Improving Notepad++ into the perfect IDE

Improving Notepad++

Whether you you’re a programmer or simply an enthusiast having a good Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is fundamental. Why is that? Well if programming is part of your work as with any task on life you want it done quickly and painless, a good IDE helps you achieve exactly that.

But a good IDE or in this context, a good text editor is helpful for anyone not just “professionals”. The default Notepad from Windows just doesn’t cut it for more than reading a README type of file.

Notepad++

There are lots of alternatives when choosing an IDE. But if the panoply of alternatives is huge the decision factors in my opinion are rather easy to follow: Price / Power ratio. Basically we want a powerful IDE and preferencially Free. I wouldn’t mind paying a just value for a good IDE, but not the absurd amount of money some Software costs like Dreamweaver (although Dreamweaver is a powerhouse). If you own a Mac there are some good options like Textmate or Coda for about 50-70€. If you use Windows like me, Aptana is a good choice, but I’ve never been a big fan of Java Plataform powered Software, so my vote goes for Notepad++.

Why Notepad Plus?

Remember the Ratio? Price / Power. Well, Notepad++ it’s free and opensource. Regarding power, it’s very powerful, supports most probably every language you’ll ever need and it’s expandable with plugins. The only thing I don’t like in Notepad++ it’s its default look. But even that is perfectible changeable. So, why Notepad++?

  • 1. Free – Because the best things in life are free!
  • 2. Powerful – Because we need features to improve our workflow.
  • 3. Lightweight – Resource hogs are never welcome.
  • 4. Flexible – Easily expandable by plugins to fit our needs.
  • 5. Opensource – Because the best things in life are opensource… oh wait..

Improving Notepad++

So why should we change the appearance of Notepad++? There is nothing wrong with it but it feels too stock and white backgrounds make my eyes bleed. If you’ll spend countless hours in front of a program let’s at least make it more enjoyable and useful, that way our workflow will probably increase and if not at least our desktop will look prettier.

First think I always do when I reinstall Notepad Plus is to change the theme. I prefer darker to light themes, as they are softer on the eyes (as I referred previously).

Changing Notepad++ Theme

The most recent versions of Notepad++ already bring some neat themes you can use. Monokai (in the picture) is one of them.

Monokai theme

To choose your theme open notepad++ and go to Settings > Style Configurator… > Select Theme. The rest is pretty much self explanatory. You can also change the font setting but make sure on the Language you are on Global styles and on the Style you are on Global override. In order for your font to apply to your theme you need to tick Enable global font option and also Enable global font size.

When I chose a different theme for some reasons it kept reseting back to default theme or not saving my font choices. But we can change our theme other way around making sure our options are saved. We replace the original stylers.xml . This way we even choose other themes available in the Internet. Textmate has a lot of nice themes that can be easily converted into notepad++. Joyboner has a nice little tutorial on how to do this easily.

Changing Notepad++ Toolbar Icons

The default toolbar Icon is ok I guess, but ok is the new… meh! Jokes aside, this is something we can improve just for eye candy happiness. Notepad++ website tells you how you can change the default Toolbar Icons but for some unknown reason it didn’t work for me initially (it had to do with Windows7 Administrator permissions, so run your notepad++ as administrator). But I found a way to make it work. Right now I’m using Notepad++ Tango Skin by duxii.

Notepad++ Tango Skin

It’s fairly simple to install, just follow duxii’s instructions:

* First Extract the downloaded zip file!

* Just open Notepad++ and go to settings and compare them with my settings (“01_settings.bmp”)

[* Now choose one of the themes to make notepad looking more awesome. I have chosen "bespin".]

* Now we will change the notepad++ icons

- Go to your notepad++ installation path and change the file “NppShell_01.dll” to “old_NppShell_01.dll”.

- Now start the sfx file (02_changeicons.sfx)
1. As destination folder chose the install path of notepad++ (for me this is “C:\Programme\Notepad++\”)
2. Overwrite all files
3. If an error appears that any file could not be overwritten you have to start windows in save mode an do this again

- The sfx file has already done most of the things. You only have to do one more thing:
1. Rename the “03_toolbarIcons.xml”-file to “toolbarIcons.xml”
2. Press Windows-R
3. No a window will appear: write following into it:
%APPDATA%\Notepad++
4. A folder will open. Copy the renamed “toolbarIcons.xml” into it.
5. Now open this file with notepad++
6. Look at the screenshot “04_finish.bmp” and do what on the screenshot is standing!

* Restart your Computer and start Notepad++ & voila your notepad++ is in beautiful tango style.

Plugins

A way to know how flexibly and customizable a software program can be is by checking if it supports plugins and the amount of support given by the community. Notepad++ is one of this cases. There are enough plugins to make your notepad even more powerful. You can find the “official” plugins on Notepad++ Plugin Central Website or even install them directly through the Plugin Manager. The Plugins I find the most useful from Plugin Central are these ones:

notepad++ plugins

QuickText is specially useful since is a Code Snippet manager. You need to install it manually it can’t be installed directly by the Plugin Manager.

But the plugin I really advice you to install is one called Zen Coding. Zen Coding is just amazing, words can’t describe it you have to see for yourself. With Zen Coding and QuickText you’ll find yourself writing doing repetitive tasks in php, html or anything you’re working on in a breeze. No other plugins will increase your efficiency and workflow as much as these two.

Conclusion

Be it notepad++, windows notepad, coda, aptana or anything else, you need to familiarize and be comfortable with your tools of the trade. The perfect IDE is the one that no only allows you to do the job but aids you in doing it “faster, better, stronger“. Notepad++ is an amazing piece of software. It’s very expandable and flexible as you’ve seen by now. It’s one of the few great options in Windows, at least in the Free price range. But you have to know that Notepad++ is not perfect, well it is for html, CSS or small projects, but for serious projects it lacks important features as error detection, if you really need a full featured IDE SmashingMagazine wrote a really nice post about IDEs. But in the end the Pros are a lot more than the Cons so Notepad++ is a great option if you’re looking for a Free IDE.

The current look of my notepad++ it’s like this:

my notepad++

So, what’s your preferred text editor / IDE and why?

Download: Notepad++

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