After watching the Meet Emacs screencast on Peepcode and talking to a few local developers who use emacs, I’ve started using emacs again. Since I started playing around with it several weeks ago, I’ve learned about a number of useful features I either hadn’t used before or had just barely scratched the surface of. These include the following:

  • ido-mode – A tool for quickly finding files that uses a combination of history and intelligent name searching.
  • hippie-expand – Intelligently completes part of a word to match another word in the current buffer.
  • text macros – I’d seen this before but didn’t realize how often it can be done in place of a regex search-and-replace. Much more intuitive, too.
  • C-x C-v – Unlike the more commonly used C-x C-f, which loads a file in a new buffer, visit-file (C-x C-v) loads a file in the current buffer. This solves a common annoyance for me of opening the wrong file in the right directory, and having to choose between leaving the wrong file open or navigating back to the right directory after closing the wrong file.

These are things I wouldn’t have noticed if I had still been blindly following the Pragmatic Programmer tip, Use a Single Editor Well. The problem with picking an editor and sticking to it is that there really isn’t a way to learn how good an editor is without actually using it.

I’m also starting to think that maybe, even after I’ve gained a pretty good understanding of most editors, I still won’t want to pick a single editor. Maybe I’ll use emacs for some things and TextMate for others. Using more than one editor might not be for everybody, but for people who take a serious interest in editors, it might be a good idea.

I put my emacs dotfiles directory up on GitHub, if anyone is curious about the customizations I’ve made to it.

So far I like my new setup, and I’m using Emacs most of the time. I’m getting to be quite comfortable in it. I’ve dealt with a couple of things that used to annoy me most about emacs, which are confusing indentation and inaccurate syntax highlighting. I dealt with the former by setting the tab key to go to the next tab key, rather than use the current mode’s indentation code. To deal with the latter, I just turned off syntax highlighting. I’m actually quite comfortable without it most of the time, and if I really want pretty syntax highlighting, I can always fire up TextMate.

In the future, I may continue to use emacs as my primary editor, or I may not. If not, I don’t think my time learning Emacs will have gone to waste, as I’ll have learned new editor features and I’ll know what to look for when I explore the advanced features of whichever editor I’m using.