Every computer user needs a basic text editor for Readme files and simple note-taking capabilities. That's why Windows comes with Notepad and Mac OS X comes with TextEdit. However, if you want a program that is useful for more than just looking at Readme files, you need to look elsewhere. The best type of text editors come with numerous features and work great for writing quick notes, keeping a journal, coding Web sites, and pasting excerpts from the Web when aggregating research for a project.
While Notepad and TextEdit are useful in their own right, if I want added features like a tabbed interface, search and replace functionality, or extras that help me with coding HTML, I look for the more full-featured alternatives. Some of the best I've found are free "light" versions of professional-level text editors, which give you more features than the basic apps preloaded on your computer. Think of these downloads as free upgrades to what you already have. Though the full versions of these programs are excellent apps, most of the time you can easily get by using the free version.
My current favorites for editing text, taking notes, and a million other uses give you a lot more than what comes loaded on your system, without the need to pay through the nose. NoteTab Light for Windows offers a tabbed interface and adds several libraries of premade code bits called "clips" that you can access through a pull-down menu on the left side of the interface. These clips can be anything from commonly used code to quick-formatting tools available at a click of your mouse. The included FTP utilities let you upload and download files (if you're updating your blog or Web site, for example) directly from within the program. NoteTab Light has always been one of my favorite text editors for Windows because of its long list of useful features.
TextWrangler for Mac OS X is the little brother of BBEdit, the venerable text editor from Bare Bones Software. TextWrangler offers all the text-processing power of its big brother, but is geared more toward the average user. Like NoteTab, TextWrangler offers a host of features including built-in FTP controls and it supports several helpful plug-ins made for BBEdit. When you use TextWrangler, you can quickly tell that the Bare Bones Software folks have been in the Mac software biz for a long time; it works flawlessly with Mac OS X, including its use of the Mac OS X spell-checker.
If you're in the market for a professional text editor, each of these apps has a feature-packed big brother (full version) available at the developer's Web site. But if you're like me, you may find that a few more features than your preloaded text software is all you need and these light versions do the job quite nicely.