New, Free Program Editor from Microsoft

I like free software.  And I particularly love multi-platform software.  Microsoft just scratched both of those itches.

They recently announced a new program editor called Code.  Perhaps not the greatest of names, but it seems in my limited use with it to be quite capable.  It supports RegEx, Git, and side by side editing, some definite pluses.  I didn’t notice a column mode, which can be very useful for cleaning up data files.  It might be there and I just haven’t found it yet.  I also doesn’t seem to have a macro capability, and if it’s missing that, then it gets called a VERY basic editor.  Still, time will tell, especially since it has a Request New Features link.  Based on what I’ve seen in it, it’s no replacement for TextPad, but it’s not bad.

Tonight I’ll load it on my Macs at home and see what it looks like there as I’m not too keen on the program editor that I’ve been using under OS-X.

Slight Efficiencies

Small things make a difference.  Keep in mind that I came from a command-line, pre-mouse, era.  I loved working in command shells and not using mice and I kind of resent certain aspects of mice being forced upon me.  But that’s the way things are these days and mice are pretty much unavoidable.

However, there are still things we can do at the command line to make things a little easier.  If you don’t know about the keyboard shortcuts to do copy/cut/paste, I don’t know that I can help you.

So here’s one way to improve your life slightly:

  • Click Start
  • Click All Programs
  • Click Microsoft Office
  • Right Click on Access and select Properties.
  • There you’ll see a field called Shortcut Key.  Make it active.  Hold down the Control key and hit A.  Click OK.  The key combination Ctrl-Alt-A will now open Access.  I use W for Word, X for Excel, and T for TextPad.  When I worked in more of a support role, I used P for PowerPoint.

I do this on every Windows computer that I use regularly.  It’s a small thing, but it’s another way that I can avoid taking my hands off the keyboard and stay away from the mouse.

Good things for your toolkit: RegEx and TextPad

Everybody has a favorite text editor.  My fav was B.R.I.E.F., a DOS editor that I think I paid $300 for back in the ’80s, and it was well worth it.  I love puns, and BRIEF was made by a software company called Under Ware.  BRIEF was also my introduction to version control systems when a package called Sourcer’s Apprentice was released for it, that doubly-appealed to me as I worked for a game company called Flying Buffalo, and they published a magazine called Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  SA was a very good VCS for its time, I used it a huge amount with FoxPro and DataFlex.

But VCS is not the topic du jour, though I am currently in the process of digging in to that: I found out that the current and previous versions of Access are compatible with VCS!  So that’s going to be interesting to research.

BRIEF is still around, but I’m not really interested in using it anymore as the editors built in to Access and SSMS are quite good.  But there are times, such as when I’m working on CMD or Perl files, that I need an external editor.  For that I’ve pretty much settled on TextPad.  It’s been around since 1992 and exists as both a free and paid version.  It supports RegEx and you can also open files in a binary mode which I found very useful a few years back when I had a file downloaded from a vendor that wasn’t loading correctly in to SQL Server (turns out they were losing either the CR or the LF from the end of the line, making the entire file one massively long string) and the binary mode showed me the problem.  Of course, getting a tech weenie at A Major Bank to understand that yes, both carriage returns and line feeds take space in a file was an interesting exercise in patience.

Yesterday and today I’ve been working on some moderately complicated reports in Access and have found TextPad to be very useful in getting done what I needed to do.  Here’s a sample string of a total field adding up several columns:


I needed to wrap each field in a NZ(), so I manually added the first part to the beginning of the string and the second part to the end, producing the following:


Then TextPad’s Find & Replace, with regular expressions turned off, I replaced + with ,0) + nz(, producing this:


Finally, for the grand total line, I needed to change the Sums in the previous line with Tots, again, TextPad’s F&R:


Since each line had 15 or 18 field names, and this was spread across three reports, it saved me a heck of a lot of work in the end.  It’s a tool that I do not want to do without.  Yes, I could have used the Access VBA editor, but I like NotePad and my brain wasn’t in VBA mode at that time: any editor could have done this.  I have used other editors such as Notepad++ (my wife’s an Emacs freak), but I keep going back to TextPad.

I also use it to strip out a lot of lines from table scripts produced by SSMS using RegEx, it eliminates a lot of dross that I can do without.

I think the point of this post is to encourage people to work smarter, not harder.  I could have done all the changes in Access in a zoomed box, but I like minimizing the amount of typing that I do if I can (you wouldn’t think it as verbose as I am!).  Doing it in TextPad was pretty simple and using it helps to refresh my memory of its specific key commands and quirks.