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Text Compare: understand the display

From the pulldown menu choose Session->NewSession->TextCompare Load the left and right panels by dragging files with the mouse and dropping them anywhere. You can drag in Python code, two images, some Word docs, a couple of PDFs... Or use this test data.
Here is our Text Compare session. Four parts of the display are numbered in this screenshot:
  1. 1.
    This white slot is a pulldown menu that shows a list of recently opened files.
  2. 2.
    This button lets you browse your file system
  3. 3.
    This is the save button. If you edited your file you can save it. Editing is not possible for MS Word, MS Excel, or PDF. Editing is possible for most other filetypes. (My favorite thing to play with is editing a hex file and then saving it.)
  4. 4.
    This skinny part along the left margin is a thumbnail of your whole document. You can rightclick it to change its size. That is important if your document is so long that the pixels compress and distort their meaning.

The encoding setting

5. There's a dropdown in the panel: UTF-8, UTF-16, ANSI. 90% of the time you don't need to touch this setting. BC picks it up from a short tag at the start of a normal text file. Here's what that small gray button does: the top panel is how the text was meant to look. The bottom panel shows the same file displayed when the wrong encoding (UTF-16) is accidentally selected from the dropdown.
If you are curious to see the hidden text-encoding character, also called the BOM, at the start of a plaintext file, here are two files. Both say foo, one starts with the bytes that proclaim encoded in UTF8 and the other starts with the code that proclaims Unicode.
Viewing two text files in a Beyond Compare Hex Code Session

File Formats

Because the name of this file ends in a C extension, Beyond Compare can apply the grammar rules of that language (6). In this screenshot, the C comments are recognized as unimportant differences and get highlighted in blue. You can manually configure these detectable formats from the menu: Tools->FileFormats. Also visible in this shot is (7), the line ending style. If you are not a programmer, don't worry too much about this. Just know that the possible lineendings are Unix, PC, Mac, or Mix.
You can manually tweak the File Format at (6). Here I have set it deliberately to the naive setting, Everything. No grammar is applied. We see that whitespace still shows up blue (unimportant) but C language comments are red (important). Look at your own pulldown menu at (6). Then look at your menu: Tools->FileFormats And finally, head to the Scooter Software page and see the supplemental file formats you can download for free.