PsPad review

20 Oct 2006

4

What's the difference between a text editor and a word processor? The flippant response is "about £175", but there's more than money involved here. After all, you can get a fully featured word processor for free courtesy of OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org). The real clue is in the application name: a text editor strips out all the graphics, is less concerned with print presentation and is all about pure text editing.

HTMLPad 2006 Pro is a text-based web editor first and text editor second. As well as the integrated tools for validating and tidying your HTML, a CSS editor that handles stylesheets of any size and complexity, and an instant preview feature for your code, you'll find the usual functions: spellcheck, and search and replace with regular expression (such as searching for email addresses or dates) support. It isn't the best all-rounder, but if quick web coding is your priority the auto-complete for code, HTML and CSS might just swing it.

12Ghosts NotePad has a harder job of convincing us, being deserving of the notepad-replacement moniker but struggling as anything else. Occupying just 2.6MB of disk space and with a 200KB EXE, it's certainly light on system resources, but then it's fairly skimpy on features as well. Instead of a tabbed interface, there's a "multipage bar", which does at least enable you to have multiple documents open, and you get basic font formatting and no limit on text size. There is, however, one (almost) unique selling point: automation. Your documents can be saved automatically after any change or every half-second, text can be copied automatically upon selection, there's auto-scrolling at the end of the screen and you can even automatically close the document when it loses focus. Unfortunately, for anything more than basic note taking, it can't keep up with the competition.

PSPad provides a better balance, with the added advantage of being free. It's almost the perfect Integrated Development Environment, with support for multiple syntax highlighting profiles, a hex editor, and the ability to catch and parse compiler output and compare versions. As a web-code editor, it has built-in FTP, will happily compress and format your HTML, validate it and, using the integrated TidyHTML feature, even tidy and correct it. Finally, for bog-standard text editing, there's a spellcheck, macro recorder, templates, auto-completion and search and replace. But while free and flexible, PSPad slows down dramatically with larger files.

That leaves real power users with UltraEdit and NoteTab Pro. With its network installation option, highly configurable interface and 45-day evaluation, you can understand why UltraEdit is so popular. There's plenty of power on tap, with code folding, 64-bit file handling, a 100,000-word multilingual spellcheck and fully configurable syntax highlighting. The killer function is the disk-based text editing that can handle files in excess of 4GB without locking up.

All that power comes with complexity and a system resource hit, though. NoteTab Pro, on the other hand, ticks all the right boxes: not only is it quick, small (6MB on disk), powerful and flexible, it's also easier to use and £5 cheaper than UltraEdit. As a text editor, it has a multilingual spellcheck and thesaurus, multidocument interface, regular expression search and replace, and a unique clipbook feature. Use any of the included clip libraries or create your own using the built-in scripting language: 24 libraries are included, covering email formatting, HTML tags, conversion to and from HTML, CSS coding and even a Euro exchange tool. We liked the superb outlining capability for up to 5,400 headings per document and the maths option to perform calculations within the editor. Web coders might berate the lack of integrated page preview, but a browser client preview can be called using F8. Its strength as a pure text editor makes NoteTab Pro a winner.