Spellcheck, autocorrect: the end of Notepad as a simple text editor

11 July 2024

Let’s go back in time. Way back in time.

To about this time in 2000. I had, or was just about, to start my first job as a web designer, at an exciting, multidisciplinary design studio, on Sydney’s trendy urban fringe. Ok: Surry Hills. I’m pleased to say I was headhunted into the role, thanks largely to the then inception of disassociated.

My job title was “coder/designer”, and I still have a copy of my business card somewhere. I was given a large box of them at the time, and asked by one of the directors to distribute them at will. At parties, at the pub, on the bus. Everywhere. To spread word of the studio, of course.

When I went into a meeting to discuss the role, I said I wanted to work to web standards with the HTML I would be coding/marking-up. One of the people sitting in on the meeting, who worked in the development arm of the agency, and whom I’d meet previously through local web design/personal website circles, shook his head at me.

He was on the same page: he too wanted to work with standards, but many projects of the day precluded their use. “Ok,” I said, “In that case, I only want to use Notepad for the code/markup I’ll be writing.” I said that because I didn’t want a bar of the bloated, ineffectual, WYSIWYG web design editors that were then available. Fun fact: I still don’t; I never have.

To that, they agreed. Notepad is one of the few Microsoft (MS) products I really like, and will miss on Linux. It has come bundled with Windows Operating Systems since 1983, and has remained little changed. I coded my first websites in Notepad, and built the WordPress theme you’re looking at now, in Notepad. That’s because Notepad is (was) a simple text editor. Notepad gave it to you as it was.

It doesn’t (didn’t) attempt to autocorrect or spellcheck your work. Imagine trying to markup a webpage, and have the app tell you the <IMG> tag was spelt incorrectly? Notepad left you to decide what was right and wrong. Why does any of this matter? Because I saw code/markup as a craft. I didn’t want some WYSIWYG web design app interfering with my work. If you wanted a text editor with spellcheck and autocorrect functions, there were other options.

Word among them. But now MS has decided to change the script. Autocorrect and spellcheck are coming to Notepad soon. Why, I have no idea, given the features are completely unnecessary. But MS will be MS. I’m surprised they’re not introducing the feature to WordPad, a surely (slightly) more robust word processor than Notepad.

Ironically, I read the news on Daring Fireball, a website with a distinct Apple bent. John Gruber, publisher of Daring Fireball, seems to be all in favour of the move, declaring it overdue:

Better late than never, but it’s kind of wild that Notepad is 41 years old and only getting these features now.

The whole thing is though, it’s not wild at all. The absence of these features is precisely what made Notepad so appealing in the first place. No doubt there are simple text editor alternatives for Windows. I’ve found one for Linux. Maybe the autocorrect or spellcheck functions will be a feature of Notepad only on Windows 11, which I won’t see.

Perhaps there will be a way to disable the operation of autocorrect or spellcheck in Notepad. Who knows? Of course, it’s moot point as far as I am concerned. But it is a tad sad to see so profound a change coming to an app that turned out to be quite the life changer for me all those years ago.


, ,