Nerd alert. I really like my text editor

vim

If I’m coding, or writing anything more significant than a medium-length email (like this blog post for example), I’m likely to close out of my email program, MS Word, or whatever else it is I’m using, and reach for Vim.

Vim and Emacs are two of the very first text editors ever made for computers, and they’re still very popular today.

Arguing about whether Emacs or Vim is better is just about the nerdiest thing you can do. If you do so, you are participating a phenomenon known as the Editor War. It has been going on since the 70’s, is only slightly tongue-in-cheek, and it’s still happening.

The prompt for this blog post, in fact, is this recent, uncharacteristically civil comment on it.

I use Vim for a couple of practical and philosophical reasons. One of the biggest functional reasons is the composability of commands that the above author describes.

For example, if my cursor is between two parentheses, I can type “ca(” which literally means “change all the text within these parentheses,” without having to care where either parenthesis actually is in the document. At an organizational level, I know I want to throw out that whole block of text, so I immediately do so, without pausing even a second in the creative process.

Another Vim guru says that using Vim is precision editing at the speed of thought because of this verb/adjective/object model it uses to navigate text, and do stuff to it. (Even if you couldn’t care less about coding or editors, watch a few minutes of that video because Drew Neil’s voice is like fluffy clouds and lullabies.)

This is in stark contrast to other editors, in which I have to interrupt my creative/organizational thought process, halt my mental composition, go searching through the text to find the first bracket, select some text and keep selecting while I look for the next bracket. (I concede that searching for matching parentheses or brackets is not usually that painful, but I stand by the premise.)

Having used Vim for so long, I really consider that kind of “hunt-and-peck” editing to be unacceptable.

And these kind of “text objects” exist for the beginning and ending of words, lines, sentences, paragraphs, parentheses, square brackets, curly brackets, and entire files. So once you learn a few keys, you’re very quickly, almost magically, jumping and flinging text around your document. Kind of like this guy:

The concepts of Vim are easy learn. Remembering the vocabulary is not. I often still have to google stuff like “What’s vim for ‘all-lowercase?’” but once I have that command I’m looking for, then I can scratch pretty much any itch I have.

So yes, when I’m working with volumes of text and need a strong editor, Vim (not Christopher Walken) is my weapon of choice.

But you don’t have to like Vim one bit. Most people don’t! If you often deal volumes of text, though, just know that there are options out there besides Microsoft Word, which is just fine for a lot of things, but which is really just not a good text editor.

Consider what George R. R. Martin (who—can we all agree?—works with tomes of text) shared on his blog:

I still do all my writing on an old DOS machine running WordStar 4.0, the Duesenberg of word processing software (very old, but unsurpassed).

Wordstar is an ancient word processor that has a focus on text instead of formatting, powerful cursor movements and bookmarks, and other features that have some writers like Martin, and this guy, continuing to favor it to this day over other options.

If you want to see what it’s like to write like Martin, you can run an in-browser emulation of the program at archive.org.

So yeah, this is a blog post about text editors. Super nerdy, right? But hackers and writers and other creative types who need to be able to deal with text effectively and convey ideas efficiently have some strong opinions on the subject. Call ‘em nerds if you want.

For the curious, learn vim:

Comments

I've read through this post a couple times and I think I probably need to read it again. Fascinating stuff. Never even heard of Vim or Emacs but my interest is piqued for sure. I'm not a nerd though. I was almost prom king so that proves it.

P.S. Probably best not to try to learn or watch any of this on an iPad? Thanks Christopher.

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