A brief journey back into to emacs-land

In an earlier post, I said that I am no longer going to deny myself the pleasure of dabbling in different editors. It was my interpretation of the “use one editor; use it well” mantra I got from the pragmatic programmers. It was probably a misinterpretation of it. They also would recommend using the best tool for the job, and how can you know what the best tool for the job is without learning about all the alternatives? And, in the case of text editors, it’s practically impossible to know every one of them well enough to judge which is best.

One day I was feeling frustrated with vim, so I fired up emacs. I wanted to remind myself of one thing it has that vim lacks—the ability to view/edit a single buffer in multiple frames. Pretty nifty, really. If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, in Emacs a frame is a top-level window (think JFrame), and a window is a split within a frame, or the whole frame if it isn’t split. In MacVim, each frame has its own vim instance with its own set of buffers, so you can’t view the same buffer in two different frames, which would be nice for having a big frame and a frame that can sit alongside other windows. In emacs it works without a hitch.

While I was in emacs, I noticed something else I like about it—the scratch buffer. In vim there’s a blank buffer that shows up when you start it, but it seems like vim would rather pretend it’s not there. If you delete a buffer, it closes any window (i. e. split view) that is associated with it, unless there is only one window in the frame, in which case it grudgingly shows the scratch buffer (or the last buffer if there’s another buffer still open).

I can think a couple of things that I gained from this experience. First, I can see that there are other developers who can sympathize with my experiences. If I ever get frustrated with vim, I can take refuge in the emacs community. Same for when I got frustrated with emacs and became a vimmer. Second, I was able to take the scratch concept and apply it to another part of my computing experience. I created a directory in my home directory called “scratch”. It’s going to be my new temporary working directory. I had one called sandbox but the name never quite felt right and I never got in the habit of using it.

I don’t know which editor I’ll be using a year from now. But for now, it’s vim, for the most part. I do want to try out SLIME and see how viable Viper-mode (vim emulation in emacs) is, though.

2 Replies to “A brief journey back into to emacs-land”

  1. To be precise, viper-mode is actually a Vi emulation, and pretty much feature-complete I think. It’s not Vim emulation.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I just started reading “Learning the vi and Vim Editors, 7th Edition” on Safari Bookshelf, and got an idea of just how much of vim it inherited from vi. In light of this, it makes sense that viper-mode only provides vi emulation, not vim emulation. Much of what vim adds on, it seems, would duplicate what’s already in emacs.

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