Why do so few use emacs?


Ever since I switched to emacs, I’ve read more source code than I’ve ever done before. I’ve even found and reported several bugs (in org mode and a few other plugins) with detailed and precise bug reports.

In some other program (say, LibreOffice), I would have passed off any bug I encountered as just another quirk in the system. But, in emacs, due to the ease with which source code can be read and modified from within the running instance of emacs itself, I have felt very encouraged to read up and understand what’s happening.

Free software is good, but emacs goes one step ahead and encourages people to actually exercise their freedom, study the source and contribute. People become more than just “end”-users and consumers. They become creators and contributors as well.

One of the original ideas of making emacs a programmable editor was to encourage and get even (normal) lay people to learn a little bit of programming for their needs and thus promote computer literacy. And, emacs actually has a way simpler learning curve than something like vim. You could know nothing about all the key bindings, and just use it like nano or gedit. Given all this, it surprises me that emacs has become known as an editor for geeks and has acquired such an intimidating reputation.

Please note: I’m not trying to start any editor flame wars here. I’m just posting out of curiosity to know why people don’t use emacs, and to see if I can change anybody’s mind about it. At the end of it, your choice of editor is completely up to you, of course.


You have answered it yourself. Me, I like Vi and with the setup adopted from vim.spf13.com, my coding sessions are enjoyable. All editors nowadays are so full of features that mastering one itself is a big deal and if one starts fiddling with various editors out there, one will become a jack of none! Having said that I’ve started fiddling with Atom for my webDev projects :grinning:


I started out with vim and used it for around 4 years before switching to emacs. In order to not have to retrain my muscle memory, I use evil (extensible vi layer for emacs). I mainly switched to emacs due to the versatility of emacs lisp, and the new enlightening perspectives that it gives. I’ve been using emacs for around half a year or so, and consider myself reasonably proficient with both vim and emacs.

From one vim user to another, emacs is really good. If you use evil, transition is smooth. So, if you can spare the time and have the interest but were worried about the learning curve, look no further. Try it out.




I think one of the reasons why people use emacs less is because of the time it takes to get started. For example, atom comes with so many features out of the box and adding new features is just a mouse click away. That kind of easy getting-started curve is not available for emacs.

Maybe that can be overcome if there’s a configuration set that one can download to get a full-fledged editor with all the cool features one can think of. Is there such a configuration set?


Nostalgia and speed are reasons why I hang on to Vi - Like I still have a Sony Cassette Deck that gives me some thrill - I use Vi for the same reason. But evolution and change need to be accepted and when capable editors enter the scene, one can switch over without any guilt. Like @asd says, Atom is indeed capable and for a Web developer like me, it serves my purpose and with VI plugin and others, it becomes an attractive choice - but that is what Free software is all about anyway - choice to pick the tool that you like and get productive.




There are several emacs distributions. Prelude seems to be aimed at newcomers with a good default configuration. Perhaps that’s what you are looking for. Similarly, spacemacs, with evil built in, seems to be aimed at luring vim users. There are many other emacs distributions as well.

This thread has now largely become about emacs, vim, and atom. But, with my initial post, I had a more general question in mind. Perhaps I should have expressed it more directly and clearly. Allow me to try again:

Why do people need/use office suites like LibreOffice? Why not just use a simple text editor like emacs and just work on text files? If formatting (bold, italic, underline, etc.) is the problem, there are various markdowns. Surely, markdown is very simple, even for a “normal” lay user. If it’s about exporting to publishing/printing quality documents, there are various markdown -> pdf, html, etc. converters. And, for finer control, there is always LaTeX. Several emacs plugins (including org mode) provide spreadsheet functionality. For presentations, there is beamer itself and beamer exporters such as org mode’s.

If there is some other feature that an office suite provides, but emacs doesn’t, a plugin can easily be written to provide that functionality. And, writing an emacs plugin sounds a lot simpler and cleaner than patching/developing LibreOffice. If initial setup is hard, emacs distributions like Prelude can be set up solving those problems as well. In short, there seems to be no end to what a programmable editor like emacs can be made to do. So, where is the problem? Why do so few use emacs?


Thanks for pointing this out. I searched for and found Prelude only because you mentioned this. I don’t think I would ever use Prelude. I prefer vanilla Emacs. But, it might help someone else who is just starting out. So, it’s good.

Regarding office suites, Here is an eloquently written article attacking Word for a number of reasons. His arguments are not exactly the same as mine, but it is a fun read, nevertheless.



@gokuld it would be great if you can post a short summary of why you think the article is relevant to the discussion. This way we won’t be clicking blindly on the link. thanks o/


Yeah sure.

Actually the purpose of sending those links was this: Since such editor wars are a typical flamewar topic, I redirected people to existing flamewars on similar topics so that people would read all the discussions and get tired of it and end the flamewar, instead of having a redundant fresh flamewar here.



There seems to be no end to what can be programmed. So, why don’t people write programs for every task they have?


I don’t really understand the relevance of your statement to my question. Can you please elaborate?


haha if that were the case then history wouldn’t repeat itself now, would it? :wink:
Let us try to end poverty and hunger first :slight_smile:


I mean to say, I understand that you can do anything in emacs with some configuration. But you can do a spreadsheet in libreoffice without any configuration. Get it?


One reason my previous boss told me why he prefers Vim over emacs is that it makes his little finger pain. Also he liked using esc mode.


People choose the laziest path out. Nobody cares about elegance/customizability. That’s a thought. Hmmm.


That’s a pretty strong thought.

I believe it is all about choosing an appropriate tool for the task. Every application is designed for some specific purposes and the need of users is to accomplish tasks quickly. So like picking a tool from your toolbox, sometimes you pick libreoffice/openoffice when you want to do documents/spreadsheets, emacs/vim for your coding sessions… you get the point. However, over a course of time when you get used to the tools, using them over others becomes a matter of habit. Some like the Emacs flavour, some like me, the Vim flavour - the success of these applications that they’ve stood the test of time for so many decades itself proves that they’re indeed still preferred applications. Long live Emacs and Vim. Can we all agree to close this thread on that Note?


My point was about emacs and computer literacy. I was not talking about vim at all. Anyways, there is no point in continuing this conversation. This thread is an exercise in futility. So, yeah, let’s stop here.

If anyone is intrigued by any of the possibilities that I mentioned, feel free to contact me off list (say PM on Telegram, or something).


Arun, in fact post writing that response, I did play around with emacs installing some packages relevant to me, but rather than focusing on my project, I had to focus on emacs and how to unlearn what I knew to learn emacs. The project was in the risk of slowing down.

But I can’t figure out what you mean with My point was about emacs and comptuer literacy

Feel free to respond or stop this conversation if you wish.