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.

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GNU Nano

Developer: Chris Allegretta

Latest version: 2.2.6

Linux support: All flavors

License: GNU GPL

GNU Nano is a command-line text editor created in 1999 to provide a free alternative to the proprietary text editor Pico. Initially it was named TIP (for This Isn't Pico), but in 2000 it was renamed because of an existing Unix utility called Tip. In 2001, GNU Nano was (and still is) included in the GNU package.

GNU Nano
GNU Nano

What's new

Nano contains all the basic features of a standard text editor. It was actively maintained until 2010, but since then activity seems to have slowed down a bit. The latest version of Nano is 2.2.6, which, according to change logs, was released on November 22, 2010.

This release adds a section to the FAQ about how to use nanorc (Nano's RCFile) on Win32 systems and returns the check for restricted mode to the spell-checker.

What's good about it

Nano is the text editor that pops up by default when you run the visudo command on Ubuntu Linux (to edit sudoers information). It contains all the functionalities and features of Pico but adds some extra features, such as regular expression-based search and replace, smooth scrolling and colored text.

Another good point about Nano is that it is lightweight and easy to use. I was really impressed by the way that all the basic commands are mentioned at the bottom of the window -- so as a new user, you don't have to look for a basic tutorial to get started.

What needs to be fixed

The only problem I have with Nano is that it was created to emulate Pico -- which was not a feature-rich editor. Though Nano adds some extra features, it still stands behind Vi/Vim editors, which are more powerful command-line text editors that provide a variety of features.

Bottom line

GNU Nano is a small and lightweight text editor that may not work as a full-blown IDE (integrated development environment) for programmers but is still capable of handling standard text editor tasks. Despite being command-line based, it is simple and easy to use.

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