Ruby Babysteps
Sunday, 22 June, 2003
PageTemplate - Getting It
Thursday, 11 July, 2002


GNU Emacs
GNU Emacs

Yep. Emacs, one of the shining stars of the GNU project and its philosophy of Free software. It’s sort of an editor, but if all you do is edit files with it, maybe you could be using something else. I am rather fond of NEdit and JEdit. I am also a longtime user of Vim — despite my occasional membership in the Church of Emacs. There are a lot of fine editors out there, and you will be quite productive working with any of them. The alternatives I mentioned are customizable and scriptable, but Emacs is more than that. What is it, exactly? Well, let’s ask Emacs itself:

Emacs is the extensible, customizable, self-documenting real-time display editor.

That quote comes from GNU info, the built-in documentation system for GNU Emacs and most of the other applications in the GNU project. Oh, one more thing: I am going to stop saying “GNU” all the time. Just assume that I am referring to GNU software in the Emacs section of the site unless otherwise specified. Now, back to my babbling about Emacs, already in progress.


I want you to know about Emacs and give it a try. I can imagine you might be curious about what I’m doing with it that’s easier than doing things another way. Well, things are not so much easier under Emacs as they are a bit more streamlined. Nearly everything I do is contained in the Emacs environment, with a lot of the pretty sparkles and distractions cut away. It’s not for everybody. See, I like to make pretty things for other people. I’m not as concerned that the stuff I use is pretty. It’s more important to me that it’s easy for me to get to what I need without breaking up my train of thought.

Okay, so what are the main tasks I use Emacs for?

  • Editing text files of course, including but not limited to:
    • Notes
    • Source code for Ruby, Perl, C++, and LISP projects
  • Email, using the vm module
  • Reading documentation with info
  • The scratch buffer also makes a handy calculator, since it can evaluate LISP code.

My main advice to you if you want to use Emacs: do more than just edit text with it. Use it as a calculator. Let it handle your email. Play Tetris with it. Experiment and have a little fun.

What’s that? “Play Tetris with it?” Yes, that’s right. I said “Tetris”. M-x tetris and see for yourself.