Why I Use Emacs

A text editor can be old, but it doesn't mean that it is irrelevant now. Emacs is my most favorite text editor at the moment and in this article, you will get to know why.

Text editor is an essential tool for programmers. Without a text editor, programmers could not code. Therefore there are so many text editors out there, and it seems that programmers will not stop to find and create another new text editor which is better than what we have today.

When most of programmers use Atom, Sublime Text, Notepad++ or another modern text editor, I fall in love with Emacs. Emacs was created in 1976 by Richard Stallman, one of GNU Project’s founders. At that time, mouse was not as popular as today. This condition forced Emacs to provide a lot of controls using keyboard. Like a fighting game, in order to master Emacs you have to remember tons of ‘combo move’.

‘Why are you using an outdated editor? Is there any people who still use it? Why don’t you use mouse at all? Aren’t you tired of keep typing all the time? Why not using VIM instead?‘

Those questions will often be asked to you if they discover that you use Emacs. Now let’s see the way I respond to it one by one.

Why Are You Using an Outdated Editor?

Just like programmers in general, there was a time when I switched text editors out constantly. It couldn’t be helped because the more you learn, the more likely you will need a better text editor. Every time a new text editor had been launched, it triggered my curiosity to try it. This proves me that I am not the same as Vespa fans or antiques collectors that like something because of its sheer historical value.

At that time, I wanted to be more productive in coding, but the current editor I used (Atom) wasn’t fast enough (in my personal opinion). It led to text editor explorations, until I met Emacs. When I learned about it deeper, I realized that inside of this so called outdated editor, there are so many cool features that no other text editor have. Syntax highlighting and syntax checker for various programming languages has been embedded on it. Navigation is wide and open a lot of possibility to move cursor from point to point (by remembering the shortcuts). Running commands on terminal can be performed live in Emacs. Adding a plugin is an easy task thanks to package manager. Thousand collections of plugin with various purposes are highly accessible. Moreover, there are plugins which we can use to do things we do not normally do with a text editor such as browsing, read and reply your emails, manage your personal financial plan, playing Pac Man and many more. This made me excited and until now I haven’t been bored to keep exploring Emacs world.

When this article is written, the latest Emacs version is 24.5. Version 25 is still in development but there is a plan to released it on 2016.

Is There Any People Who Use It Today?

Of course, an anti mainstream thing like Emacs must have few users. According to a survey by Stackoverflow in 2016, Emacs users is only 5.2% in the world. Is this fact leads to a low number of Emacs learning sources? Hell no. There are actually a lot of Emacs tips and tricks that you can find in Google and Youtube and almost all of them are really good. So if you want to learn Emacs, you don’t need to worry again about its learning sources.

Why Don’t You Use Mouse at All? Aren’t You Tired of Keep Typing All The Time?

Go watch Emacs programmers in Youtube, I guarantee you will be amazed. The question ‘How can they type so fast with just using a keyboard?’ was often came to my mind when I watched an Emacs video tutorial for the first time because when I tried it, it felt so freaking difficult. There were so many shortcuts to remember, and I wasn’t fully familiar of it. The shortcuts are very different from what we use on normal applications. Plus I had to leave mouse. At that time I felt very unproductive in the middle of having lot of tasks. However all of those difficulties have been paid off because I feel much faster and more productive than ever with Emacs.

I personally believe that using mouse for text editing in a very high intencity (as coding) will slow down the execution time. When typing, we have to move our mind context from keyboard to mouse and vice versa in a very high frequency. This context moving will make us not focus towards what we want to type. By only using a keyboard, we can be more focus on our job so we can finish it more quickly.

It is indeed painful to see Emacs people who always type, type, and type. Many people say that Emacs can easily harm your finger because it often set Ctrl to be a shortcut. Well, it is true that many Emacs users have experienced Repeated Strain Injury on their pinky finger. I also happened to have it once, but after I adjusted over the shortcuts with Ergoemacs, I never feel the pain again.

Why Not Using VIM Instead?

These people who ask this question are actually just flaming a war #just jokes. VIM too is a text editor which use keyboard as its main power. Although VIM and Emacs users frequently seem to fight each other in forums, I don’t really care too much about it. I am consired myself as tech agnostic. In fact, I also use VIM in my daily activity and I keep following VIM development. But I use Emacs more often than VIM because I use Emacs for other things outside of coding (such as making todo list and keeping personal financial’s notes).

Every text editor has its own advantages and disadvantages. Exploring text editor is a very good thing to do, and Emacs is one of worth learning text editor. Keep in mind that you must not leave your work in dust because you are busy tweaking Emacs.