3 text editor alternatives to Emacs and Vim

Vim and Emacs are the decided heavyweights for editing text on the Linux desktop, but they're not the only options you have.
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3 text editor alternatives to Emacs and Vim


Before you start reaching for those implements of mayhem, Emacs and Vim fans, understand that this article isn't about putting the boot to your favorite editor. I'm a professed Emacs guy, but one who also likes Vim. A lot.

That said, I realize that Emacs and Vim aren't for everyone. It might be that the silliness of the so-called Editor war has turned some people off. Or maybe they just want an editor that is less demanding and has a more modern sheen.

If you're looking for an alternative to Emacs or Vim, keep reading. Here are three that might interest you.


Editing a LaTeX document with Geany


Geany is an old favorite from the days when I computed on older hardware running lightweight Linux distributions. Geany started out as my LaTeX editor, but quickly became the app in which I did all of my text editing.

Although Geany is billed as a small and fast IDE (integrated development environment), it's definitely not just a techie's tool. Geany is small and it is fast, even on older hardware or a Chromebook running Linux. You can use Geany for everything from editing configuration files to maintaining a task list or journal, from writing an article or a book to doing some coding and scripting.

Plugins give Geany a bit of extra oomph. Those plugins expand the editor's capabilities, letting you code or work with markup languages more effectively, manipulate text, and even check your spelling.


Editing a webpage with Atom


Atom is a new-ish kid in the text editing neighborhood. In the short time it's been on the scene, though, Atom has gained a dedicated following.

What makes Atom attractive is that you can customize it. If you're of a more technical bent, you can fiddle with the editor's configuration. If you aren't all that technical, Atom has a number of themes you can use to change how the editor looks.

And don't discount Atom's thousands of packages. They extend the editor in many different ways, enabling you to turn it into the text editing or development environment that's right for you. Atom isn't just for coders. It's a very good text editor for writers, too.


Writing this article in Xed


Maybe Atom and Geany are a bit heavy for your tastes. Maybe you want a lighter editor, something that's not bare bones but also doesn't have features you'll rarely (if ever) use. In that case, Xed might be what you're looking for.

If Xed looks familiar, it's a fork of the Pluma text editor for the MATE desktop environment. I've found that Xed is a bit faster and a bit more responsive than Pluma—your mileage may vary, though.

Although Xed isn't as rich in features as other editors, it doesn't do too badly. It has solid syntax highlighting, a better-than-average search and replace function, a spelling checker, and a tabbed interface for editing multiple files in a single window.

Other editors worth exploring

I'm not a KDE guy, but when I worked in that environment, KDevelop was my go-to editor for heavy-duty work. It's a lot like Geany in that KDevelop is powerful and flexible without a lot of bulk.

Although I've never really felt the love, more than a couple of people I know swear by Brackets. It is powerful, and I have to admit its extensions look useful.

Billed as a "text editor for developers," Notepadqq is an editor that's reminiscent of Notepad++. It's in the early stages of development, but Notepadqq does look promising.

Gedit and Kate are excellent for anyone whose text editing needs are simple. They're definitely not bare bones—they pack enough features to do heavy text editing. Both Gedit and Kate balance that by being speedy and easy to use.

Do you have another favorite text editor that's not Emacs or Vim? Feel free to share by leaving a comment.

That idiot Scott Nesbitt ...
I'm a long-time user of free/open source software, and write various things for both fun and profit. I don't take myself all that seriously and I do all of my own stunts.


Great pick with Geany, which I very quickly found and acclimatised to (after seeing where the stalwarts gedit, Kate, etc were after years of not having touched Linux) from using Notepad++ on Windows and haven't felt any need to look further than.

Kwrite is pretty good (in some ways similar to Kate).
One nice thing about it is that you can do Search and Replace with regex.

I believe Kate and Kwrite share the text editing part and only vary their GUIs, so they're very similar.
Kwrite is simpler, Kate is more powerful.

In reply to by Greg P

When I switched from W7 about 2 years ago, I looked and looked for a replacement for NoteTabLight (the freeware version of NoteTab for Windows). It had moveable tabs to keep multiple text files open and arrangeable. I finally found Geany, and after turning off a lot of options it felt virtually the same. I ending up turning the line number option back on, as it is helpful.

I'm very surprised you didn't mention VS Code or Sublime.

For what it's worth, I find Emacs to be a very good alternative to the closed source sublime.

Hey, look, I brought it full circle!

In reply to by ScottNesbitt

Vim is alive and evolving, Check out Neovim and Oni, an IDE based on Neovim.

Geany heavy? Geany is ultra fast and lightweight text editor.

Comparatively heavy - it's all a matter of what you need in an editor. Xed is lighter than Geany (which itself is light, as the Geany section of the article points out).

In reply to by sedlav (not verified)

yeah, I'm currently learning atom. non-english keyboard users must be picky about editors lol...

That's something I've never really considered being an en-US user. If you're willing, I'd love for you to write an article about this for Opensource.com. Email me (bcotton AT opensource DOT com) if you're interested.

In reply to by Luewenc

Another vote for VS Code. I use it on Windows, Mac and Linux.

My preferred (cli) Editor is this one: http://ne.di.unimi.it/
I install it on each and every computer I manage.

VSCode really should be on your radar if Atom is there already. Code is by far the best of the open-source modern text editor crowd in terms of features, activity and support. Brackets kicked off the "extensible text editor built with web technologies" movement but has languished after Adobe lost interest. Atom is good but lacks polish (imo) and seems sluggish at times.

Code is in active development by Microsoft and they have a whole team supporting it and it shows. And using web technologies, it's easier for people to help with PRs than other editors written in c++ or as the developer pool is bigger. And as mentioned above, it runs well on all 3 pc platforms.

Worth looking into.

That's all great if you're a coder, but I'm not. Neither are many people who use text editors. Which explains why VS Code hasn't been on my radar.

My focus with this article is multi-purpose editors anyone can use. And from experience, I've found that the three main ones in this article fit that bill.

But if you think VS Code is worthy of an article, please contact me at scottnesbitt[at]opensource[dot]com or send a pitch to the editors here.

In reply to by mackenza (not verified)

Since I'm a fledgling programmer, just starting out,..I have many tools that I use. I like Notepadqq....I use CodeBlocks for C++......Eclipse for Java.....and Ninja-IDE for Python. As for the others?...I think Geany is pretty good...I've never tried Atom.....Emacs....or vim. From what I've seen of vim though? it looks quite daunting to learn. (As if I didn't have ENOUGH to learn and remember with ending lines with semi-colons!...LoL!) All in all I'm glad I made the move to Linux since about 2002/'03 and have never looked back. I couldn't afford Apple products and Windows was just a BSOD nightmare (at the time...it was Windows Vista/XP!) I've been using Fedora since release version 12.....and while it may have it's issues and problems?...it "Just Works"!!

Ultra Edit. Maybe the best.
Very, very expensive!

Looking for an alternative to Ultra Edit.
Things I'm looking for...
- Looking good in KDE
- Very easy and powerful Macro functions
- Very easy and powerful Find and Replace feature
A good example : Substitute 2 RtM with one ... You just hace to press Ctr+Return twice in the search box and once in the Replace box
You don't have to look for complex codes

Medit is a great alternative to Gedit. It has fewer dependencies and almost all the features of Gedit. I don't write code, so simple is sometimes better.

I currently use 5 different text editors:
> For command line use, nano
> Main desktop use - Bluefish, Geany, Medit
> For some text files that can't be read any other way, Leafpad

Over 20 comments and no mention of nano ??

Fast, flexible, runs in a terminal (great for ssh sessions), syntax highlighting.... what's not to love?

I second nano. Great for pretty much any kind of editing in the cli. Only downside is word wrap. It will display lines on a single line or insert newline chars for you to "wrap" the lines to the width of the tty. For 95% of my cli editing needs, I don't need word wrap, but for reviewing complex log files, proper word wrap that alters the view, not the data, would correct the only flaw I see in this tool.

In reply to by AndrewB (not verified)

Nano's my fallback editor for systems where I can't (or just haven't yet) installed Joe. It's everywhere, at about the same level as Vi. Pretty much everything's got one or the other or both.

In reply to by AndrewB (not verified)

The past 25 years I've setup my accounts on dozens of Unix/Linux systems at work and home and the first task is using VIM for an hour so that I can install and configure The Hessling Editor (THE). Check out the web page. Obviously I'm an old IBM mainframer of the VM type. It's great for tabular data. It's open source and uses REXX for a Macro language.

In the UNIX/Linux/BSD world my only editor of choice is vi/vim. I prefer a command line editor so that, no matter how I access a system, I can work comfortably. On a desktop I can easily open a command line window and get to work. I settled on vi because it is the one editor that is likely to be installed everywhere AND it is a very good editor.

GUI editors are not nearly as efficient over a ssh connection and I don't need the hand holding. It helps that I prefer a command line over a graphical interface for managing systems, no matter how I connect to them. A GUI is fine for a desktop but a terrible waste of space and resources on a server.

In the Windows world I've been using Textpad for decades and haven't found anything better (for me). I have looked at other editors but nothing else works as well (again, for me). In the old DOS world I used Qedit and ed before that. On other systems (main frames, mini computers and such) I usually found myself using a variation of ed.

I've been banging away on computers for a LONG time, and I long ago got a lot of the Wordstar control-key combinations burned into my very soul. I fell in love with JOE shortly after starting to use linux, and I install it on every system I administer.

Sublime - I know it is not Open Source but it is free and a great editor.
Atom seems like the next progression to Sublime.
Thanks for pointing out Notepadqq

I'm an emacs guy now. But before that I used jEdit, which is really, really powerful, if you tolerate Java applications.

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