Why I Use Emacs

(This post was discussed on Hacker News and Reddit)

I became an Emacs user at HUJI. The CS school IT group were fond of Emacs, and set it as the default editor in the computer labs.

And I kept using it since, until I decided I’m too young to be a retrogrouch, bought a license for the highly praised Sublime Text, and made it my default editor.

I tried to like Sublime, and used it exclusively for four months, before accepting it won’t work, and going back to using Emacs.

This wasn’t because of any major issue with Sublime: it is a very well made editor, and easy to extend. But it only extends so far, while Emacs is infinitely extensible.

Or rather, as any Emacs veteran would tell you, Emacs isn’t an editor, but a system that can handle text buffers and windows, and run LISP code to manipulate those. Therefore, it can do everything, and you can practically live in Emacs, as some do, using the underline OS just for bootstrapping it.

But I myself am not that much of an Emacs wizard — I wish I was, but I hardly know any Elisp, and can never find the time to learn — Yet I can (with no more than moderate effort) get Emacs to do most of what I want, but had a long list of things I couldn’t make Sublime do.
Most were trivial, but they added up. And one was grave: I couldn’t get it keybindings to be compatible enough with Emacs’, which are now so worn into my brain, I don’t think I could learn another set this side of the river Styx.

As Kieran Healy describes in beautiful prose:

But even if TextMate 2 drops from the sky fully-formed and marveled at by all, Emacs will still be there, waiting. It will be there when the icecaps melt and the cities drown, when humanity destroys itself in fire and zombies, when the roaches finally achieve sentience, take over, and begin using computers themselves — at which point its various Ctrl-Meta key-chords will seem not merely satisfyingly ergonomic for the typical arthropod, but also direct evidence for the universe’s Intelligent Design by some six-legged, multi-jointed God.


  1. Jesus Bejarano says:

    Currently using it with evil-plugging, i am obsessed!

  2. The only thing emacs is lacking is a decent text file editor, you should try vi/vim 🙂

    • Jason says:

      You should use evil-mode and give yourself the gift of all the other awesome stuff that Emacs will do.

      Oh and stop recycling tired cliches.

  3. Luis Medinas says:

    Exactly what happened to me. You’re not the only one. Do you want to share your .emacs ? Mine is available at github -> https://github.com/lmedinas/emacsrc

    • Shay Elkin says:

      One of the best changes I made to my .emacs (and a lesson from the above mentioned experience) was to remove most of it.

      I do keep a list of packages I use, made easier by ‘package-install, but try to use the defaults wherever possible. This makes it much easier to just start working on a new machine, without having to muck with the configuration.

      • I did the same thing a few months ago. I spent several days going over every single line in my gargantuan dotemacs, removing a lot of clog that had showed up over the years, and replacing old macros with new things like package-install. I think I should do it again…

  4. anon says:

    I had exactly the same experience with vim. I tried to like it, use it, but emacs is just too good to drop.

  5. Chris says:

    TextMate is a “fashionable editor”, is it? How long does a text editor have to be around before it is no longer fashionable?

  6. “How long does a text editor have to be around before it is no longer fashionable?”

    I’d say twenty years would be a good starting point.

  7. Igor Khomyakov says:

    >>I made Sublime my default editor .. it won’t work, and going back to using Emacs. It only extends so far, while Emacs is infinitely extensible.

    This is my case exactly. So I am Emacer again and I hope I will be Emaces for a while

  8. Don Taylor says:

    I don’t even try other text editors anymore, I know I’m just going to be disappointed. Sublime ended up being a no-g0 despite having so much promise. I’m not even going to look at Atom.

    I’ve been using emacs for 20 years now and it looks like I’m going to be using it for another 20.

  9. Cezar says:

    If Emacs was such a good editor, everyone would use it. It has it’s bad parts which are really hard to ignore.

    After all these years the way it handles buffers with multiple languages in it is still broken, touch typing is hard, and there are a lot more.

    At the end of the day it boils down to productivity and Emacs doesn’t help much with that.

    • Tu says:

      It’s like saying Linux is a bad OS because it does not even have 1% market share. You should take a look at my article, which has the demo: http://tuhdo.github.io/emacs-tutor.html

      What’s broken the way it handles the buffers? I can open hundred of buffers fine. What’s broken about its syntax highlighting? I can browse the linux kernel source tree fine with it. Check the above website for details.

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