Again with the emacs

by Robert Daeley

I am a text editor window shopper extraordinaire. With as much time as I spend either hacking config files or writing text, having a good editor in my toolbelt is a must. I'll download pretty much any new one that has any promise, just to give it a shot. Sometimes, against my better judgment.

Yesterday, I downloaded Carbon Emacs to give it a looksee. A 39.1 MB dmg file. I didn't get around to checking it out until today, when I realized it expands to a 184.9 MB bundle. Got it copied to my Applications folder and started it up.

Once again, like every other time I think to try out Emacs, I hit random keys, perused the help file, realized I didn't feel like going through the learning curve just to edit text, and gave up. This time, however, I stuck around long enough to play Tetris for a while. Did you know you can play Tetris in your text editor? You can if it's Emacs. Check under the 'Tools' menu, at the bottom -- you'll find like 10 games to play.

So I trashed Feeling better. What's the old saying? 'Emacs is a nice operating system. The only thing it lacks is a good editor.' The 'nice' part is arguable, too. ;) However, this is no commentary on Carbon Emacs itself -- it seems a well-enough-done port.

I'm rather astounded by the size of the app bundle, but there is a lot more going on inside than just a text editor. And that's rather the problem.

So why do I do this to myself?

(By the way, this is strictly a commentary on what works for me -- I'm not about to get embroiled in an editor war with somebody else's heartfelt favoritism.)

Here's a bit of nostalgia for you, by way of explanation. On my old Apple ][+ back in the day, there were a handful of programs I spent the vast majority of my time in, not counting my BASIC programming: Microsoft's Flight Simulator, Decathlon, and a word processor -- the name of which escapes me at the moment, but imagine a terminal window program, all keyboard-command driven (no mice, of course), with simple formatting tools. All geared toward one goal: writing text, saving it on floppy disks (that were floppy), and printing it on our dot-matrix. I wrote school papers, fiction, all kinds of stuff in that program. Loved it.

Were there challenges? Sure, of course. But here's what it had that trumped everything else:

Green characters on a black background. And nothing else.


This love of austere simplicity in my editors has followed me over the decades since, and even if I got distracted for a while by Word back in the early 90s (the destructive path of one macro virus took care of that little anomaly), it has never truly disappeared. In fact, when I was first learning unix along with my first Internet exposure back in 1994, I began lusting after the terminal window.

And now, here I am, in the enviable position (particularly from the point of view of myself in the distant past) of running a crazily powerful multimedia-based, unix-like operating system that is virtually constantly on the net, but which also contains (behind all the glitz) those lovely green characters on a black background.

So that, in a round-about way, is why I occasionally start up Emacs, despite remaining true to vi. I guess I want to like the behemoth, because I have a soft spot in my heart for terminal-based editors. Plus I have a text editor addiction. But it is with all my best affection that I give Emacs a miss one more time.



2005-09-22 23:28:02
My only exposure to the Apple II was in elementary school...back then, putting one in every classroom counted as a technology achievement...this was the early to mid 90s.
2005-09-23 00:14:12
That wasn't the name, though it does sound familiar. I should go poking around the Apple ][ history sites.
2005-09-23 01:35:35
Try emacs tutorial
Once you are in emacs, try hitting "Ctrl-h" followed by "t". You will be in emacs tutorial which you can just follow along. Give it a try when you feel like playing with emacs again!
2005-09-23 07:16:24
Viper Mode
Try using viper mode with emacs (or xemacs).
ALT-X together and then type viper-mode. This will give you the vi keybindings within emacs. All the emacs goodness, but your fingers are happy.
2005-09-23 07:47:30
If you're a darwinports user, you can get carbon emacs with:

sudo ports install emacs +carbon

The carbonized (~15MB) goes into /Applications/DarwinPorts. The lisp code for various features and add-ins (~175MB) goes by default into /opt/local/share/emacs.

I started coding with emacs with the first Nextstep ports over 10 years ago. Since then, I've tried almost every new IDE (on Windows, Linux and Mac) but I'm still using emacs. Just for editing, emacs is overkill. But if I'm going to spend a few days *living* in an IDE then, for a long and tedious list of reasons, I choose emacs.

2005-09-23 09:24:10
BBEdit. Seriously. GUIs actually have their uses.
2005-09-23 15:04:53
I think I'm allergic to paying that much for a text editor. ;)
2005-09-23 15:08:19
Try emacs tutorial
Ah, there you go, thanks. I will no doubt have another look at some point and will check out the tutorial.
2005-09-23 15:55:44
Try emacs tutorial
In Japanese. Now I need a tutorial for the tutorial.
2005-09-24 03:54:14
Me too. So give their (now) free TextWrangler a try instead! :-)

2005-09-24 08:11:51
Actually, I do use that quite often, along with Smultron, Text HTML Edit, and others. This is a bit of a different angle on things, however.
2005-09-26 08:35:26
I love SubEthaEdit. Simple with some nice syntax highlighting, and the latest version has a command line tool, which I think is fab.

It's free for non-commercial use as well which is nice. I've never actually used the collaborative working features in it, so I can't comment on those.

2005-09-26 11:22:59
My trouble with SubEthaEdit is windows. In my work environment I typically have 10-15 files open. With Emacs I can have as few or as many windows as I want and use any window, or any part of a split window to view a buffer (file). Unless I missed something, SubEthaEdit is firm with a one-window-per-open-file model. That just doesn't work for me.

Fix that an SubEthaEdit just might pry my fingers away from Emacs before they are cold and dead.

TextWrangler's show stopper for me is tab (mis) handling.

2005-10-20 21:52:51
A lightweight, extremely flexible editor is TDE

It is open source, you can write your own syntax highlighting modules, it is very powerful if you want the power but it does not get in the way otherwise. Occupies around 500 kb, rather than 200 Mb of mostly never-used Lisp.

Runs on *nix and Windows and DOS, all the way back to 16-bit 086.

I have nothing to do with maintaining the program, I hasten to add; I just use it.