Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Emacs 'mode' and learning `modes`

I've used emacs as my primary editor, (emersive?) environment and de facto almost-OS for about 20 years now. I read and send my email in it (vm), write/run/debug Java in it (JDEE), edit and compile my LaTeX in it, edit all other files with it, sometimes with complex macros that others would use Perl to do, and interact with shells inside of it. In the past I've edited and debugged C and C++, HTML and XML in various fooML modes. The only other major thing I have running on my workstation is my web browser (//and occasionally OpenOffice for reading Word files//). Of course, I will have additional emacs windows open on the 3 or 4 servers I am editing and running code on (and also use tramp to transparently edit remote files).

Yes, I've tried Eclipse. I know it quite well: I've even written an Eclipse plugin and published a paper about it (Takaka: Eclipse Image Processing Plug-in) . But it does not work for me like emacs does. If Eclipse works for you: that is great. But I don't think it necessarily works for everyone. Emacs + JDEE IS my IDE for Java (and is other things as well).

And I have no interest in starting any editor war ('IDE war'?)

Before I actually tried Eclipse in a significant way, I thought that I was just unwilling to change due to the learning curve of something new, and the momentum of the 'known' and once I tried it I would find it better, like many other people seemd to (and certainly many of the pundits). But when I did invest in making the change, I discovered that was not the reason. It still didn't work as well for me as emacs (where 'work' for me meant helped my productivity: no, productivity was less than working using emacs). Again, this is not a criticism of Eclipse.

My theory is that - like learning, where it has been established that different people learn in different ways (Visual/Verbal, Visual/Nonverbal, Auditory/Verbal, Tactile/Kinesthetic) - I believe that particular modes of human-machine interaction are better suited to some individuals than others.

I am not an HCI expert, so I don't know if the various modes have been as clearly defined, delineated and validated as in learning, but I could imagine at least one HCI mode mapping to the Microsoft Word/NetBeans/Eclipse mode of mouse oriented, busy GUIs, and another to the emacs mode [I think I've poorly described the attributes of the former and won't attempt to describe the latter].

This all said, I found it quite interesting to find these two recent blog entries today:

"I think that there is some confusion between mastering emacs, and using emacs. You can learn to use emacs in 1/2 an hour. Is that a shockingly long time? Yes. Great design usually makes its uses obvious.

But emacs makes up for that initial investment with accelerating returns --- where Notepad, or even Eclipse, you stop gaining power and knowledge relatively quickly, emacs is like the universe: no matter how long you look at it, there is always more to learn --- and the best part is the more you learn, the faster you can learn more."- comment by Sam Bleckley on Learn Emacs in Ten Year post
With a little looking around, I found a couple more blog postings that capture some of the emacs-ness of emacs that might be of interest:
XKCD can have the final word (for now) on emacs:

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