Why do I use Emacs

About a year ago, when we were having knowledge transfer about one interesting Java component, the dude, who was showing me what the code was doing, suggested that I should use Eclipse instead of Emacs, because it is so much better editor. I can argue with people who claim that Vim is better than Emacs, but I just kept mouth shut this time.

My first contact with Emacs was in University, but I didn’t immediately see the power of Emacs. I got a job as a Windows programmer, and I started using Visual Studio like every Windows programmer. However, I was surrounded by these UNIX gurus, and watching them do their work in Emacs and in a shell, I realized that I could be much more productive, if I learned to use those same tools.

Visual Studio wasn’t that bad. I liked intellisense, but simple text manipulation was not on the same level as it was in Emacs for those gurus. Other Windows developers where also moving towards Emacs and I decided that I will also do that. The first year was though. First I tried to make my Emacs a full-blown IDE with all different views, but at some point I ended up having two editor frames side by side without any extra stuff.

Slowly, but steadily, I started to learn new things about Emacs and then I realized that I will never stop learning new things about it. At the same time I was reading Pragmatic Programmer, which is one of the best books ever. In Pragmatic Programmer there is one advice called : “Use a Single Editor Well”. I decided I will try to learn Emacs as well as possible and forget all the other editors and IDEs, because life is too short to learn two editors well.

I started to pick up really cool stuff for my Emacs. iswitchb-mode was one of my early favorites. It makes switching between open buffers a breeze. I always get a warm feeling, when I see people using their editors or IDEs to switch between open files. A lot of mouse movement or typing is required to get the job done. I do the same thing in Emacs with only a few key presses.

I was kind of missing “go to declaration” from Visual Studio, but when I discovered tags or especially xgtags, my worries were gone and I could easily jump to definitions and declarations without having to move my hand from the keyboard.

I knew about keyboard macros and thought they were really cool, but when I realized what rectangle operations could do, I was blown away. Manipulating text on multiple lines is a feature that should be in every single editor. Most editors nowadays have it, but I never see anyone else using the feature, but then again, I am surrounded by Visual Studio, Eclipse and Vim guys.

I loved iswitchb-mode, but I needed something similar to open new files. Currently I am using file-cache to do this and it’s brilliant. Just like with iswitchb-mode, I can type any part of the file name and open the correct file with only a few key presses. I know that anything.el could do the job of both iswitchb-mode and file-cache, but when I tried it just didn’t seem as smooth as the tools I was already familiar with.

Unfortunately I have to do some C++ coding, and when I discovered flymake, I almost crapped my pants. Now I would never have to fix compiler errors after trying to compile the code. I would fix them on the fly while writing the code. I am, of course, writing this using Emacs and have turned on flyspell-mode, which does the same thing for English language. This feature is, of course, in all the modern word processors and browsers, but not in many editors.

One last feature I would like to mention is yank-pop. When you learn to use, you can pretty much cut any piece of code or text, without having to worry about overwriting the clipboard with something else. This is a really powerful feature and I don’t understand, why it is not everywhere.

Most of these features are available in other editors also, but like I said, Emacs was the editor I decided to learn and I am sticking with it. You can use whatever editor you want, but don’t tell me that editor X is better than Emacs, because it probably isn’t.

I always try to be more productive and the editor plays a big role in this. Fortunately, Emacs allows me to this as good as any other editor or probably even better. Learning to use Emacs is a life long project, but I knew that it was the right choice for me when I made the decision. You might not want to spend so much time with your editor, but when I have my own company, I don’t have to hire you either.

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