (1991) (DOS)

My first attempts in C++ were made in this IDE


My passion for writing text games didn’t seem to end. At this time I’d discovered MUD games. Which are the uninitiated a type of text multi-player games with monsters, quest and parties. Imagine it as a MMORPG in pure text. This made me start to write text games in Turbo C++. The result must have been the weirdest C++ code anyone ever seen, but I really enjoyed it. The IDE was very easy to understand and use.

What I like(d) about Turbo C++ 3.0:

  • Simple, multiple buffers, search / replace, project based
  • Easy to use with compilation and debugging

What I dislike(d):

  • Not much at all,

What I use(d) it for:

  • Learning C++
  • Writing programs

Notepad (1985) (Windows 1 and forward)

Notepad and me was responsible for my first homepage.

Everyone has tried to write some kind of script code in this editor. I actually think I made my first webpage in notepad. But it really is a crappy editor. I don’t know how many times people has edited “nice formatted” XML data in notepad in UTF8, saved it and sent it back to me. The result is terrible, the format is scrambled, the UTF-8 characters are replaced or garbled. But to be fair, it’s not an editor, it’s a “notepad” and I guess it’s allright for taking notes…

What I like(d) about Notepad:

  • Quick to open and read text files.

What I dislike(d):

  • Bad default editor
  • Lack of features

What I use(d) it for:

  • Reading text files
  • Writing my first HTML documents

Read more about Notepad’s history on Wikipedia

Notepad2 (2004) (Windows)

Upgrading the notepad with notepad2

Notepad2 fixed everything that was wrong with the original notepad. I always used to replace the original notepad with this one on my Windows computer.

What I like(d) about Notepad2:

  • Multiple buffers
  • Very fast
  • Syntax high lightning
  • Support for many languages

What I dislike(d):

  • Sadly only for Windows

What I use(d) it for:

  • Same as notepad
  • Writing PHP scripts

Visit website
Read more about Notepad2 on Wikipedia

Macromedia Dreamweaver (1997) (Windows / MacOS)

Macromedia Dreamweaver – Great application, bad editor

I made a lot of web sites in Dreamweaver in the early 2000. At the time it was a great tool to quickly make a design that worked in the majority of browsers. It didn’t generate the nicest code to edit, but it worked.  I left Dreamweaver to learn CSS and HTML properly.

What I like(d) about Dreamweaver:

  • Easy to use
  • Generates a lot HTML

What I dislike(d):

  • Generates a lot HTML
  • Not really a good code editor

What I use(d) it for:

  • Creating web pages
  • Coding PHP
  • Editing HTML

Read more about Dreamweaver on Wikipedia

Midnight Commander Editor (1994 and onwards) (Linux / Unix)

Midnight Commander Editor – great for editing conf files on servers.

I love mcedit, which comes with the Midnight Commander package. Midnight Commander itself, is a great file browser with support for ftp/ssh and lots of other great stuff. The editor supports syntax high lightning and is a pleasure editing small scripts with. Where a lot of people use nano or vi to edit their system files I use mcedit.

What I like(d) about MCEdit:

  • Syntax highlightning
  • The simpleness

What I dislike(d):

  • Single buffers only

What I use(d) it for:

  • Editing configuration files on servers
  • PHP/C++

Read more about Midnight Commander on Wikipedia

Geany (2005) (Linux / Windows / MacOSX)

Meet Geany, your new notepad replacement

Geany is my all time favourite lightweight editor. Nowadays I only use it for very simple things; taking notes, copy pasting code snippets and so on. It’s sad because Geany’s capabilities stretch a lot further than that. It supports a ton of different file formats, with syntax high lightning and simple auto completion. I’ve been using Geany on and off since 2006 and in the start I wrote a lot more code with Geany.

What I like(d) about Geany:

  • Lightweight
  • Very simple to use
  • Supports many fileformats
  • Built-in terminal support
  • Multiple buffers

What I dislike(d):

  • Not a thing

What I use(d) it for:

  • PHP programming
  • Viewing text documents
  • Taking notes

Visit Geany’s  Home Page
Read more about Geany on Wikipedia

Netbeans (1996) (Multiplatform)

Working with PHP projects in Netbeans is a breeze

I love this IDE when coding PHP. It’s easy to setup and easy to tweak. The editor started out as a student project which later was commercialized and bought up by Sun MicroSystems (now Oracle).

What I like about the IDE is the great code completion. It also gives you hints about what is considered good code standard, which is a great help. I almost dare to say that this IDE made me a better developer when it comes to keeping your code looking clean and readable. It also has support for XDebug so you can profile and debug code from the IDE.

But the core strength of the IDE is coding in Java. It has a GUI builder and you can quickly create your own small desktop application.

The downside is that Netbeans is a fairly large application if you work with very small things and the lack of Python support.

What I like(d) about Netbeans:

  • Great with bigger projects in PHP
  • Comes with a GUI builder for Java
  • A lot easier to configure than Eclipse
  • Comes with a debugger and profiling tool.

What I dislike(d):

  • Supports a few picked languages
  • Maintained by Oracle

What I use(d) it for:

  • Bigger PHP projects
  • Java programming

Visit Netbeans’s web site
Read more about Netbeans on Wikipedia

Emacs (1976) (Unix, Windows)

For the hard-core programmer (Read: über unix geek)

Emacs is not an editor, it’s more of a life style. Some developers are rumoured live in Emacs. I first heard of Emacs when tinkering with Linux in the late 90’s, but never used it until now. Since Emacs’s learning curve is like a brick wall.

The strengths of Emacs, are all the different modes. One mode helps you code Python, another one C++ or another mode that is used as a file browser. The whole idea is to use Emacs as all-in-one environment, where everything can be tweaked and set up the way the user wants it. I have spent hours to find LISP code snippets that just do that thing I would like it to do and tweak it in my own way. There are a lot of help to find online. You can also extend the editor almost endlessly with packages.

I both like and dislike Emacs. Its full-screen mode focuses fully on the coding; without menus and other distractions. It’s ability to have many buffers also helps when you’re debugging or need to edit two/three files at the same time. On the downside is that I’ve never managed to get code completion working. Which usually is very handy if you sit on a large code base and trying to recall that weird name of a function.

What I like(d) about Emacs:

  • Fully customizable
  • Not many distractions from coding

What I dislike(d):

  • Need to know LISP in order to harness the good stuff
  • No good PHP support
  • No good code completion support

What I use(d) it for:

  • Coding in C/C++
  • Coding in Python
  • Coding assembler

Visit Emacs website
Read more about Emacs on Wikipedia


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