Having the right tools is important irrespective of the craft.

The most common tools that we use in today’s technology driven world, are text editors. Designers, Developers, Writers and Engineers will all be in need of an editor at some point in their life. Thankfully, there is a great number of beautiful software out there for you to choose. I have worked on some of them and decided to share my knowledge so far in the field.

So let the journey begin.

Sublime

First and foremost, there is Sublime Text, one of the best pieces of software that have been around since 2007. The philosophy behind such an editor is that the user is free. What exactly does free mean though? When you initially download and start using Sublime you might think that there is nothing here. And yes, there is nothing indeed. However, you are free to play around, explore and serve your needs in the huge package library that Sublime possesses. You are free to write your own (code) snippets and assign your own keywords to them. Customise according to your needs and explore a vast array of opportunities.

Atom

Another free-spirited editor is Atom released in 2014. Similarly, packages allow this editor to do amazing things. Atom has managed to jump high on the hierarchy ladder. In contrast to Sublime, the editor is fully open-source. As of now, there are 58 developers contributing and in terms of plugins and themes, it has already managed to surpass Sublime. Atom is fast becoming one of the most widely used editors.

Notepad++

Notepad++ was originally developed in 2003. It is one of the most widely adopted in the world. The editor is only available for Windows and has been critisised extensively. As with most Windows applications, UX and UI are not among its strengths. Nevertheless, Notepad++ is a lightweight minimalist application that is free to use and open-source.

Brackets

The editors mentioned so far are quite well-known. Brackets is Adobe’s editor specifically aimed at front-end developers.Conveniently, it adds in-browser developer tools straight to the editor. Real-time connection to a browser along with other features makes Bracket extremely helpful during the design implementation process. First released in 2012 Brackets is definitely an editor with exciting prospectives, especially for designers.

Vim – The King

All editors require you to go through a learning curve. The steepest one is that of VIM’s (Virtual editor IMproved). Those who have managed to climb it, should consider themselves true experts. VIM has been around since 1991. VI, the base of VIM dates back even further to 1976. Consequently VIM is the father of all modern text editors. But what makes VIM so special? Well, I think the answer lies on input. This editor allows you to control it through different modes:

  • command mode: each key is assigned to a command instead of the regular keyboard input. For example, typing ‘dd’ will delete an entire line. Use this mode when editing your text.
  • insert mode: the regular alphanumeric values your keys are assigned to by default. Use this mode to type your text.

The editor opens up in command mode by default. Typing ‘i’ allows one to enter insert mode. Don’t forget to use the escape key if you want to go back to the command mode. If you are interested in giving it a go, do download my cheat-sheet which is specifically aimed at beginners.


Get a pdf copy of my VI Cheat-Sheet.

Comparisons

Notepad++ 34.3%
Sublime Text 31.4%
Vim 27.1%
Atom 20%
Notepad++ 48.1%
Vim 21.2%
Sublime Text 21.1%
Atom 12.7%
Vim 42.1%
Notepad++ 33.1%
Sublime Text 28.6%
Atom 20.7%
Notepad++ 36.7%
Vim 34%
Sublime Text 26.1%
Atom 15.9%

Some of the most comprehensive surveys you will find are those performed annually by StackOverflow. In 2017 more than 64,000 developers participated. The bars above show the most popular development environment by occupation. Most noteworthy, is that Notepad++ is one of the most popular amongst all professions. Introduced in 2003, Notepad++ was the first to market. This offered the editor greater gains in usage. The table below offers further details on all editors discussed in this post.

Sublime Notepad++ Atom Brackets VIM
OS OSX, Windows, Linux Windows OSX, Windows, Linux OSX, Windows, Linux OSX, Windows, Linux
Price $70 (Free Unlimited Trial) Free Free Free Free
Creator Jon Skinner Don Ho GitHub Adobe Bram Moolenaar
Open Source No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Date Released 2008 2003 2014 2012 1991
Software License Proprietary GPL MIT MIT GPL
Speed 4/5 3/5 2/5 2/5 5/5
Command Line Interface No No No No Yes

Other Editors and IDEs

We examined the most common text editors. It is now noteworthy to mention some rather specialised editors that exist. An IDE (Integrated Development Environment) offers more to a programmer compared to the simple editors discussed previously. Besides the text editing part, an IDE is an arsenal of tools. It consists of language-specific documentation, build automation tools, a debugger as well as other built-in functionalities.

Most Java developers have probably encountered Eclipse and/or Netbeans. However, if curious to see a modern Java IDE take a look at Jetbrain’s Intellij. The company also offers PyCharm for Python, PhpStorm for PHP and other truly inspiring tools.

To end up with, I would like to stress out that all editors are worth a try. After all, we are all different and you’ll never know if something is right for you unless you try. My personal preference is Sublime Text. The power of VIM however has lurred me into learning more. It would be foolish to stay with what I know now. Change might be daunting but don’t be afraid.

Till the next one,

Giannis