[H-GEN] Emacs

Jason Henry Parker jasonp at uq.net.au
Sat May 11 08:02:11 EDT 2002

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Sandra Milne <silne at optushome.com.au> writes:

> I know I probably shouldn't listen to what people say about emacs,

First and foremost a great many of the Emacs detractors have never
used it, or to put it somewhat less kindly they do not really know
what they're talking about.  I find this attitude is pretty prevalent
and try to stamp it out where possible.

> but I hear it's not very easy to use.

More on that later.

> "Bloatware" is another term I hear often when people are talking
> about emacs.

If you have Mozilla installed, you are already using more disk space
than will be used by an Emacs installation.  The binary installation
of Emacs I have on my NetBSD workstation is about 52MB, which includes
full Lisp source code for every component and all the bells and
whistles turned on.  It doesn't have to be that way, but frankly fifty
megabytes really isn't much.

The other claim is that Emacs takes up too much memory; while I grant
you that Emacs is currently taking up more memory than any other
process on the system, that's only 21MB, some of which is bound to be
mapped files and so forth (you didn't really think your X server used
11MB of memory, did you?).  Again, this is nothing.  The process has
been running for several days and is acting as mail and news reader,
web browser, the occasional shell, and oh, text editing.

> No I'm not starting a flamewar, but I'd be interested in hearing
> from somebody who uses emacs just how easy/difficult it is to learn,

Is it easy to learn?  Hmm.  There is a very good `learn by doing'
tutorial included; that covers the basic editing commands.  Just like
vi[0], the keystroke syntax has an order and coherence that is a
pleasure to use.  Control-U always provides a prefix.  Control-H
always brings you help.  Control-K and Control-Y cut and paste.  So on
and so forth.

The manual is wonderful.  Info is not that hard to read, it's laid out
well and in places I think it's probably had ten or twenty years of
polish.  Asking `what does this keystroke do?' gets you a little
hyperlinked blurb explaining in English, with a link to the source
code if you need more information.

An aside:  my measure of how much I like a piece of software is based
           firmly on the principle of least surprise.  If I think to
           myself, `How do I do X?' I want to be able to try the first
           thing that pops into my head and have it work, or nearly

           Programs that fit this principle are Perl, Emacs, and vi.

A great many people are uncomfortable learning Lisp.  The good news is
that you do not *have* to learn Lisp to use Emacs.  I know hardly any
at all.  In fact I have never bothered to write my own function to do
something.  Keyboard macros, copying examples, following laid-out
syntax and using the Emacs Customize[3] functionality gets me as far
as I need right now.

On the other hand I have seen mightier hands than my own accomplish
simply stunning feats with only a little Lisp.  Your call.

> and whether it's worth the disk space.

I would happily forsake about half the programs I use regularly[1] and
substitute Emacs drop-ins if I needed to, and from time to time I
still do.

It is not an editor that will let you sit down, start using it, and
stand up twenty minutes later having become more effective and
efficient.  Then again neither will vi, and any other Unix editor is
simply not extensible or flexible enough to do that.  That said, if
you want simple editing done, it's not a bad choice and the menus at
the top[2] will go a *long* way toward matching your expectations of
what a text editor does.

Got Emacs?


[0] : Unsurprisingly, I use both.  Extensively.

[1] : The proof:  Emacs has POP functionality, so I could get rid of
      fetchmail.  Emacs has its own web broswer, w3, which is
      wonderful and will happily replace my current one.  I can use w3
      and ange-ftp instead of wget and lukemftp.  I already use Gnus
      instead of trn or tin, and mutt or pine.  Emacs's buffer support
      obviates the need for screen.  The diary and calendaring
      application is more flexible than crontab(5) or calendar(1).
      There are a multitude of Emacs IRC clients, and yes, even an
      Emacs MP3 jukebox.

[2] : Gee, I wonder how I turn that off?  Hmm.

      C-h a menu.*bar RET     (* spots "menu-bar-mode" command *)

   menu-bar-mode is an interactive compiled Lisp function in `menu-bar'.
   (menu-bar-mode FLAG)
   Toggle display of a menu bar on each frame.
   This command applies to all frames that exist and frames to be
   created in the future.
   With a numeric argument, if the argument is positive,
   turn on menu bars; otherwise, turn off menu bars.

   Hmm, that would probably be it.  Time taken?  About a minute.
   Maybe less.

[3] : The customize functionality lets the user search and set most of
      the notable variables that control Emacs's appearance and
      functionality.  It writes to a carefully controlled portion of
      the user's .emacs file, which allows easy inspection of changed
      values and has not yet caused me a moment's grief.

      But just like the rest of the Emacs kit and kaboodle, it's not
      required.  If you don't like it, don't use it.  If you do like
      it, you may never look back.
| "Noble sentiments require the delicate sting of an arrow              |
|  Not the rude bluntness of a two-by-four"            jasonp at uq.net.au |

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