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Periodically I write docs for or emails to folks who just don't know yet what a decent text editor is. When I do so I want to link to the definitive article that gently introduces and describes the attributes that make up said beast (unlimited undo, advanced search & replace, syntax highlighting, macros, opens huge documents, doesn't barf on binary, yadayadayada) and gives a list of the top half dozen or so with fair representation across all platforms so they can make up their own minds about what to use. I know what's good for me, but I've little interest in pushing that.

Everytime I write something like this I conduct a number of internet searches and am suprised, again, that no such document seems to exist. Perhaps, instead, I should be surprised that my search-fu is so weak that I can't find said "What is a decent text editor?". Again, I'm less interested in particular names, although that information is vital, but rather how can one recognise this creature when encounter it?

Questions asking for text editor recommendations abound on Super User, Stack Overflow, and of course in the wild. Yet none of them, that I've seen, have the "suchness" that I'm looking for. Perhaps my quest is ill conceived and doomed. In any case, I thought it worth dropping in a line and see what bites.

I'm bringing this up on meta because I've come to the conclusion that perhaps this has failed so far because it's just yet another "list of" question that generates answers that is relevant for a month or ten before fading into a back eddy. Maybe what is really needed is a Super User blog post on "attributes of a perfect editor", which would be always relevant, with a conclusion or appendix of carefully crafted live search results from the Q&A site proper.

Any takers?

  • ...I'm not offering to write the wanted piece, I don't think I know or write well enough to carry it off, but I certianly want to be able to use it! – matt wilkie Sep 19 '11 at 19:19
  • > I'm not offering to write the wanted piece – that's what I was going to suggest :P Why not write a draft and let someone improve it if you think it's still missing something? – slhck Sep 19 '11 at 19:30
  • What defines that something is decent or definitive for everyone or at least the majority? – Tamara Wijsman Sep 19 '11 at 20:23
  • @TomWijsman, I admit coming up with list of attributes that the majority would agree are 'decent' is hard, in that the boundaries of what's in/out are fuzzy. Nevertheless I'm confident there are core functions that nobody would quibble about. Perhaps one could start by defining what it is not. Windows notepad for instance, whose only redeemable attribute is it's ubiquity (on Windows). – matt wilkie Sep 19 '11 at 21:20
  • But those core functions would then be part of most text editors, in which case the article doesn't serve someone that's trying to compare text editors. The ubiquitous attribute might be a bad example, I don't know of any text editors that aren't portable. On the other hand, a blog article that outlines when and where the "beast" features come into play when text-editing might be a good idea... – Tamara Wijsman Sep 19 '11 at 22:16
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This seems like more of a candidate for a blog post -- perhaps on http://blog.superuser.com -- than a Q&A pair on a Stack Exchange site.

One man's "every editor must have this!" is another man's "meh".

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I don't think you mean attributes which are characteristic, but rather the features that a text editor brings. If you need a list of them, Wikipedia - Category: Text editor features is a good start!

But, people that are looking for editors that have certain features will already know what a feature is; or, they will be able to know by reading the website of a text editor or searching through Google. If you are going to use it to write song texts, you will not care about the ability to open big files or highlighting or binary. If you are going to edit INF files, then I doubt if you will ever need macros. And so on...

I doubt that anyone ever is going to need a compendium of text editor features to get their text editor, you're going to use about half of the features anyway. Take an example of an editor like Notepad++, the amount of features brought by that program won't fit in your blog post and most won't be used by you.

I'm not offering either, the views won't hold up for the amount of time one would spent in writing this post. On the other hand, a blog article that outlines when and where the "beast" features come into play when text-editing might be a good idea...

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    That Wikipedia category is pretty weak. I mean, caret navigation and undo right next to Graphical Modeling Framework? I didn't realize that caret navigation was actually considered a feature... – Daniel Beck Sep 22 '11 at 18:19
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I see that you, like me, have given up the futile quest of converting everyone to the One True Text Editor, and are now trying to get people to at least open their eyes to the fact that other text editors exist other than the first one they happened to stumble across.

While, alas, I am also searching for such an article, here are a few articles that I feel at least point in the right direction:

The "Editor Power" essay and "Picking an Editor Discussion" and the "list of common gripes" is pretty close, but I feel it is too brief to really satisfy.

If some poor soul is trying to edit HTML or other text with a word processor, perhaps the essay "Word Processors: Stupid and Inefficient" will open his eyes to a superior alternative.

If some poor soul is trying to edit text with Notepad, perhaps it will be easier to persuade him to upgrade to one of the dozens of text editors that will feel familiar to him -- a Notepad Replacement.

Please tell us if someone (perhaps yourself) writes such an article. An article that, among other things, has a short list of a few of the essential features that every decent text editor has, but far too many of the horribly broken text editors currently in use lack, and describes why they are so important. An article so persuasive that it causes people to at least stop using horribly broken text editors, and immediately switch to one of the many not-quite-as-bad text editors that at least has the minimum features of a barely usable text editor, and are quick to download and install. (Perhaps the same article might have a longer list of all the features that every decent text editor has, so future programmers can make sure their fresh new text editors at least have all the minimum features before they inflict them on the rest of us.)

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