As computer science and technology developed so did text editors and word processors. There were different ones being created for the various operating system like Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Unix. Text editors in particular started being used for writing of program code. Word processors on the other hand, began to be more widely used for creation and editing of various documents. Although fundamentally the same, and overlapping in many of their functions the two types of programs differed in what users did with them. One of the reasons why text editors became popular for writing up programming code was their simplicity – a text editor provides only basic functionality like writing, cutting, pasting, deleting, spacing of text, and printing. This allows for large pieces of written information (in this case code) to be relatively small in terms of physical space they occupy on a hard drive. Word processors offer more functions and allow for richer text editing and document creation in a much more sophisticated way. Word processors can add colour, change font style and size, support images and format documents and written information in multitude of other ways. This however is not the ideal solution for programming code, as word processor documents are usually larger in physical size than their plain text counterparts (written information generated in a basic text editor).
If viewing text editors purely from a programming perspective, there could be a timeline established showing the basic path of development of this simple but much needed pieces of software.
1965 – Quick Editor was created. ‘Qed’ for short was perhaps the first one line text editor with actual set of functions. Major improvements of the first Qed program were made by Ken Thompson – a key figure in writing up the programming code for Unix. His rewrite of Qed featured macros, search functions and text buffers.
1971 – Ken Thompson reworked his version of Qed as it was becoming increasingly complex and its entire set of commands was hard to remember by users. Furthermore, new hardware coming out at the time also needed to be put to work, so Thompson edited his program to ‘ed’ – a simplified text editor which came as standard with the first proper version of Unix. Certain functions were removed from the original text editor in order to make ‘ed’ simpler and more efficient to use. Despite attempts to make the editor more basic, ‘ed’ was still hard to use. This gave birth to various other modifications including important ones like ‘em’ and ‘ex’.
1976 – in that year, text editors became visual. Increasing use of CRT monitors allowed for text editing and viewing on more than one line at a time. Bill Joy was the pioneer here, he borrowed ideas from popular text editors like Bravo and ‘em’ and added the screen mode thus creating the ‘vi’ editor which became hugely popular.
1985 – Richard Stallman, another key developer of Unix, created his own version of a text editor based on the popular ‘emacs’. It was a GNU program with full LISP functionality. Stallman’s version got imported into all Unix systems and became the standard text editors for these as well as other operating systems. Stallman’s editor is still actively maintained today.
1991 – this was the year when ‘vim’ was created by Bram Moolenaar. Vim which stood for Visually Improved was first released for Amiga, but then quickly spread to other systems, including all Unix ones. Vim featured many new functions and gave users much needed efficiency and ease of use. It even had a help module. The last major upgrade of the editor took place in two thousand ten, add-ons and patches are constantly being developed too.