Switching to Emacs

As you may know my favourite editor was Vim, it’s a terrible editor to learn, but when you get the hang of it (after a couple of weeks, months, a year) you can edit text and code very very fast. I loved Vim, still do.

At the moment I’m writing my dissertation for the M.Sc. degree I’m doing here in Dublin. I’m writing it in LaTeX and of course I was using Vim to edit it. A week or two ago I had a meeting with a PhD student here at the department and he asked what I used to edit LaTeX. I told him I used Vim. “Vim? Why are you using vim? There’s an amazing package for Emacs that helps you in so many ways.”

I’m always open to new things and Emacs always has been an editor I wanted to really learn. We learned the basics at university in Holland (it’s the editor we learned there) and it’s a fairly usable editor, even for the beginner. Much more usable than Vim anyway. I decided to take the plunge and switched to Emacs.

The beginning was a struggle, I switched a couple of days ago now and finally start to get the hang of the keyboard “short”-cuts. Things that used to take me one keystroke in Vim now take me like three, but I’ll get used to it and indeed, the LaTeX features are really nice. Right now I have my whole dissertation in one .tex file (that’s 90 pages at the time of writing). Usually that would be hard to manage, but in Emacs it’s really easy to bring up a table of contents and go to a different chapter or section. You just have to press Ctrl+c = and there you go:

If you’re familiar with LaTeX and used it to write scientific papers you know it can be a pain to insert reference from your Bibtex file, but not in Emacs. You just type Ctrl+c [ and it will ask you to type a regex to find references. If you want to cite a paper where you know there’s “ontology” in there somewhere, you type ontology and a list of references will show up, you pick the one you need and it will insert the cite{…} code for you. Pretty neat.

I’m starting to like Emacs. Emacs is more of an operating system than an editor. It comes with a built-in mail reader, news reader, RSS reader. You can download a browser I think, I installed a package that allows you to maintain a local wiki inside Emacs, it’s pretty nifty. But some of the keystrokes are just too much, for example if I want to move the current line to the top of the screen I have to type Ctrl+x 0 Ctrl+l.

I’ll get used to it.