Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Ramblings Review

Smultron: A Fast, Free Text Editor That's Great for Organizing Information

Charles Moore - 2009.06.22 - Tip Jar

Short link: http://bit.ly/onydG

Rating: 3 and a half out of 4

For the past dozen years or so, I've used a little mini-database/notepad application called Notepad Deluxe as a place to park and organize transient research data for work-in-progress articles and news stories. NotePad Deluxe offers the advantages of having a compact interface (important when you work on small laptops) and the happy facility to store material in discrete notes that can be quickly accessed from a column list of titles. It supports word search and basic text editing.

Unfortunately, it's no longer being developed, and moving to an Intel Mac from PowerPC a few months ago broke the application (it starts and works, but the registration key refuses to stick through a quit and restart), which put me in the hunt for a substitute.

What I've settled on is Peter Borg's freeware text editor Smultron, written in Objective-C using Apple's Cocoa API, which is standing in for NotePad Deluxe quite agreeably.

There are literally dozens of small text editing, data-parking, and snippet-collecting solutions available for OS X, but what commends Smultron for my particular requirements is that it displays all open Smultron documents (the program can edit and save many different file types as well as popular programming languages including C, C++, LISP, Java, Python, Ruby, HTML, XML, CSS, and D) in a list with Quick Look icons in a sidebar to the left of the main window, similar to the iTunes interface, so you can easily switch between documents (you can also choose to display them as tabs if you prefer).

Its user interface can be shrunk down to a scale that makes it usable on my MacBook's 13.3" display with text wrapping, thus without cramping functionality. The user interface window is clean and functional and the button selections useful. The little wild strawberry application icon is whimsically attractive as well!

I do miss NotePad Deluxe's database-type storage of notes. With Smultron, each item is saved to the hard drive as a separate document, which is more cluttered, but I can live with it.


Smultron color codes your text, as in this HTML document.

Because Smultron is a full-fledged text editor, it has more comprehensive and powerful word crunching capabilities than NotePad Deluxe. For instance, it colors text content in different colors depending on what the code does (for example, text between quotation marks rendered in red), and works with OS X's Services menu and built-in spell checker. You also have many ways to search for words, including a quick entry search field always ready on the UI toolbar, including multi-document find and replace with regular expressions, and line numbers to help finding the text you're looking for. You can split the window in two to display two parts of the same document or to compare two different documents side by side or vertically stacked.


Smultron can split a pane to show two parts of the same document.

You can also preview HTML files directly in Smultron and save snippets of text and insert them simply with a shortcut. And if you don't want to be disturbed by other applications or the desktop, you can let Smultron cover the whole screen to let you concentrate on your work, although that's the diametrical opposite of the way I use Smultron in a minimized window.

For the more advanced users, Smultron can find all those system files that are normally hidden and can run commands and scripts. All of Smultron's features are explained in a basic but thorough Help document.

In more than three months of daily production use, I've found Smultron stable and unbuggy, and I haven't found much to complain about. A relatively minor issue is that for some reason, Windowshade X's windowshading function does not work with Smultron, and double-clicking on the Smultron title bar just collapses the open window to the Dock.

A deeper set of text cleaning and manipulation features would be nice, as would easy AppleScriptability a la Tex-Edit Plus. However, Smultron is quick and doesn't hog a lot of system resources, which helps make it easy to like.

Smultron is released as open source freeware under an Apache license, but if you find it useful, Peter Borg appreciates donations to stimulate and help support further development of this application.

System requirements:

  • Version 3.5.1 (latest): Mac OS X Leopard 10.5
  • Version 3.1.2, Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later
  • Version 2.2.7, Mac OS X 10.4.5 or later
  • Version 1.2.7, Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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