Friday, February 19, 2016

The Undo History of the Windows Notepad should not be Limited

By Segun Odunade

For users of the Windows operating system, the Windows notepad may be very useful such that users can easily create and edit unformatted text. I happen to use this utility a lot for my word document editing because it has an exceptional feature of removing all formatted text file pasted on it’s interface. For instance, say, you are working on word and you want to copy a specific amount of text from the internet to your document, copying the text directly to word will cause the format you are working on to change, the user is then left with either editing the changes or using the “paste special – unformatted option” on Microsoft word; both options don’t always yield optimum solution. The problem with the paste special – unformatted option on word in Windows is that it sometimes fails to remove all formatting, which can mess up the whole document. However, copying the text to notepad first will assure the user a clean unformatted text which when copied to word will adjust to what format the user was using. The notepad has its usefulness beyond text editing, however, this blog will focus on the undo functionality of the notepad.
While considering the above mentioned text editing benefits of the Windows notepad, I find it very frustrating that till this day, the notepad can only undo once. This extremely limited undo functionality can give users like me a lot of headache because often times users may want to return several steps back from the changes they have made while editing on notepad.

1. Requirement
The Windows notepad is included in all of Microsoft windows since Windows 1.0 in 1985 [2].

2. Snippet Illustration of the Windows Notepad Undo Problem
1. For instance, if the user type’s “My name is John and I am 50 years old” on the notepad interface as shown below in figure 1. This snippet was taken from the Windows 10 Operating System.

Fig 1: Snippet Illustration of the initial text typed by user

2. And the user decides to change “John to Adam” and “50 to 40”, we have:

                            Fig 2: Snippet Illustration showing text changes made by user

3. If the user decides to go back to the initial state i.e. going back two steps by pressing the undo key “control Z”. Windows notepad only goes one step back such that only the last change made is reverted.

     Fig 3: Snippet Illustration showing notepad not being able to go more than one step back

Assuming the user had forgotten what he or she typed initially or the user had made multiple changes, the information the user needed at that time would have been lost.

3. Likely Cause of the Windows Notepad Undo Problem
One of the likely causes could be that the first versions of the Windows notepad were made to perform only a step back ability of keeping track of user’s records [1]. Modifying the windows notepad now to accommodate unlimited undo functionality may affect many parts of it’s source code which would cost the Organization “Microsoft” more money to implement. Due to the reason mentioned above, the Windows notepad undo problem is a foundational problem.

4. Suggestion
Although, there are now alternatives to the Windows notepad such as notepad++, notepad2 and freeware which are designed and developed by third party organizations. Since this third party organizations have gotten it right, I suggest that Microsoft should adopt one of this text editing applications as a form of software update that overwrites the notepad because most users don’t even know this third party text editing applications exist and some of this applications may be difficult to install for non tech-savvy users.

5. Conclusion
The Windows notepad is an essential utility for text editing in the Windows operating system.  The extremely limited undo functionality of the notepad is a fundamental problem has discussed above and updating this utility to include unlimited undo functionality, syntax coloring, code folding, color schemes e.t.c. [2], with a similar and outstanding application will boost the usability of the Windows notepad as a whole.

[1]  Eelke Folmer, Jan Bosch “Architecting for usability: a survey” Science Direct Journal of Systems and Software, Volume 70, Issues 1-2, February 2004, Pages 61-78.

[2] “Notepad”, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available Online:


  1. completely agree. I don't need many features.. just undoing more than one step back would make notepad perfect for me.

  2. Windows don't want you having an infinite number of undo's. They want you buying their premium software.

    Linux, on the other hand, doesn't have this problem. You can undo as many times as you wish and it's a 100% free operating system and even comes with all the software you need including a fully-fledged office suite.