Nothing You Needed to Know: The TDE Editor and Why I Use It.

Random waffle follows.

I don’t write a lot of code, and when I do it is mostly Fortran. This is a language used by scientists who need to program, not by what used to be called computer scientists who need to write operating systems and applications. When I write documents I use LaTeX mostly and plain text most of the rest of the time, and Word when I need to communicate with management.

So one of my major tools is my text editor. I use two, in fact, and they are vim/vi and TDE. The first is one of the most well-known of all and the latter is pretty obscure. Since I like obscure things I am going to talk for a bit about TDE, so most readers out there can safely turn off now if they have not already. This post is meandering, ungrammatical and unstructured even by my standards.

TDE is a derivative of an editor used on IBM machines. It is currently maintained by Jason Hood, whose various websites have included here and here and wherever else it shows up.  tde5.1v is the last version I know of. Right now, I think the current website is (It does not tend to be stable, though; I try to keep the link on the front page of this blug up to date.) There is also a news group, here, but activity is low.  The screen shot below is  a jpeg since I am on a slow connection and the png was over 1 MB.

TDE screen shot...

There are so many alternatives in this space, so what does one offer that another does not? People have had ridiculous arguments over this, as if it matters whether you and I use the same editor or not. There is an editor called emacs which some people consider the ultimate. It certainly has some excellent properties, but I made a decision long ago not to learn emacs since I did not have the time or head space for its commands. In a manner, it is too capable for me and too powerful — and the power means there is much to learn.

I guess this is a problem for software designers.  A user will not always (maybe not often?) switch to a ‘better’ way of doing things if what they have works.  I think most of us find something that lets us do what we need to, and as a protective mechanism we stop looking for alternatives. There is always a better way. And if I always chased it I would never get any work done. I have at times fallen into this trap, so now I do not look at anything but screens with which I am already familiar. I use LaTeX, xFig, gnuplot, Fortran, Excel (yes, Excel and in particular the Solver). I know there are tools I could/should be using, like R-project, LibreOffice Calc, whatever. But the time I spend learning them is time I am not using them, and I have laboriously established for myself a suite of tools that does most of what I need.

One such tool is TDE. I like it because it comes with a sensible set of block manipulation commands, easily customisable menu system to add your own commands, has a very small footprint that means it starts up instantly, and it works on a wide range of platforms from DOS to Linux, thought mostly on Microsoft operating systems, to be honest. It is a one-man project, which I kind of like for no highly practical reason, too.

I have put some of the key files here and here too since the websites do not seem to be reliable. The editor is most at home on Windows, and a number of the key bindings are flaky on Linux, and you might need to add the alt key or something to some of them to get them to work. (Here is a Linux binary that might work for you.)

I have TDE customised particularly for LaTeX editing, using some commands I established ages ago in an early blog post, such that Ctrl-Alt-L gives me LaTeX a file, and so on.

There is no compelling reason to use TDE if you have a text editor you already like and which does what you need. If you have not yet found anything that can do what you need then you can give it a try.

Main advantages are:
* Highly and readily customisable, including key bindings and adding your own menu commands. Can even convert to a WordStar mode if you want… I think…
* Customisation is done by editing some pretty straightforward text files. Not too hard.
* Lightweight, fast.
* Excellent block manipulation
* Usual and less usual features like search and replace, regular expression searching, multiple documents, some simple automagic formatting for paragraph styles. Good help.
* Customisable syntax highlighting.
* Macros can be implemented.
* Useful set of command line arguments/options.
* Source code is available

* Poor support beyond windows/DOS
* Does not do bracket matching
* Primary website seems flaky.

The customisability means it can be adapted to be a useful IDE for ‘most any language. It has a useful command line syntax that lets you for example open a file and go directly to a line containing some regular expression, or to a line number. Since it can open multiple files, you can have the code in one (or more) windows, which can be split screens or hidden behind each other, plus the output in another window, then compile and run from some custom commands, etc.

I use it as a LaTeX shell. Here is my full zipped up TDE installation, with (in this case) Linux batch files (shell scripts) that call various programs (not in the zip) from within TDE. For example Ctrl-Alt-L for LaTeX, Ctrl-Alt-D for dvips. Ctrl-\ brings up the menu if I forget the hot keys. I often forget things, like why I am writing this at all…

I sometimes even use dvi2tty to give me a text version of my document, giving me a crude viewer for the compiled version in another TDE window. This is only really good for a single column document with not too much formatting, though dvi2tty does a remarkable job given that its task is fundamentally impossible. Indeed, there is a certain geekish irony in how dvi2tty takes pains to render into plain text a document written in a plain text markup language and processed by a program specifically designed to overcome the limits of plain text.



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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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