5 free Linux text editors for programming and word processing

A programmer looks at the current versions of five well-known text editors and offers his take on how well they perform.

Today's Linux text editors bridge the gap between the needs of high-end programmers and those of day-to-day users. These applications offer a range of functionality, from clean and user-friendly interfaces (preferred for normal text editing) to power-packed features (required for programming).

Most Linux users I've talked to tell me they want a text editor that can be used for normal text editing (and even some word processing) as well as for hard-core programming and coding. And, of course, they're looking for a low learning curve.

In this roundup, I assess five of the most well-known free text editors -- Gedit, GNU Emacs, GNU Nano, KATE and Vim. I have been using Linux for the past six years now, and my views are based on the practical experiences that I have had with each of them.

While most review round-ups try to answer the question "Which product is the best?" the real question in this case is: "Which one is best for you?" It all depends on what you require -- whether you are more comfortable with easier, graphic-based interfaces or just want a solid, down-and-dirty text editor. The following should provide some guidance as to where to look.


Developers: Paolo Maggi, Paolo Borelli, Steve Frécinaux, Jesse van den Kieboom, James Willcox, Chema Celorio, Federico Mena Quintero

Latest version: 3.8.1

Linux support: Flavors that support Gnome

License: GPLv2

Sometimes all you need is a simple text editor with a clean and easy-to-use interface.

Gedit -- the official text editor for Linux flavors that support the Gnome desktop environment -- is a simple yet useful graphical text editor that is often the first choice of users who are new to *nix systems. This editor has been part of the Gnome project since the project came into existence in 1997.


What's new

Gedit includes a variety of strong features including UTF-8 support, syntax highlighting, the ability to edit files kept at remote machines, text wrapping and tab support. The latest version of Gedit (3.8.1) introduces a Zeitgeist plugin to use the libzeitgeist2 library, some improvements in the documentation and miscellaneous bug fixes.

What's good about it

Besides being a good text editor for newbies, Gedit provides many features that make it programmer and developer friendly. These include auto indentation, line numbers, bracket matching, backup files and auto-save files. Another nice feature is its ability to recognize and open most file formats with syntax highlighting.

I personally like the ability of Gedit to open files in tabs (as in a browser), which makes switching between files really easy.

There are some other nice features. For example, if you are programmer and your manager is very strict about code indentation, you can disable tabulation and opt for auto indentation by checking the corresponding options in the Edit --> Preferences --> Editor menu.

Gedit includes a plugin facility through which various plugins -- offered with Gedit or from third parties -- can be added. This flexibility results in enormous power.

What needs to be fixed

As a programmer, I feel that Gedit could do more by adding features such as code folding into its armory. When handling huge files, it is really useful if you can fold/collapse irrelevant sections and work only on those sections that require editing.

Another minor problem: When using #if 0 and #endif to comment on C/C++ code, the comments are the same color as normal text comments. So if you have lots of text comments in your code and somewhere in-between you have a commented block of code, then it sometimes becomes difficult to identify the commented code.

Bottom line

Gedit is very simple to learn and use -- you only have to learn various configuration options if you need advanced features.

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