Friday, January 8, 2016

Thank You, Don Ho

Michael Salsbury

Notepad++ Logo

From the title of this post, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's about the famous Hawaiian-born singer known for the song "Tiny Bubbles".  Although I've nothing against the late singer, this isn't about that Don Ho.

The Don Ho I'm thanking here is the software engineer who created the free (as in "free beer") source code editor and Notepad replacement for Windows called Notepad++.  That's its logo over there to the left.

In my full-time job, I'm constantly editing things.  One minute it's a DOS batch file.  The next it's a VBScript script, or an INI file, or Visual Basic source code, or a text file.  Notepad++ handles all that like a champ.  For files that contain code, it highlights the syntax and possible errors.  It has a solid find and replace feature.  It can "auto-complete" what I'm typing (though sometimes it gets confused and auto-completes errors into my code). It allows me to open several documents at once and tab between them.  It launches fast and works well.

I discovered Notepad++, oddly enough, actually doing my job.  One of my responsibilities is to keep an eye out for malware that gets past our antivirus system.  A tool I wrote compares the running programs on our fleet of about 2,000 PCs and compares the SHA hash (a kind of digital fingerprint) for the file against a database of known safe (or at least believed safe) programs and known malware (like the stuff used in the Sony hack).  It generates a report that I look over each day to see if anything in there warrants investigation.  For a while, I was catching about 20% of all the malware we saw at work with that tool.  After my team and others made some security improvements, the malware being missed by antivirus software has nearly vanished.

One of the early reports from the tool showed many of our staff using Notepad++ on their PCs. After verifying that these were actual copies of the real Notepad++ software, I worked to get everyone using the software on a company-installed and maintained (i.e., kept current) version.  In the process, I tested the software myself and found it very handy.  The source code editor I had been using, which cost the company quite a bit of money, was much more clunky as a casual editor.  (However, it has many other functions for debugging, testing, and compiling scripts that prevent Notepad++ from being a full replacement.)  I began using it a lot myself.

I'm very impressed with the development of Notepad++.  I've found it to be a solid, stable performer.  It has not yet crashed in all the time I've used it, despite giving it some pretty crazy code to work on. It amazes me that there are frequent updates (every couple of weeks, it seems) which address bugs and extend the feature set.   That costly product I mentioned earlier doesn't update often, and as an editor fails me every so often, screwing up the on-screen layout, changing how I've arranged various tabs, etc.  Notepad++ is a workhorse editor and does its job well.

So, a big thank you to Don Ho and the other Notepad++ contributors for essentially giving away your hard work for free.  Thank you for the obvious care you put into the quality of the product, and for the frequent updates that keep it humming along nicely.  I appreciate what you've accomplished and wish you the best.  You've saved me a lot of time and effort on the job, which has helped me spend more time away from the job (i.e., reduced the need for extra hours of effort to get the job done).  I appreciate what you've done and hope you'll continue doing it for years to come.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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