Product Review:
TextPad 4.31

David Mertz, Ph.D.
Gnosis Software, Inc.
September 2000

At A Glance

Creator:       Helios Software Solutions
Price/License: Close-source commercial; $27/individual
               (media extra), site licensing options.
Home Page:
Requirements:  Win32

What Is Textpad?

TextPad is a nicely featured, inexpensive text editor for Win32 platforms. It includes a number of features that are helpful for programmers; and it presents a very nice interface that is easy to work with.

TextPad is generally more powerful than the free-of-cost PFE, which I reviewed earlier for On the hand, TextPad is generally a less powerful than the Win32 editor I use the most (Boxer 99, which costs about twice as much as TextPad). TextPad is also strictly Win32; it does not have a Win16 version, let alone ones for Linux, OS/2, MacOS, or other platforms (for one cross-platform and open-source option, see my review of FTE).

The Features

First let's talk about the interface to TextPad. I think this is the very best thought-out part of TextPad. All the interface elements can be easily enabled or disabled, so you can make TextPad look and work the way you want. In general TextPad consists of a paned interface that includes a "Clip Library", "Document Selector", MDI document windows, various optional toolbars, and (my favorite) filetabs that show the set of open documents. I prefer a pretty spartan look to my text editors (and don't think a mouse has a lot of use in one), so the first thing I did was turn off the toolbars. But the filetabs are an excellent convention for keeping track of which several documents you are working on at a given time (TextPad's Document Selector actuall serves almost the same purpose, but uses a pane to do it).

What else does TextPad have?

- Syntax Highlighting. Only keyword-based syntax highlighting

is supported. This is not as exotic as regex or state- machine methods. But it does 99% of what you reasonably want it to.

- Simple keystroke macro facility. This is pretty basic: you

can repeat sequences of actions (including repeatedly). But you do not get a full scripting language (but you quite likely do not need one).

- Good regular-expression search and replace capabilities. Some

editors allow regex's in search patterns, but not backreferences in replacement patterns. TextPad does both.

- Spell checkers for multiple languages.

- Quite good built-in document comparison tool.

- Handles column selection (and important item on my


- Case changes in blocks, indentation changes in blocks,

transpositions of lines/words.

- Bookmarks are implemented with an icon to the left of

bookmarked lines

- Configurable key-bindings, language-modes, syntax colors,

menus (to some extent), editing behavior, and various other bits. Overall, almost everything about TextPad is easy to customize.

The Clip Library is an interesting and somewhat unusual feature of TextPad. You can optionally have a pane (or floating window) that contains snippets you'd like to insert in a document. Macros could be used for this purpose, but the Clip Library is quicker and more intuitive. And it comes with a nice predefined set for HTML tags (for other languages, you'll have to roll your own).

The Mis-features

TextPad does not have any of the sophisticated means of structuring code that some editors have. No folding sections, no CTags, no navigable function definitions. Those features are probably too much to ask for in inexpensive shareware. But there are a few things that TextPad could stand to do better, even within its scope.

- Word wrap/indent is subtlely broken in several ways. This

makes working with paragraph text files more difficult (FAQs, READMEs, articles in ASCII). For example, wrap margin is set globally for a document, and there does not seem to be a way to make different paragraphs reformat to different widths (or if there is, I couldn't find it). And creating outdented bullet paragraphs seems to require some manual hard-returns to work around the automatic indent/wrap rules.

- The language modes and clip libraries that ship with TextPad

are quite limited. For example, the three document types I am most likely to work with right now are Python, XML, and textual articles. The wrap/indent problems make the latter difficult. The first two have no built-in language mode support (adding your own isn't hard though). But most editors have a better set of language modes "in the box."

- The shareware version is actually nagware, and pops up a

reminder box every once in a while. This is not bad as nagware goes, but I tend to have a negative sentiment about the idea (but then, I prefer free software).

- Some features seem hard to find on the menus--like

View/Document Properties/Document Tab for a word count. Once you learn a quirk or two, it is fine, but the menus might be done more intuitively.

About The Author

There is hardly anything David Mertz feels more strongly about than text-editors. It stands to reason after a tally of the hours and minutes of his days. You can find out copious biographical details by rooting around at