Open Source Musings The thoughts, ideas, and opinions of an open source guy

On using Emacs

Some HTML code in a text editor

If you’ve been using Linux for any length of time, you may have heard about the so-called editor holy war between Emacs and vi. There was a time when I found this war laughable. Now, it’s just pitiable. Let’s be honest here: these are only text editors, and like many other pieces of software a text editor is a personal choice. There’s no need to resort to zealotry to justify your choice.

Over the years, I’ve used both Emacs and vi (along with several of their variants). In the end I chose Emacs. It had nothing to do with religion, brainwashing, peer pressure, or anything like that. I have nothing against vi, but Emacs just worked better for me.

While I don’t use Emacs all that much now, I did quite regularly up until a few years ago. Here’s why.

Why I used Emacs

First and foremost, I found Emacs easier to configure to my tastes than other editors. I know that some people will disagree with that, but I was never able to customize vi in the same way or as easily. I have to admit, though, that I really like Cream for Vim.

On top of that, I really hate having to switch between vi’s insert and command modes. That just slows me down.

There are also a lot of great ways to customize Emacs by adding modes. Admittedly, I think some Emacs users go a little overboard with the way in which they use Emacs — as a personal information manager, as a mail client, and even as a web browser.

How I used Emacs

As you may or may not know, I write for a living. Emacs offered me a number of useful tools for writing.

Like what? An on-the-fly spelling checker, a powerful way of publishing to multiple formats, and ways to work in some of my favourite markup languages — like Markdown, LaTeX, and HTML.

On top of that, I used PHP mode and CSS mode when editing my web pages. There’s a nice wiki mode that I used as a desktop wiki. In my weaker moments, I organized myself with Org-mode.

The only thing that was missing at the time was a really good blogging mode. There were a couple out there, but they didn’t really do much for me.

Will I go back to Emacs?

Never say never. Right now, though, I’m a huge fan of a text editor called Atom. It does everything I need it to, but you never know. I just might hear the siren call of Emacs and return to its embrace.

I realize that Emacs isn’t for everyone. And, to be honest, I only used it for about 75% of my text editing. The other 25% is spent in gedit. But Emacs had just about everything that I want in an editor. As for the fancy, geeky stuff … I can ignore all of that. When it comes down to it, Emacs enabled me to write in the way that I wanted to. And that’s all that mattered to me.

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