The top 10 free web development editors
written by craig, 19 October 2007
As promised, here is my top 10 list of free text editors that are ideal for web development on Windows.
I’ve only included zero-cost Windows editors which provide good web development functionality, are powerful, but easy to use (sorry Vim). I was a long-time user of HomeSite, which has probably swayed my opinions, but all these editors are worth a try – especially the top 3. Please let me know if I’ve missed any good ones.
So, in reverse order…
SuperEdi is one of the more basic editors here, but that makes it one of the fastest. It’s simple for new users, reasonably attractive, and pleasant enough to use. However, it doesn’t store session state or offer tag auto-completion. It’s more of a competent Notepad replacement rather than a fully-fledged IDE.
However, it does look a little clunky, and Java doesn’t offer the fastest experience – even typing can lag. I nearly switched to jEdit a few years ago – it’s good editor, but I suspect it won’t be a favourite amongst Windows users.
I was a die-hard PNP1.0 user for many years. The application is still fast, has good language support and colour-scheme configuration. You can organise files into projects, which makes handling easier, but I’d prefer a file browser too. Tag auto-completion is missing, but it’s still worth a quick look.
7. Komodo Edit
Komodo Edit is a cut-down version of ActiveState’s Komodo IDE. The interface looks great and, although it’s a little slow to start, it’s fine in operation. I’d have liked a tag completion and a few more customisation options – most information windows are docked in the same place. However, I’m sure many developers will like it.
Crimson’s been around for a long time, although development stopped a few years ago. Like SuperEdi, it’s more of a good general text editor than a professional IDE, but it’s fast and offers project and macro capabilities. However, the interface looks dated, it only supports monospace fonts, and tag completion is missing.
I used Crimson for a few weeks of PHP development and, whilst it wasn’t the most thrilling of editors, I didn’t have any complaints either.
It’s certainly a viable Notepad replacement, especially on slower PCs.
I like PSPad and used it for several months before discovering my No. 1 editor. It comes with a lot of features that are not usually provided with other editors, e.g. file difference comparison and spell checking.
Unfortunately, it only supports monospace fonts, there’s no tag completion, and syntax highlighting is basic. Some functions are a little strange (like option tick boxes with three or more states) and the interface doesn’t always feel feel particularly cohesive. However, it’s a great editor and worth trying.
Aptana is another Java-developed editor based on the Eclipse code base. The product shows how good Java software can be: this is a full IDE that is gorgeous to look at and use.
I’d like to say that I use Aptana full time: it’s the most powerful web IDE available. However, it’s still a beta product and, although it’s stable, many features are not working correctly. It’s also slow to start and a massive memory hog. It’s an excellent editor, but only for those using a ninja-PC!
SciTE was originally built to demonstrate the power of the Scintilla code editing component. When I first used SciTE, I dismissed it as underpowered and impossible to set up … but give it a chance, and you’ll find that it’s one of the most powerful and configurable editors available.
The cause of my misconception was the fact that everything is set up using configuration files – and there are literally thousands of options. But do it once, and SciTE becomes a fantastic editor that is small, clean, fast, stable, and usable on Windows or Linux.
SciTE concentrates on the basics: text editing. There are no fancy file browsers, code generators, or project managers. It supports every language you can think of (and some you can’t!) and you can define your own. Syntax highlighting is probably the best you’ll ever get – language constructs can be shown in differing colours, sizes, styles and fonts.
SciTE is excellent, and I still use it on a regular basis.
Notepad++ has evolved into the best development editor I’ve ever used. It’s got almost every feature I want and gets better with every release.
Like SciTE, Notepad++ is also based on Scintilla, but most of the options are set up in a visual interface rather than configuration files. All the settings are stored in XML files, so it’s easy to upgrade and copy them to other systems (I have an identical setup installed on a USB drive).
The interface is clean, attractive, unobtrusive, and fast. It starts within seconds, remembers exactly where you where, which files you had open, and what was bookmarked.
I really can’t recommend Notepad++ enough. It’s been my editor of choice for a couple of years – which is a lot longer than some have managed! It’s better than many commercial editors and just gets the job done. Notepad++ developer, Don Ho, and the plugin writers – especially Jens Lorenz – deserve an award for services to the IT and web industries!