Linux text editors: Do any make the grade?

Our exacting editor test-drives a whopping nine Linux text editors. Which ones crossed the finish line ahead of the pack?

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Word processing lite

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If you're looking for elegant, intuitive, lightweight text editors, there are a slew of choices for the Linux platform. Here are a couple I tried.

Gedit
Gedit appears to be a small, lightweight text editor for the Linux GNOME desktop, but its look is deceptively simple. With just a few icons in a tool bar and a row of basic menus, it seems like Notepad for Linux. Poke around some, though, and you'll find there's more to it.

I was surprised to find color-coded syntax for many different files types (markup, CSS, scripting languages, compiled languages and more), as well as robust customization, the ability to revert to a saved version of a file and spell check.

Gedit

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Gedit offers more capabilities than first meets the eye. (Click for larger view.)

However, it was missing a few other things that I'd want in a primary editor, such as text manipulation and macros, or one-click tagging for HTML (bold or links, for example). And while the basic text look and feel was pleasing to the eye, I found the syntax colors less so, even after playing around with fonts -- especially compared to something like Komodo Edit.

If you're looking for a simple editor to bang out a memo or write a quick script or code block, this is a good application. For longer, more in-depth and demanding tasks, though, I'd look for a more robust app.

Gedit ratings (on a scale of 1 to 10):
Ease of learning and use: 8
Look and feel: 7
Content editing (spell check, search/replace, etc.): 7
Simple HTML editing (bold, line breaks, ordered lists, etc.): 5
Customization (macro power, ease of creating): 5
Total: 32

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Kate
The Kate editor came bundled with my SUSE KDE desktop, and offers a more technically robust text-editing experience than, say, WordPad on Windows XP.

Alas, my first impression was extreme annoyance with a dot that showed up where a space should be when I hit the space bar after typing a word. Perhaps this is useful for certain types of programming, but it's a major distraction when you're writing prose; it looked like there was a period in the middle of my sentence when I paused to think and look at what I was doing. I found a configuration setting in the program to "remove trailing spaces," but nothing about those blasted dots.

 
Kate

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Using Kate was initially a frustrating experience. (Click for larger view.)
 

Eventually, I found an answer by searching through archives of a KDE mailing list: Go to the editing section of the configuration menu, and under tabulators, uncheck "show tabs." I am quite sure I never would have guessed that one!

Kate offers a lot of conventional text manipulation, such as search (including regular expression support), replace, change text case, and join or split lines, as well as spell check. However, there's no built-in support for making text bold or italic, and changing fonts requires going into a Configure Settings menu (as opposed to using a tool bar).

Kate doesn't come with HTML coding support switched on, either. An HTML plug-in is available, but it comes with no documentation. The plug-in offers some basic HTML syntax highlighting if you create a file with an .html extension, but I didn't find any easy tools for doing HTML tasks such as inserting hyperlinks or bold tags. There was a nice keyboard shortcut for inserting HTML comments, however.

You can configure Kate to run external scripts, which is handy for power users. And the built-in support for CVS (the open-source change-management software, not the pharmacy) is a plus for those working on open-source collaboration. However, I don't want to write my own scripts or shortcuts to do simple things like add <b> tags. If that functionality is in the software, I couldn't find it again, and the documentation was a bit sparse. Kate looks like a nice piece of software for the specific functions it's aimed at, but it wasn't for me.

Kate ratings (on a scale of 1 to 10):
Ease of learning and use: 5
Look and feel: 6
Content editing (spell check, search/replace, etc.): 9
Simple HTML editing (bold, line breaks, ordered lists, etc.): 3
Customization (macro power, ease of creating): 3
Total: 26

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