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Flipping the Linux switch: Text editors for new users

Cream Text EditorFirst, a little experiment. What are the first three applications you think of when someone mentions text editors?

If you can only answer Notepad, Notepad and Notepad, there's help for you yet.

True, the ubiquitous Notepad is a text editor. People who regularly use text editors often find Notepad quite limiting. That's why there are so many alternative text editors available for Windows.

Linux text editors are a different breed, more closely akin to the uber-editors that you can add to Windows (in fact, many Linux-based text editors have been ported to Windows and OS X). Sure, you can use them exactly the same way you use Notepad, if you want. But you can do so much more: programming in languages from C to XML, annotating documents with notes, and even collaborative editing.
We find ourselves using text editors more with Linux than with Windows. Not only because they're more powerful, but because they are life savers when we have a configuration file we need to edit by hand.

If you've looked at Linux text editors at all, you've found there is a battle raging that's just as passionate as the GNOME or KDE battle. The two text editors in question, Vi and Emacs, are powerful, extensible, and highly configurable. They've also got a steep learning curve for the new Linux user who just wants to tweak a setting in a config file, or create a simple document.

Have no fear. There are plenty of text editors out there that are powerful enough for the average user, and user-friendly to boot.

The minimalist: nano

nano is a small text-based (launched from the command line) text editor. It's top on our list for many reasons. A clone of the older Pico editor, nano can be used to easily view and edit files if, for whatever reason, your graphical server fails to start. We find ourselves using it for other tasks too, however. Sometimes it's easier to navigate to a directory using the console, and open a document directly in nano. Though it has a unique set of commands (for instance, ctrl-W searches for character strings) it is still easy to use, and help prompts are prominently displayed.

Launch nano in a terminal by typing nano <FILENAME> at the prompt.

We'd recommend every new user install nano, if it's not installed by default with your distribution.

The workaholic: Geany

Geany is a graphical application designed to be lightweight, and install with only the GTK2 runtime libraries as a dependency (this allows it to also run on Windows and Mac). Though its target users are the programming set, we will admit to using Geany for drafting many of the posts we write. It's clean, quick, and has tabbed file management.

If you are looking for something to edit code on, Geany has you covered. It supports a virtual terminal emulator, code folding and code completion, and syntax highlighting. For note takers and data freaks, there's a scribble board, and a status bar that records events such as document saves.

The reliable: gedit

gedit is the official text editor of the GNOME desktop environment. Though not the most glamorous of text editors, we find ourselves using it a lot. It has the basic features one would expect -- spell check, word count and search and replace. Its features can be extended with plugins. Since it is installed with the GNOME desktop, some people have no need to look any further than gedit.

If you prefer KDE, and do a lot of text editing, we'd recommend looking beyond the standard Kate or Kwrite applications. Where they do work in a pinch, Kate lacks some default features (such as word count) that we've come to expect.

The teacher: Cream

Cream is interesting, because it's more a set of nicely designed macros than a full-fledged text editor. It is a descendant of the Vi/Vim editors. Cream puts a familiar look on the Vim editor, making it accessible to new users. Basic features include spell check, bookmarks, code folding, and find and replace. Advanced features allow for different keyboard mappings, text color themes, and word completion. Ready to try your hand at Vim? You can easily toggle between Vi, Vim, and Cream behavior modes.

This is by far the most powerful editor we've recommended thus far, and the numerous features are likely overkill for many. If you're interested in learning more about how Vim works, or need its functionality but don't need the learning curve, Cream is a good choice.

Cream is available for other platforms, as well.
Can you spot the typo?

Plays well with others: Gobby

Gobby is a collaborative text editor. (It is also available for Windows, OS X and UNIX.) It connects computers on a network through an encrypted channel. It allows for the creation of multiple documents, dragging and dropping of documents, and has an IRC-style chat interface, so you can discuss any changes in real-time. Originally designed for programming collaboration, group editing of other types of documents is also possible. It's a neat application for offices that have a mix of software platforms.

You may rarely use a text editor, and decide gedit (or your desktop environment's counterpart) is all you need. You may use one daily, and prefer something a little more robust. You may even already use your chosen Linux text editor in Windows. How easy was that?

Tags: Cream, documents, Geany, gedit, Gobby, Linux, linux-switch, nano, opensource, text, text editors, TextEditors