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Notepad Is The Most Useful Programmer's Tool

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You may never notice it, as you shortcut your way across your keyboard with Winkey + R => "notepad", but you use it more than anything else on your computer probably. And for a reason. A reason that lies in its simplicity and its ease of use and lack of features. And it's why it's as timeless as pen and paper. That is why I'm dedicating this post to the most widely used programming software on my machine to date. Something that gets used almost hourly it seems. And something that gets no respect, like so many comedians of the past.

Notepad Is The Most Helpful Programmer's Tool

Winkey + R => "notepad"

For me personally, this is why it is so heavily used. Because of the ease of how I can summon it to aid in less than a second flat. A hand gesture that's almost as mechanical as Ctrl + Alt + Del is all it takes to bring it up.

You can instantly generate any type of file that you want, and that's also one of the main draws for me as a web developer. Say for example that I want to test a very quick JavaScript function in less than a minute. I can simply bring up notepad, and type a quick html, body, head block and get to coding. I can have a live webpage up and running in less than 30 seconds. And nowadays, that's how much of my code gets figured out and mocked up.

Opens most files

Notepad Is The Most Helpful Programmer's Tool

How many times do we right click -> Open With -> notepad when looking through unknown directory structures. And why is that so? Because it's pretty much instant to find out the contents of almost any file. You can view HTML files, PHP files, CSV files, etc. with a simple right click or a drag into notepad.

Performance

It's instant. What more can you want from an application. And this is because, again, it doesn't do anything that you don't want it to do. It just takes in text, and it keeps it there for you to view and erase. It's not worried about saving backups or checking your spelling. It's just concerned with staying still as you type your story. The entire application runs in a single 238Kb executable, in some far off and hidden directory on your machine.

What I would love to see

Notepad Is The Most Helpful Programmer's Tool

If the application never changed, it would still be one of the most widely used applications on my machine. But if it were to change, in some far off Window 13 version, then I would love to see the following additions made.

Color theme: Anything else that I mention is simply icing on an already healthy and gluten free cake. I would love to see the ability to change the color scheme in notepad, but not in an open-source, everything makes a theme kind of way. But in a choose your color scheme way. I tend to alternate color schemes based on the time of day. For example, during the early morning hours, a dark theme works great for me. But sometime after the sun makes its appearance, a lighter theme just makes it easier on the eyes.

Tabs: I would love tabs in note. And this is why. When I'm in the zone and ideas are flying left and right, I normally split them off into their own regions

Most recent: As I mentioned, I tend to accumulate many text files in any 1 hour period during the day. So a listing of most recent files for sure makes sense for me. And this leads to the only project that I can see with the notepad infrastructure. And that is, the lack of organization for these files. They are scattered everywhere. Even the OS has many text files hidden throughout the area that it uses for logging and reporting and temp storage and such.

In a world of color coded, autocorrected, cloud oriented text editors, one would think that there would be little to no space for notepad.exe. But it just goes to show that sometimes the less features we give to something, the more its purpose just pops out at you. Whether it be a to do list for the day or a few lines of pseudo code to get a project started, all you need is text sometimes. In the end, these things are designed to be tools. Tools that we use to make something happen. And the bells and whistles just get in the way of the big picture.

Having said that, IDE's have their time and place for sure. I would never take anything away from them. They organize all of my files into this environment that just makes sense and that corrects my mistakes without asking twice. But for every instance of an IDE that I have open, I have 5-10 notepad files relating to that project as well.

Walter G. is a software engineer, startup co-founder, former CTO of several tech companies and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He has been blogging for the past 5 years and is an avid BMX rider, bio-hacker and performance enthusiast.

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