Loved for its simplicity, Notepad has long been a staple for serious coders. Fast to load and possessing a tiny footprint, it's a great way to handle chunks of text large or small. Beyond word wrapping, though, it's bereft of many basic and useful features. There are easily a dozen decent freeware applications vying to replace it. Here are three of them: NoteTab Light, Notepad ++, AkelPad.

NoteTab Light is my favorite. It's got features like baseball players have steroids. Under the Help menu, users can choose to replace Notepad with NoteTabLight, so that Notepad's icons open NoteTab instead. The interface is busy, even hectic, but not chaotically so. Navigating is easy once users learn to deal with the various tabs that come preinstalled. There are top-level tabs, like those on most Web browsers. The tabs let users manage several different projects at once.

NoteTab Light comes with prewritten code that can be inserted. (Credit: CNET Networks, Inc.)

The left column displays a list of commands, called Clips, that do anything from inserting bits of text to generating code. Each library, the roster of which appears as tabs at the bottom of the screen, contains its own set of clips. The FTP library, for example, lets users create server profiles, connect, upload, and download files, and issue various commands. The HTML library auto-completes HTML tags.

The publisher's site offers many user-created libraries, or users can make their own. Users can create their own clips by pressing Ctrl-Alt-F2. The ClipBook library lives as a series of tabs at the bottom of the program window.

Even with all this musculature, NoteTab Light loads fast. It's not a tool for casual users, but power users and programmers should find plenty to love.

Notepad ++ has some built-in features designed to appeal to coders. It's probably the better choice for the casual user who wants a cross between Notepad and WordPad. Notepad ++ has some noticeable differences from WordPad. Support for tabs is key. Tabs let users manage different documents simultaneously. Line-numbering is key, too, a feature that nobody mucking about in C should be without.

Notepad ++ has coding options as well, but they live in the menubar. (Credit: CNET Networks, Inc.)

The interface is much simpler compared with NoteTab Light. A familiar row of icons with their mouse-over labels sits at the top, and one row of tabs are just below that. The rest of the screen is made of nothing but pure white space. All the coding tools live in the menubar, with some represented on the toolbar. Users can compile and run macros, convert text to Hex, submit directly to W3C for validation, launch in Firefox and IE, spell-check, and more.

Choosing between Notepad ++ and NoteTab Light probably will depend as much on layout as anything else. Although, forgive the pun, notably Notepad ++ can not auto-replace Notepad the way that NoteTab Light can.

AkelPad can auto-replace Notepad, but installing it is a gigantic pain. Although it's written by a Russian-speaking programmer, the installation is in English. There's also an option to make sure the menus are in English when the program loads. If users get the Russian-language menubars, there is an easy solution.

AkelPad is extremely lightweight, and features plug-ins that only load the features needed. (Credit: CNET Networks, Inc.)

Mouse over to the third menu, and scroll down to the last option. When mousing over the last option, a list of languages should appear. Choose English--or whichever menu language is preferred--and the menu should change to the desired language.

AkelPad is definitely the lightest of the four programs. Its installer weighs in about 175 KB, and it eats about 3 MB of RAM while running all of its extensions. The plug-ins range from allowing auto-scroll, to making the toolbar appear permanently. Users can set what kinds of files AkelPad can open, or print, or edit. Tabs are supported, and the text margin is customizable. Plug-ins must be added to the AkelPad plug-in folder, and then they need to be activated individually from within the program. The program has potential, but this work flow lacks the simple mechanics of NoteTab Light and Notepad ++.

Do you have a favorite Notepad replacement that I haven't mentioned? Let us know about it in the comments. We might add it to our next Notepad roundup.