editors – vim vs. emacs… and no, this is not a flame war – Unix and Linux – Stack Exchange

I must say, a rather tame editor war. I would’ve loved to have been present for some of the more violent holy wars fought in the name of Emacs or Vim.

I use both, although if I had to choose one, I know which one I would pick. Still, I’ll try to make an objective comparison on a few issues.

Available everywhere? If you’re a professional system administrator who works with Unix systems, or a power user on embedded devices (routers, smartphones with Busybox, …), you need to know vi (not Vim), because it’s available on all Unix systems and most Unix-like systems, whether desktop, server or embedded. For an ordinary user, this argument is irrelevant: Emacs is easily available for every desktop/server OS, and since it supports remote editing, it’s enough to have it on your desktop machine anyway.

Bloated? Emacs once stood humorously for “Eight Megabytes And Constantly Swapping”. Right now, on my machine, Google Chrome needs about as much RAM per tab as Emacs does for 100 open files, and I won’t even mention Firefox. In the 21st century, Emacs bloat is just a myth.

Feature bloat isn’t a problem either. If you don’t use it, you don’t have to know it’s there. Emacs features keep out of the way when you don’t use them and the documentation is very well organized.

Startup time: Vi(m) proponents complain about Emacs’s startup time. Yes, Emacs is slow to start up, but this is not a big deal: you start Emacs once per session, then connect to the running process with emacsclient. So Emacs’s slow startup is mostly a myth.

There’s one exception, which is when you log in to a remote machine and want to edit a file there. Starting a remote Emacs is (usually) slower than starting a remote Vim. In some situations you can keep an Emacs running inside Screen. You can also edit remote files from within Emacs, but it does break the flow if you’re in an ssh session in a terminal. (Since XEmacs 21 or GNU Emacs 23, you can open an Emacs window from a running X instance inside a terminal.)

Turning the tables, I have observed Vim taking noticeably longer to load than Emacs (vim -u /dev/null vs. emacs -q). Admittedly this was on a weird platform (Cygwin).

Initial learning curve: This varies from person to person. Michael Mrozek’s graph made me chuckle. Seriously, I agree that Vim’s learning curve starts steep, steeper than any other editor, although this can be lessened by using gvim.

Since I’ve dispelled a couple of Emacs myths, let me dispel a vi myth: a modal editor is not hard or painful to use. It takes a little habit, but after a while it feels very natural. If I was to redesign vi(m), I’d definitely keep the modes.

Asymptotic learning curve: Both Vim and Emacs have a lot of features, and you will keep discovering new ones after years of use.

Productivity: This is an extremely hard topic. Proponents of vi(m) argue that you can do pretty much everything without leaving the home row, and that makes you more efficient when you need it most. Proponents of Emacs retort that Emacs has a lot of commands that are not frequently used, so don’t warrant a key binding, but are damn convenient when you need them (obligatory xkcd reference).

My personal opinion is that Emacs ultimately wins unless you have a typing disability (and even then you can configure Emacs to require only key sequences and not combinations like Ctrl+letter). Home row keys are nice, but they often aren’t that much of a win because you have to switch modes. I don’t think there’s anything Vim can do significantly more efficiently than Emacs, whereas the converse is true.

Customizability: Both editors are programmable, and there is an extensive body of available packages for both. However, Vim is an editor with a macro language; Emacs is an editor written in Lisp with some ad-hoc primitives. Emacs wins spectacularly when you try to do something that the authors just didn’t think of. This doesn’t happen every day, but it does accumulate over the years.

More than an editor: Vim is an editor. Emacs is not just an editor: it’s also an IDE, a file manager, a terminal emulator, a web browser, a mail client, a news client, … Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a matter for debate. But you can use Emacs as a mere editor (see “feature bloat” above).

As an IDE: Both Vim and Emacs have support for a lot of programming languages and other text formats. Beyond the basics such as syntactic coloring and automatic indentation, both have advanced IDE features such as code and documentation cross-reference lookups, assisted insertions and refactoring, integrated version control, and the ability to initiate a compilation and jump to the first error.

One domain where Emacs is plain better than Vim is interaction with asynchronous subprocesses. That’s when you start a long compilation and want to do something else inside the same editor instance while the compiler is churning. Or when you want to interact with a Read-eval-print loop — Emacs really shines at this, Vim only has clumsy hacks to offer.

via editors – vim vs. emacs… and no, this is not a flame war – Unix and Linux – Stack Exchange.


Real Programmers

Source: http://xkcd.com/378/

Editor learning curve comic

Source: http://unix.rulez.org/~calver/pictures/curves.jpg


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