My quest to improve Windows 2000 continues. Last week, you helped me find some great replacements for the Windows Explorer. This week, the Challenge is to replace the underpowered Notepad with a real editor (anything but Edlin or EMACS, that is).

What’s so bad about Notepad? Actually, the Windows 2000 version is slightly improved over the Windows 9X version. It can handle text files of any size, for example, instead of being limited to 64 KB, and it has rudimentary search-and-replace capabilities. But I want more. A good text editor is the best solution for creating Web pages, and if you write code (Java, C++, or Perl), you can also benefit from a beefed-up editor. Notepad is too Spartan, and a full-featured word processor like Word brings too much baggage along—it doesn’t produce clean HTML, and it doesn’t have fancy features like syntax highlighting or HTML tag completion.

In all, TechRepublic members suggested 10 alternatives. I’ve winnowed the list down to these four, on the basis of your reviews and my own experience. Each of the guest reviewers earns 250 TechPoints.

NoteTab Light (Fookes Software; Light version free, Pro version $20)
Everyone who’s ever used this program raves about it. TechRepublic member Tyree listed some of the reasons why: “Number one, it’s free. It has unlimited capacity, up to your available memory. It has macros included to figure almost anything. (Who needs Excel?) There is a user community and additional libraries of macros for almost everything else. I answer tech support questions by e-mail and it comes in handy to have all the FAQs available with one click or user-defined keystroke. I made my own libraries of Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT FAQs. It’s a great place to store all those little one-line tips you come across so often.”

For HTML aficionados, the $20 NoteTab Pro version is indispensable, according to Curt Fleishman: “The search and replace on multiple files has been a lifesaver. I recently had to move a Web site, and was able to correct all the HTML and scripts on about 600 different files in under five minutes.”

EditPad (JGsoft; free, author requests a postcard if you use it regularly)
This entrant in the Notepad derby comes from the “Small Is Beautiful” school, according to TechRepublic member Tom Merritt: “It does everything I need. It’s easy to configure, with options to install itself as the default for TXT files, on the Send To menu, in the system tray, and on the Start menu. You can open multiple docs in one session, and it displays row and column information—great when you’re trying to prepare a text table for programmatic use. Like Notepad, it’s tiny and fast, with no unnecessary features.”

UltraEdit (IDM Computer Solutions; shareware, $30)
With a name like UltraEdit, you’d expect this text editor to do it all—and you wouldn’t be disappointed. That’s the verdict of TechRepublic member slockhart, who calls this “the very best editor available.” Among its selling points: “The 32-bit version has some great features, such as syntax highlighting, column/block mode editing, a built-in FTP client, and search/display/formatting features. The color coding and column edit alone make this product indispensable, and the other features are icing on the cake. I’ve used this product for years in its various incarnations and have not had the first problem with it. It just keeps getting better and better with each new release.”

TextPad (Helios Software; shareware, $27)
If I were totaling up the winner by popular vote, TextPad would be it. Six TechRepublic members praised its simplicity and code-slinging smarts. Mbowen claims it’s “the best editor I’ve found yet for Win32. It handles text, HTML, C/C++, Perl, Lisp, you name it. You can even cut, copy, and paste columns of data—the exact feature I had been looking for. And new features are added via plug-ins constantly.”
Honorable mentions go to Win32Pad, Metapad, Texturizer, and eNotepad, all of which earned at least one positive recommendation.
The favorite
I looked at each contender, and was pleasantly surprised at the depth and professionalism of all these alternative editors. After a day or two with each one, I had no problem picking my favorite—the $20 NoteTab Pro. Its sheer customizability is breathtaking, and its Clipbook Editor feature lets you perform miracles, including an uncanny imitation of Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect feature. If I were a Java programmer, I’d be tempted by one of the others, but NoteTab Pro did everything I wanted and much, much more.

Thanks to all the TechRepublic members who took the time to send in their favorites.

Look for a new Challenge later this month!
For the month of June, I’ve prepared a special four-part series on Microsoft and the challenges it faces in the months and years ahead. Look for the first installment in my regular weekly TechMail, one week from today. While this series runs, I’ll be taking a four-week break from the Q&A portion of this column. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be back with a brand-new Microsoft Challenge on Thursday, June 22.