Text Editors and DarkRoom – a Review

I probably have spent more time looking at text editors than any other software application. I'm always on the lookout for a text editor that does just what I want, no more, no less.

There are so many text editors out there its very difficult to select an editor, simply because of the time it takes to evaluate them all.  Over the years, I have gone from editor to editor, as a new editor comes out and catches my attention. There is not one text editor that meets all my needs.  I find myself using several text editors depending on what I am doing.



For the writing of formal documents that I use to communicate with others, I use a word processor, either Microsoft Word, or OpenOffice.org Writer. Lately, I have been using OpenOffice Writer.

For doing web development with PHP and MySQL, I use a full fledged IDE that has many coding utilities integrated into a development environment. I have tried, NetBeans, Aptana, Eclispe, and the one I currently use is Zend Studio.

For writing web pages, quickly, I do not need all the functionality offered by IDE's. I need an "IDE Lite", so to speak.   I look for a text editor that has some HTML and CSS code snippets built-in that I can quickly drop into my web page.  They usually have a file viewer.   I have tried PSPad, Notepad++, HTML Kit, Intype, and BlueFish.  I keep going back to HTML Kit, even though it takes some time to configure, just because it is so flexible and configurable.  I can make it into exactly what I want with an IDE Lite editor.

I have one editor I use to write either a blog article, a small program, or a note.  A "simple" text editor, an example would be Microsoft Notepad.  A "simple" text editor has the following characteristics: it loads extremely fast.  I click the icon, blink, and I'm ready to type.  It doesn't have a lot of other functionality like code snippets, or file viewer, but it has a little more functionality than Notepad.  Alright, I'll get right to it.

One of my major pet peeves with editors is color configuration.  I like a dark background, specifically #000066, which is a dark blue, with lime foreground text.  When you look at a monitor 8 to 12 hours a day, you get tired of staring at white background screens. It starts glaring at the eyes. I want to be able to have the colors the way I want them in my editor, and there lies the problems I have with editors.

With all the editors I use, you can configure the screen colors, except there's always a catch.  It's not easily done in the word processors, you have a huge amount of screen real estate taken up by menus, which you can not easily adjust or make disappear.  With IDE's and the IDE Lites, you run into trouble changing colors, because of language color syntax highlighting, and you end up playing with the color configuration until you get all the different syntax highlighting visible on the screen without any disappearance due to the dark background.  You also seem to be constantly fiddling with the colors with the IDE's.  I have found I have had to keep my color preferences in a separate notebook to quickly set up a new editor.  Long story short, I want a dark background that will not mess up the rest of the editor functionality. Note: to all you editor makers out there, I would like a dark default configuration, especially for you IDE folks, that I can change with one click.

Back to "simple" editors, Notepad does not allow you to change colors. The simple text editor I currently am using to write this article fits the bill nicely, and I must admit prompted this entire review.

It's called "DarkRoom."  I like DarkRoom a lot. It is a full screen editor, i.e. nothing shows on the screen except the editor window, no menus. It's meant to have a dark background for those of us that write a lot.

DarkRoom is Windows based freeware that credits Mac based WriteRoom, as its inspiration.  DarkRoom has spawned a bunch of look-a-likes: Q10, JDarkRoom, PyRoom, WestEdit, and online editors, like Dark Copy, and Online Appwriter, but none of these do it as good as DarkRoom.

DarkRoom allows some basic configuration, like font, font-size, colors, and the look of the editor on start up, and that's about it. And quite frankly that's all I want. It opens in a flash from an icon on my desktop, and allows me to write full screen, if I press Esc or F11, a menu comes up that allows me to save, cut, and paste, some statistics, and search and replace. I don't need to use the menu, because DarkRoom follows all the standard Windows keyboard conventions, like Ctrl-S saves the document.

I highly recommend you take a test drive of DarkRoom. It is an extremely good text writing editor, the kind of editor you would use to write a blog, sort of like this one.

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