Free Software for DOS
Text Editors – 2

21 Aug 2006

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For ASCII charts, see Text Utils - 2. For screen rulers, see the Screen & Video page.


Most of the text editors in this section are advanced programmer's editors, based on Unix originals, but the intended audience is the inquisitive end-user / home user rather than the programmer. Although these editors are tuned to programming chores, their inherent flexibility also permits general and HTML text editing. "Learning curves" can be steep, relative to the editor you currently use (e.g. DOS EDIT, Windows Notepad), but exploring these editors' capabilities can be a very eye-opening and rewarding experience.


Vim — Excellent vi-like text editor for power users.

* * * * *

[added 1998-09-14, updated 2006-08-21]

[Howard Schwartz kindly submitted this review, written primarily for users new to the Vim experience].

Vim is not just a powerful free editor, it is a whole anthropological phenomenon...

Vim is one of the several clones of the traditional editor vi (visual) included with virtually all Unix operating systems. Vim has a worldwide following, is ported to most operating systems (e.g., Unix, Mac, DOS, Windows, OS/2), and comes complete with a web page and several ongoing listserv discussion groups.

Ease of use: When I was a trainer I could teach people to use Unix vi, at a reasonable level in an hour (by teaching a parsimonious subset of vi commands). Vim itself comes with a hypertext-like, comprehensive documentation system, a tutor for beginners, and a hypertext-like online help system. I say "hypertext-like" because it uses a "tag" mechanism to move between links that was designed 30 odd years ago. For those who care, there is documentation that has been translated into true HTML.

The Unix version of Vim lets users define custom, pulldown menus, and some of the Vim in-crowd have developed free pull down menu systems that include all of Vim's features. But, in general, Vim (and vi) has no Mac-like menu interface, no toolbars, and no keyboard help at the top or bottom of the screen. Vim includes a window system that gets "windows" jobs done. But Vim's windows will seem simple, non-GUI, and unfamiliar to users used to the windows of X-Window, Macs, or Windows 95. In Vim, two "windows" is simply the editing screen divided into two areas by a horizontal line. All versions of Vim include full mouse support.

A major learning curve problem for vi clones is the use of three different "modes". Vi was invented for early terminals that had no function keys, "Alt" key and so on. Consequently, it used ordinary letter keys to both execute editor commands and type text. One gets into edit command "mode" by hitting <Esc> one or more times. One gets back to typing mode by typing one of three commands: i (insert text), a (append text), R (replace or overtype text). The upside of this system is that letters for commands are quite mnemonic ( d = delete, r = replace, C = copy, M = move etc. etc).

The third mode came into being because, the original vi was a replacement for the earlier line editor, ex. Instead of replacing ex entirely, vi retained the ex commands, and added new full screen oriented commands "on top of it." One drops down from vi to the older ex editor in a similar way as one drops down to DOS from windows: Hit the colon (:) key in vi's command mode, and you drop down to ex, where one enters OS type commands at the screen's bottom.

Vim makes the mode easier for beginners by: 1) extending text entry mode to include quite a few basic editing operations, 2) defining a special key (control-O) that gives the illusion that one can execute most vi commands without changing modes, and 3) by indicating what mode one is in on the bottom of the screen. All in all, there is no doubt that vi is harder to learn than something like Multi-Edit for people used to the usual point and click window interfaces. But it is not anywhere near as hard to learn as popular prejudice claims.

POWER: Vim is designed to have a formidable set of features for programmers. In addition it has literally hundreds of commands, settings, and options, many of which are unique and very convenient.

A few of Vim's features:
  1. Immediately spell check or look up a word from a speller / dictionary of your choice.
  2. Formatting (center, left or right justify, etc.)
  3. Choice of colors for different objects (variable settings, text found during searches, ordinary text, etc.).
  4. Automatic completion of words, phrases and sentences that have already been typed once in the document (or that exist in a user defined dictionary or document). This is a big help to those with hand pain because of typing injuries.
  5. About 36 different memory buffers, each of which can be used to cut/paste a different block of text (most editors, and Windows, have only one such buffer).
  6. Multiple file editing where each file automatically gets a hot key that can be used instead of the whole filename, for any command. The list of files can be viewed at any time.
  7. Go to any filename mentioned in the current text, and edit that file (by pressing a key command).
  8. Extensive abbreviation and macro mechanisms.
  9. Prints and shows digraphs.
  10. Can edit binary and hex files.
  11. Do editing operations on many types of objects, e.g., letters, words, phrases, paragraphs, pages, text blocks, columns (it can cut and paste several columns), user defined delimiters.
  12. Extensive system of backups, swap files and recovery from crashes.
  13. Can edit very large files.
  14. Multi-level undo and redo.
  15. A system of bookmarks that saves one or many bookmarks in several files, during, and at the end of an editing session. You can thus, easily open a file and go directly to your last editing place.
  16. Insert any file after the cursor in the current file being edited (with one command, no cutting and pasting).
There are 3 major features that are fairly unique to the vi family:

Reviewed by Howard Schwartz (1998-09-14).

Other: Charityware. Multiple language support — Unicode, keyboard configuration (samples included), right-to-left languages (recompilation required).

The 16-bit compilation (for pre-386 machines) handles large files, but it excludes some Vim-specific features (autocommands, syntax highlighting, etc.), and quickly runs out of memory when making big changes – disabling undo helps. For 80386+ machines, get the 32-bit DOS/DJGPP compilation: Has all features, including Win9x LFN support, and requires a DOS Protected Mode Interface (CWSDPMI [included] or other). More compilations are available, for many other platforms.

Author: Bram Moolenaar, Netherlands (2006).

2006-05-08: v7.0.

Download info: Go to the List of Mirrors to find a download site near you, then look for a subdirectory /pc or /vim/pc

Runtime for all DOS & Win32

And one or more of these OS packages:
DOS (80286 & older CPUs)
DOS32, Win95/98/ME

Optional GUIs:
Win95/98/ME/NT/2K/XP "normal"
Win95/98/ME/NT/2K/XP with OLE support
Win 3.1x with Win32s

Or get this automatic installer package only:
Runtime + all Win95/98/ME/NT/2K/XP console & GUI files

Get more files, language resources, news & info, source and more at the VIM Home Page and at the download page.

Elvis — vi-like text editor for power users.

* * * * *

[added 1999-05-16, updated 2004-08-02]

If Vim is getting too big for you – or your PC – try another great vi clone: Elvis. Other OSes supported: UNIX, OS/2, Win9x/NT (incl. a GUI version).

Comments from a user: Elvis...

is a good html editor, as long as you don't have many graphics to manage. It has plain text, html, and unix man page display modes. It shows html formatted, permits simple edits (moving blocks of lines etc.), and has options to show the source when the user moves the cursor over a link, etc... Its documentation is... better written and clearer [than Vim's], and is... more oriented to ordinary users, rather than programmers (although containing many complex options)... An older v1.8 of Elvis is much smaller (about 1/3 the size) than Elvis v2 or vim... it starts up quickly and takes up less memory. For beginners, it has a simple, built in text only menu that does the basic editing functions.

Additional notes: Win32, Unix, and OS/2 ports are also available and support HTTP and FTP protocols (the DOS port does not) — thus Elvis can be used as web browser or ftp client (r/w). The DOS version does allow local hyperlink navigation in HTML display mode. Has the ability to view and print HTML documents.

Author: Steve Kirkendall (2003). Suggested by Howard Schwartz.


2.2_0 final
Smaller, available in zip and tar-gzip packages

Binaries, docs, source
Binaries, docs

Binaries, docs

[If you don't have an UNTAR for unpacking .tgz files, get one for DOS, OS/2 or Windows from the Elvis ftp directory (link below), or get one of the tars or gzip from this site's Archivers page].

Quick intro to elvis 2.2.

Elvis's main ftp distribution site (US).

Find more info, versions for other OSes, and links to distribution sites in Germany and Australia at Herbert's Elvis Homepage.

Elvis group and email list at Yahoo.


For a more informed, multi-platform presentation see: Craig A. Finseth's Emacs Implementations.

Jasspa's MicroEmacs (JASSPA)

* * * * *

[added 1999-12-17, updated 2005-08-03]

Jasspa's MicroEmacs is an independent, long-diverged fork of Daniel Lawrence's UEMACS v3.8. In its default configuration, it won't fit well within many people's conception of Emacs (i.e., overwhelming). The latest releases demonstrate an attempt to accommodate GUI users within the console environment.

By default, JASSPA displays an interface distinguished by a text mode GUI with pulldown menus, scroll bars, context-sensitive popup menus, and popup dialogs (e.g., directory browser, search/replace, set up, ...); some dialogs are resizable and some incorporate tabbed interfaces now typical of GUI applications. Document scrollbar widgets exist for splitting windows both vertically and horizontally with the mouse – even the width of the vertical scrollbar can be adjusted (a welcome feature in 50 line mode). Although JASSPA opens multiple documents, it does not implement overlapping, resizable windows (cf. Turbo Vision editors).

Navigating and editing should be relatively intuitive for a novice coming from a GUI. Text selection can be accomplished with the mouse (typical non-persistent stream marking; no column marking yet). Within text, a right button popup menu displays familiar buffer manipulation nomenclature like "cut, copy, paste" (rather than "kill, copy, yank"). The popup menu also has a cascading menu ("buffer...") where open documents and other buffers are listed and easily selected.

Of course, many of these default features can be tweaked to individual taste (or completely dispensed with), by using the user setup dialogue or by manually editing config files. JASSPA's user profiles can store different personalized settings for, e.g., spelling dictionaries, key bindings, screen colors, macro definitions, etc. The DOS version is available only as 32-bit DJGPP binaries, and requires a fast 80386+ CPU (many basic operations slow on a 386/20) and math coprocessor (80387 FPU or 80486+ CPU), about 4MB disk space with standard English dictionary. For Win9x LFN support, it's best to use a Win32 version. Remember to set MENAME ("username") and MEPATH (install dir) variables. Distributed under the GNU General Public License.

A very brief list of other features:

Limitation: Lacks EmacsLisp.

Authors:Jon Naughton-Green, Steven Phillips, et al. / Jasspa (2005).

2005-05-05: v2005.05.

Get files at the DOS download page.

Go to the home page for versions for other OSes, NanoEmacs (fits on a diskette), setup help, and more.

A related page with good tips for Windows users: MicroEmacs Introduction.

GNU Emacs

* * * * *

[updated 2006-08-21]

The remarkable and remarkably complex Unix-derived GNU Emacs is often considered the "king of editors" because it is completely extensible (e.g., capable of much more than editing), but it's also often considered overkill for many basic editing tasks.

No pre-386 ports of GNU Emacs exist. Choose from DJGPP versions: The "lean" v19.3.4, or v20.05 which is much enhanced with multilanguage support. Note that the binaries + Lisp require a lot of disk space, 35MB (v19.3.4), and 73MB (v20.05). A full installation of v20.05, with sources, all language support files and extra fonts can take up ~150MB. Novices to Emacs will find the default pulldown menu initially helpful; also look at the included sample config file _emacs.xmpl (rename to _emacs). Tutorial included.


Download packages:

Runtime support 1
Runtime support 2
Runtime support 3
Elisp sources 1
Elisp sources 2
Elisp sources 3
Sources 1
Sources 2
Sources 3

Binaries & runtime
Elisp sources
Docs: html/dvi/ps
Leim (Library of Emacs input methods),
for typing non-ASCII text
Intlfonts for Chinese scripts
Intlfonts for Japanese and Korean scripts
Intlfonts for other non-ASCII scripts
Emacs sources 1
Emacs sources 2
Leim sources

Find the packages in the directory /current/v2gnu at any of the DJGPP / GNU mirror sites listed in More Resources - 2. Also, the files emacs.README (v20.5) and emacs19.README (v19.3.4) have info on Emacs features and files. In each main binary package, look for README.DOS, which lists all of the other setup files that are inside the download packages.

Other free Emacs-style editors

JED's Emacs mode is often praised for being very Gnuish, and it's a very extensible editor. See extended description.
[updated 2005-08-03] Small, real mode, coded in 8086 assembler, GNU-like, extensible using MINT. Limitations: 64K editable file size, no undo. Author: Russell Nelson. 1998-07-07: v1.6g. Downloads: Go to the FreeDOS project's Freemacs files dir for binaries, source & docs.

[updated 2005-12-09] "In Dec. 1985 Daniel Lawrence picked up the then current source [UEMACS v2.0] and made extensive modifications and additions to it over the course of the next eleven years." Extensible using custom language. Authors: Daniel M. Lawrence, et al. 1996-04-02: v4.00. Download EMACSIBM.ZIP (994K) and the PDF manual (221K). Get more info at the MicroEMACS page.
JOVE (Jonathan's Own Version of EMACS)
[updated 2005-12-09] Real mode, not extensible, no LISP. Author: Jonathan Payne. 1996-03-22: v4.16. Download (210KB). Get more info and versions for other OSes at the JOVE ftp site.

[updated 2005-08-03] Older, real mode, based on MicroEmacs and GNU but public domain. Not extensible. Authors: Mike Meyer, Robert Larson et al. 1991-02-16: v2a. Downloads: Binaries, (46K) —Tutorial, other docs, source code for multiple platforms (Amiga, Atari, BSD Unix, DOS, VMS & more), (359K). Command summary.
[updated 2006-08-21] Based on Mg. DOS version is real mode only. Not extensible. Author: Julie Melbin. 2006-01-27: v2.11.7. Download (159K). Find more info and versions for Win9x, Win3.1 and Linux/Unix at the notGNU Home Page.
[updated 2005-12-09] 32-bit DJGPP app, requires 80386+. Package includes DOS extender, spell checker with dictionary, source code, good docs. Author: Anthony Appleyard, UK. 1998-08-08 release. Download (464K).
[updated 2005-12-09] Based on GNU Emacs 18.55 & 18.57, 386/486 protected mode (VCPI, not usable under Windows), extensible. Authors: Manabu Higashida and Hirano Satoshi, Japan. 1991-12-12: v1.2.0. Downloads: English binaries + manual (ASCII/dvi/texinfo formats) (1.1MB) — Japanese binaries + manual (dos/dvi/texinfo formats) dem120j.lzh (1.2MB) — Source (all) (640K) — Manual, English (ASCII/ps formats) (64K).
This tiny (4K) editor supports many Emacs key bindings. See SMALL / TINY EDITORS.


JED — Programmer's editor; supports EMACS, BRIEF and other modes.

* * * * *

[added 1999-04-24, updated 2005-08-22]

Another excellent programmer's editor with many capabilities. EMACS and BRIEF veterans will be attracted to JED. But with the advent of v0.99 (1999), JED may also attract an additional group of users – it now sports a more "newbie-friendly" interface (e.g., displays an improved pulldown menu system by default). JED functions well as a text mode HTML or plain text editor e.g., to invoke the HTML mode start JED with command JED386 --html_mode and enter Ctrl-C to display a command bar of HTML commands. Loading the text_mode library puts the editor in a more traditional text editor mode (e.g., word wrap enabled). Win32 GUI and console binaries are now included with the DOS 386 exe.

Brief list of features:

Notes: JED for DOS is a 32-bit DJGPP program – requires 80386+ and a DOS Protected Mode Interface (CWSDPMI or other. Install: Need to set env. variables for proper operation and Win9x LFN support. As part of its flexible design, JED loads many functions / parameters from text-based library files on startup – this loading delay can be noticeable on slower 386es.

Author: John E. Davis (2002). Suggested by Scott Nesbitt.

2002-10-20: v0.99-16.

Download (1.2M).

Go to The JED Editor Home Page for later versions for Windows & other OSes, news, source code, and links to other download sites.

SETEdit (SET's Editor) — A multi-window programmer's editor; mouse support, pulldown menus, large files.


[added 1998-09-13, updated 2005-08-03]

I don't have much experience with this Borland-inspired editor. Intended for programmers rather than word processors, but includes interesting features that all may find useful. SETEdit seems destined to attract a large user base due to its combination of advanced functions and familiar, Borland TurboVision multi-window interface. Linux version, source available (GPL). Also see the companion program InfView, a Unix info file browser, and RHIDE, the development environment that SETEdit was originally written for.

Author: Salvador Eduardo Tropea, Argentina (2004).

2004-11-28: v0.5.4.

Full DOS kit with some additional support files, requires some manual setup. *Recommended*.
Full DOS kit with automatic installer prog, optionally sets up DOS & Windows start files.

Get lots of info at the Home Page. Get latest DOS & Win32 binaries and source at the File List page. Get versions for other OSes at the Project page.

FTE (Folding Text Editor) — Versatile power editor with an easy-to-use interface. Win9x LFN support.


[added 1998-04-04, updated 2006-08-21]

This looks like a superb editor in many respects; perhaps best suited to those who desire the versatility of a power editor but are more comfortable using a familiar point and click, pulldown menus interface. Designed for programming, but can perform general text editing as well. Programmers and HTML authors should be attracted to FTE (e.g., syntax highlighting for many languages, compiler execution, HTML "mode," more). FTE for DOS is a 32-bit DJGPP program, and requires a DOS Protected Mode Interface (CWSDPMI or other). Win9x LFNs are supported, but the native Win32 console is newer.

Some comments I've received from readers:
If one is to go to the trouble of a 32-bit program and a GUI interface — more realistic windows such as those in NE300 and Medit are a lot easier to work with...The program tries to include the power of vim or emacs with the "ease of use" of a standard GUI. Unless one is careful, the result is you get neither. Also, I suspect most GUI enthusiasts won't cry if they don't have regular expressions, and most command line types wont care if they have imitation windows. The trick here is to decide precisely the goal and do the compromises accordingly.
It is the best free DOS editor I've found., easy to use and packed with _stuff!_.

Author: Marko Macek, Slovenia (2005). Open Source (GPL).

DOS32, OS/2, Win32, Linux
OS/2, Linux
Win32 only

Get binaries, source and news at the File List page at SourceForge. Versions/compilations are grouped by date: fte-20050108 (0.50), fte-20020324 (0.49.13-4), fte-20010819 (0.49.13-2).

Some older info is still online at the FTE home page.

FED — Folding text editor with a friendly interface.

* * * *

[added 1999-10-21, updated 2005-12-09]

Quick comments: I really like the simple and comfortable mouse-compatible interface of FED. This is a quick and powerful text editor, doesn't overwhelm with "featuritis," and is intuitive enough to learn quickly. Although the interface may appeal to the EDIT/ PEDIT users, FED is a more sophisticated programmer's editor. Requires 80386+.

Some highlights:

Remarks: Text marking restricted to streaming mode.

Author: Shawn Hargreaves, UK (1995, 2004).

DJGPP binary, extender (CWSDPMI) in package
Win32 console
Included source can be compiled for DOS and Linux


FED Home Page.

TDE (Thomson-Davis Editor) — 32-bit and 16-bit multi-window text editors.

* * * * *

[added 1998-11-14, updated 2006-03-14]

The Thomson-Davis Editor is a surprisingly small but complete public domain programmer's editor which should appeal to a larger audience. Although some users may be initially disappointed by a lack of mouse support / undo, this editor has a relatively gentle learning curve, and a host of interesting menu-accessible commands (e.g., quote text for email replies, add time stamp, ROT13 blocks, etc.) and text formatting features.

Authors: Jason Hood, Australia (2006), based on earlier versions by Frank Davis, US, with contributed code by Douglas Thomson, Australia. Suggestion and comments – RHW320. Originally featured on Yves Bellefeuille's Best freeware for DOS list.

2006-02-01: v5.1t.

Get program package (~560K), source, manual and other docs from Jason Hood's TDE page.

More in these pages from Jason Hood.

ZED — Highly configurable 32-bit text editor.


[added 1999-06-28]

From a user: ZED is "just my kind of editor: techie, powerful, and configurable...I am hooked." The documentation is sparse which could make ZED's learning curve steeper than necessary (for starters, remember the F1 [help] and F10 [menu] keys).

Feature highlights:

Notes: EXE size 225K. 32-bit DJGPP port. No mouse support. GPL. Source available.

Author: Sandro Serafini, Italy (1998).

1998-03-21: v1.0.3. A later v1.0.5 is available as Unix source only, no binaries for any OS.

Download (195K).

More info & screenshot at the Zed Home Page.

THE (The Hessling Editor) — XEDIT (VM/CMS) and Kedit (DOS)-like editor with support for REXX language macros.


[added 1999-07-22, updated 2005-04-16]

From the docs:
THE was originally written to be used by people already familiar with XEDIT and Kedit. For this reason, there is limited information on using THE. Greater emphasis is placed on reference materials, such as command syntax and configuration.

Interesting features: "Shadowing" (e.g., show lines with matching text, hide other lines); REXX macros. Run the command THE -p DEMO.THE to see a demo of the editor's capabilities. Multi-platform support (various Unix, QNX, OS/2, DOS, Win95/NT, HP-UX). Distributed under GPL, source available

Author: Mark Hessling, Australia (2002).

Package contains complete manual (plain text)
DJGPP build, requires 80386+ and CWSDPMI (not included)

For DOS & OS/2, requires 80386+, emx extender built in

DOS32 manual (HTML)

Get more info at the THE Project Home.

Get docs, source, & versions for other OSes at the File List page at SourceForge.

SEDT — Multi-platform text editor (emulates VAX EDT).


[added 2000-07-24, updated 2005-08-03]

A professional text editor (developed c.1985-94) which behaves identically on all supported platforms. SEDT has a rich feature set (see SEDTMAN.REF), and should run on old and new PCs alike. Developed primarily for users familiar with the DEC EDT editor.

From the author's description:
SEDT is completely programmable and comes with two key mapping schemes: one that emulates the Digital EDT editor's keypad mode, and another that gives full editor functionality from the typewriter keyboard, without keypad or function keys. Among the many features, block mode cut and paste and the ability to record keystroke macros and program keys on the fly have proven the most popular...SEDT is also extremely fast.

Notes: Minimum PC hardware requirement – PC/XT 8088 (??). DOS version loads large files, does regular expression search /replace. Rare: Can edit large files in real mode (up to 10MB default with option to increase this limit) – no extended memory needed (appears to use EMS when available, and/or disk as virtual memory). Loading and working with big (2MB) files was at times very slow on 386/20 due to disk thrashing (tested without using EMS). Two executables are included with the DOS package (SEDT.EXE and TSEDIT.EXE). TSEDT has a Borland Turbo Vision interface. Formerly shareware: "There is no longer a license fee for SEDT and no future versions are planned. You are free to copy SEDT, use it, and port it to any platform." The docs haven't been modified to reflect freeware status.

SEDT is available for DOS, Win3.1, VAX VMS, VAX Ultrix, MIPS Ultrix, Alpha UNIX, Alpha VMS, HP UX, LINUX, SGI.

Author: Anker Berg-Sonne (1993).

1993-08-14: v5.0.

Download seddos.exe (462K).

Get source + compilations for other OSes at

AE — Assembly language editor.


[added 1999-11-30, updated 2005-03-16]

A small (16K) TED-like editor specially adapted to writing / formatting assembly code. Many automated formatting and markup functions. WordStar key bindings. Greek language support (but not under a WinNT OS). Max editable file size 64K. Requires 286+ PC. ASM source in package.

Author: Mark D. "Zorba" Pickerill (2005).

2005-01-07: v3.0, final release.

Download AE30.ZIP (94K).


VBX — Character mode drawing, with text and hex editing.

* * * * *

[added 1999-06-11, updated 2006-08-21]

"Manfred's little box painter" is an intuitive text mode box and line drawing tool that can use any ASCII characters, with cursor control by keyboard or mouse. Use VBX solo, or as a companion to the VDE text editor, which it can call with one keystroke, to edit a file or any marked block within it, and to access the Win3.x/9x clipboard. Runs under DOS, DOS shells, and Win3.x/9x/Me/NT/2K/XP. Extensive hypertext Help.

Some of its capabilities:

Author: Manfred Jainz, Germany (2006). Suggested by Robert Bull.

2006-05-20: v3.06.

Download (330K) from US or UK or India or Australia. Also available in the /utiltext directory at Slovak Antivirus Center sites in Slovakia, Poland and Taiwan; and in the ../msdos/editor directory at most Simtel.Net sites.

About VBX is a doc file with more on features, commands and what's new. Read it now in your browser, from US or UK or India or Australia. Or. download (plain text, zipped, 7K) from US or UK or India or Australia.

For more info, including screenshots, go to Short.Stop's Mostly VDE Page.

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