Be a Professional Coder with UltraEdit

Be a Professional Coder with UltraEdit

The cool kids ask everyone “Emacs or Vim?” whenever the topic of text editors comes up. Windows-users can also choose Notepad++ as well as other text editors. One feature-rich Windows-exclusive text editor that gets passed over is UltraEdit, by IDM Computer Solutions, Incorporated. In order to give a better review, I have written this article using UltraEdit.

Getting UltraEdit

IDM offers UltraEdit on a “try before you buy” basis. The download page offers several translations of UltraEdit, including Italian, French, German, and Spanish. The free trial lasts thirty days and has all of the features of the registered version. UltraEdit installs like any other Windows application. I had no problems getting it to work.

The trial lasts thirty days.

“Give us a chance for a month. For free. That’s all we ask.”

I’d like to point out and thank IDM for an act of consideration. During the installation process, a dialog box appears, asking the user to associate file types with UltraEdit. By default, only a single file type is checked and that one is specific to UltraEdit anyway. The other file types are left alone unless the user explicitly chooses to associate them with UltraEdit. Too many applications will automatically associate every file type that they can without even informing the user about it. Thank you, IDM.

File Associations

Thank you, IDM, for not stealing file associations.

Unique Features

UltraEdit has some unique features that you won’t find in most competing text editors.

Drag & Drop Text Drag & drop is an operation that is normally associated with icons representing files. UltraEdit can do this drag & drop, of course, but it can also do this to regions of text. To do this, select a region of text with the mouse as you would in any other application. After you have lifted your finger from the left mouse button, press and hold the left mouse button on the selected text. The mouse pointer will change, showing a shadowed rectangle at its base. While holding down the left mouse button, drag the cursor to the place where you want the text to go and then release the button. The selected region of text will move from its original position to the new position. To copy the selected text instead of moving it, hold down the Control key when you reach the desired location.

Columns Selecting text in any application will almost always cause the highlighting — and, thus, the selection — to wrap to the end of any intermediating lines. One can change this in UltraEdit with Column Mode. Select it from the “Column” menu (or press Alt+C). When column mode is engaged, text selection will act like rectangle selection in a graphics program. You can see the results, below.

Boxy!

Rectangular Text Selection

Once you have made the selection, as many as ten commands will activate in the Column menu. These commands include deleting, filling, justifying, and other operations on text in the selected column. This is good for any kind of tabulated data.

Customizable Toolbars Sure, plenty of applications have customizable toolbars, but UltraEdit stands out. The menubar is wide and deep to begin with, but UltraEdit allows any command that’s available in the menus to be available in the toolbar, as well. Right-click on the menu, select “Customize Menu…,” and use the dialog box to copy whatever commands that you wish to the menu bar.

Let the menu contents all hang out.

Turn the contents of the menus inside out.

The toolbar icons are small, which may be a problem for those with bad eyesight. To make them bigger, select “Configuration” from the Advanced menu. Choose “Customization” from the “Toolbars/Menus” tree at the left side of the dialog box and press the “Customize Toolbar button near the top central area of the box. Near the top of the next dialog box, check the “Large Button” checkbox. This box allows a fine-grained approach to editing the toolbar.

The Scenic Route

The shortcut is in the next paragraph, but this dialog box has nifty features, too.

You can also enlarge the toolbar icons by right-clicking on the toolbar and selecting “Large Buttons.” Holding the mouse pointer over any toolbar icon will raise a tooltip showing the relevant command, anyway.

Adding More Features

Like any programmer’s editor worthy of the name, UltraEdit can be extended by scripting. UltraEdit supports scripts written in JavaScript; specifically, version 1.7 of the JavaScript standard. To load a script, choose “Scripts…” from the Scripting menu, or press Ctrl-Shift-Z for short. When the scripts window appears, click on the “Add” button near the top right. A file explorer dialog box will show up, allowing you to load the desired script. In this case, I have loaded the Zen Coding script. When you have loaded the script, click on the “Hotkey” column next to the name of the script in order to associate a keyboard shortcut with that script. In this case, I have attached the script to Ctrl-Shift-G.

JavaScript goes here.

Much better than hacking a .emacs file.

Entering “UltraEdit scripts” into your favorite search engine will reveal more scripts to extend the editor. Even if you don’t use UltraEdit, Zen Coding is available for a large number of editors. The successor project to Zen Coding is Emmet.

Getting Help

UltraEdit’s help system is very good. The QuickStart guide pops up on startup and gives pointers to some of UltraEdit’s unique features. More extensive help is available from the Help menu. Kudos to IDM Computer Solutions for not directing users to a website, but actually including a local copy of a Microsoft HTML Help file.

Good Help Files

Thank you, IDM, for not shunting users to you website.

Is It Worth It?

A single license for UltraEdit will set you back sixty dollars. A sensible person will wonder if that’s worth it compared to Emacs or Vim. If you’re already familiar with those two editors, then you may as well stick with them. Having used all three, I say that, between the help system, toolbar, and command menu, UltraEdit is far more discoverable and explorable than either Emacs or Vim. By default, UltraEdit performs syntax highlighting on little more than a dazen programming languages. You’ll have to search for syntax highlight scripts for any others. If your programming tastes don’t stray far from the mainstream, then what UltraEdit provides should suffice.

Conclusion

If your time is valuable and you need to sling code quickly with a professional code editor, then UltraEdit deserves your consideration. Students and bedroom programmers can use the trial download to see if it could be right for them, someday.

As usual, a short review like this cannot do justice to all of UltraEdit’s features (code folding, SFTP, macros, SSH, et cetera) so thirty-day trial period should not be spurned. I’ve had fun writing this review with UltraEdit and I’ll do some more hacking with it while the trial lasts.


Summary

Pass this over if you already know Emacs or Vim, but if you need a professional-quality editor that's easily discoverable, then UltraEdit is a good choice.

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