Multiple cursors, Emacs and me

It’s been 7 years already since I started using Emacs and, for some reason, I still haven’t found a text editor I do feel more comfortable with, and I Swear to Gods I’ve tried. I really did. And as proof, I can tell that those who know me a bit can really support this statement, no doubt about it ;)

The thing is that,  for some reason or another, whenever I tried a different editor, a fancy IDE or anything else, the result was always the same: I first realize of a new and very interesting feature X in the editor Y which makes me think for a while “hmmm… this could be the one”, then I start using that editor Y for a while, then I realize I’m not comfortable enough for many other things, then I realize I’m continuously alternating between that editor and Emacs and then… finally… I somehow manage to “port” that very nice feature X to Emacs and ditch editor Y to finally come back to the origin again.

And that has been the story of my (text editing) life so far. And, as you can see, I haven’t written a blog post about every single feature X I added to my Emacs. But this time is different.

Everything started, as usual, with me willing to try a new text editor, and this time I selected Sublime Text 2 as the one to check, mainly because I wanted to check myself whether of all the hype around it was justified or whether it was just… well… just hype.

And I have to say that I was really impressed by ST2: what I’ve seen is a very nice and modern editor which is blazingly fast and convenient to use, and which on top of that it comes with a lot of useful features and a nice configuration out-of-the box, which is also very easy to customize and extend if you want to. Up to that moment, everything seemed to suggest I could be really in front of a replacement for Emacs, but given my past experiences I still took this with a grain of salt (even if I could not hide my excitement either)…

If you don’t believe me, you should really checkout its website and, even better, the “Perfect Workflow in Sublime Text2″ tutorial and you will see yourself what I’m talking about.

However, not all were bells and whistles in my ST2 experience. There were drawbacks too, and the main ones I could see were that it was not an Open Source editor and that the bus-factor was really scary (only one developer, I think). And those two things together were a serious concern to me. But I tried it anyway, because it really feel like it could be a serious competitor for my Emacs, and I was willing to take the risk, just for the sake of checking it (and playing around with a new editor, which I confess is something I love doing every now and then in any case).

But yet again, the same pattern happened one more time: I found myself loving ST2 in many regards but alternating too often between it and Emacs since, even if ST2 was lovely for many things, there was nothing that was really convincing me of replacing my Emacs in favour of it. Well, almost nothing… because the “multiple cursors” feature in ST2 got my attention as not many text editor features got it in the last years.

So, the obvious step at this point, having already decided that I would be going back to Emacs again, would be to try to port this nice feature to Emacs, and then I found the awesome “Emacs Rocks!” site, where I found a demonstration of this sleek feature working inside Emacs. I´ll leave the link to the video here, so you can really see what all this is about:

As you can see, this feature is amazingly useful for many things of everyone’s life (well, maybe not really everyone’s, but almost!), as it’s incredibly helpful for things like massive “search & replace”, improving code structure (e.g. break a list of strings in one single line into multiple ones) and many other situations.

Others might disagree, of course, but for me there’s a “before” and an “after” I knew about this feature, and I don’t think I will be able to easily move now to an editor which doesn’t have something like this available in some way.

Should you want to try it out yourself, I recommend you to check out both episode 13 in “Emacs Rocks!” as well as the github repository where you’ll find the package for Emacs.

Guess this means I’ll stick to Emacs for some more time after all, even if I’m still not sure I will stick forever to it, since I can’t say either I’m 100% comfortable with it, just that it’s the best thing I’ve found so far. Yet I can’t avoid feeling that I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

13 thoughts on “Multiple cursors, Emacs and me

  1. So what about trying gedit? I always like to hear what people don’t like about gedit, can you make a list of things that you are missing or that you are not comfortable with?

    • I already tried GEdit some times in the past and even used it as my default coding editor when I was at the University (although to be fair, that was a long time ago), and it just “didn’t feel right” to me as a coding editor.

      Still, as I said, I haven’t tried it for a while (years!), so it might be worth checking it and see what I like and what I don’t, and hopefully I will be able to come up with that “list” at some point, yet I don’t promise anything since I’m not even sure how much of my feeling comes from the fact that no editor out there “feels like emacs”.

      Maybe I’m just a True Emacs Lover and haven’t realized of it yet. Or perhaps I’m just doomed! :)

    • I cannot speak for emacs but for me Gedit fails everytime I open large CSV files and try to replace all entries after a given pattern. It starts calculating but never gets finished, in contrast to Kate, which replaces all entries fine in a few seconds.

    • It feels slow.
      Compare to geany for instance.
      Loading large simple text like logs can utterly strangle it.
      It’s extensions are awesome however.

  2. So I finally found my new text editor who will be replacing gedit.
    Virtually being like you. I was always searching for a replacement to gedit who have poor auto-complete functionalities. So now I think I have found what I wanted.

  3. Nice, I’ve recevently followed similar paths there. The “Emacs Rocks” series on youtu.be is pretty good. There are a couple of other good ones, like the one for “Jumping around”.

    • Just out of curiosity: what did you end up doing? Have you moved to something else or have you finally kept using the same editor (emacs?)?

  4. I’m pretty much in the same boat as you are. I’ve been trying to see if I can get gedit to become better than Emacs. Nice trick, this multi-cursor thing, and thanks for introducing me to this video series, it’s pretty cool!

  5. I recently moved to ST2 after 6/7 years of emacs. And i’m very happy with this move.

    Here some reasons why i moved:

    - ST2 has a complete UI and the keyboard shortcuts are much more sane than emacs.
    - ST2 feels beatiful, modern and polished in every platform.
    - ST2 is fast and make you more productive since it’s equally powerful and more simpler.
    - ST2 can be extended by Python. I already made 3 plugins to boost my own work where in Emacs you have to use LISP which i guess not many people know it (including me).
    - ST2 config files are simpler and intuitive unlike emacs.
    - I found that i had to install more packages on emacs than in ST2. Most of the experience comes out-of-box in ST2.
    - The plugins for ST2 can be really powerful and easy to use. See REPL or Package Control to know what i mean.
    - ST3 features are really promissing.

    Drawbacks:
    - ST is not free software.
    - Sometimes i still have to use emacs (or nano) for the console.
    - ST2 development is stopped now, ST3 is under development (beta).

    After all both are powerful, so i think it’s just a better of easy vs difficult or simple vs complicated.

    I prefer the simple/easy way now. I feel that a made a great move.

  6. Thanks, luis, for the very helpful comparison of emacs vs. ST2. Rackspace had a fun “contest” and emacs won that (barely beating Sublime in the head-to-head). But you make some compelling points in favor of ST2.