It's hard not to be a big fan of Notepad alternatives. Just a little extra effort brings some exceptionally useful tools to that utility, and what NoteTab Light and others do for Notepad, freeware Jarte does for WordPad.
Pronounced "JAR-tay", the first thing users will notice about it is the unusual interface. I liked it, although if I go the rest of my life without seeing a brushed-metal skin again, I'd somehow manage to live. Otherwise, it's a simple layout, and perhaps too minimalist for some. Where the Toolbar and Menubar would usually live, there's only the aforementioned circular icons. The icons are a bit small, and there's a fair bit of empty space around them so they look somewhat bereft of context. Push your mouse over one, and a standard drop-down menu appears. It sounds a bit hokey, but in practice it works well and makes most tasks accessible by a single click.
There are eight major icon options, which contain actions that range from the basic--like saving your document--to the more advanced, such as re-opening previously in-use documents when you start the program. Those eight are split by four more ancillary choices. One, for example, is a mouse-over chart icon that gives you word, character, page, and line counts.
It turns out Jarte has two other interface schemes. One is an expanded "classic" layout that offers Menubar choices, like File, separated out into bubbles. The newer and now default skin feels more cohesive and looks better. The other UI is even more minimalist than the default, and basically strips away all the pretensions to give users a Menubar--basically Notepad's UI on WordPad's engine.
The guts of the program are identical to WordPad, but Jarte expands on that feature set. Table, special character, and equation support make Jarte a good, lightweight editor. There's a built-in, scalable screen-capping utility that pushes Jarte closer to greatness. The rolled-in spell-checker was adequate, but not great. It held its own against some pesky typos, but struggled with "sentce," which should be "sentence." To be fair, it did call that out as a error--it just didn't know what to suggest for it.
Interestingly, Jarte integrates with WordWeb, my favored desktop-dictionary app. It's a small, small freeware world.
The clipboard can hold 25 items at once, which is an obvious must-have for a lightweight editor that probably sees a lot of cutting-and-pasting. To that end, Jarte also offers tabs to keep multiple documents going in the same window. If you've got one doc already running, the way to open a second tab is to either open a document or create a new one. There's no such thing here as a blank tab.
There's not much in the way of file support. DOC, DOCX, RTF and TXT formats are compatible, and there's an Export tool that converts documents into PDFs and HTML.
None of these features would matter much to me if the stability issues and function failures of previous versions had persisted, but during my most recent tests on a Windows Vista box, Jarte came away without a single fail. The clickless, mouse-over-based navigation may sound a bit intimidating to some who fear change, but trust me: it makes getting around in the app faster than you'd expect.
If you're in the market for a Notepad or WordPad alternative, Jarte's mix of style and utility are about as different from the mainstream as you can get.