Date: Jun 21 1999
From: Chris Cera
To: ask_tim@oreilly.com
Subject: Editor: vi or emacs?

I want to know what editor Tim O'Reilly uses: vi or emacs? Could you please tell us why?

-- Chris


Chris,

I have to confess that I'm a "vi guy." When I was new to UNIX, I actually started out using emacs (not GNU emacs, but Gosling's Emacs, in the early days of the emacs wars) and loved it. But then one day, I discovered that someone had blown away the custom emacs profile that I had gotten comfortable with. It took about a week for me to get it restored, and in the meantime, I switched to vi, and got hooked.

What I especially liked about vi was precisely that I didn't have to have all these nifty customizations to make it really usable. What really distinguished vi from emacs in my mind was that it was just there on any system I sat down at--tremendously portable. I didn't have to copy my emacs profile around to sit down and do useful work on someone else's machine.

Once you learn vi's admittedly unintuitive style, it is remarkably easy to use and tremendously powerful. Like a lot of things about UNIX, it only *seems* difficult. After a small barrier to entry, it is orders of magnitude more powerful and easy to use than commercial word processors. (But that's true of emacs as well!)

Despite emacs' higher profile as a free software poster child, I think more people actually use vi than emacs. We sell more copies of our vi book than of our emacs book -- almost twice as many each year. This could be because emacs has a free manual that is distributed with it. But I saw a matching statistic at Linux Expo, where O'Reilly sponsors a vi vs. emacs paintball game each year. I happened to check the signup list, and noticed that there were about twice as many people signed up for the vi team as for the emacs team. (Maybe they just like the vi t-shirt -- the team "uniform" -- more than the emacs t-shirt, but I don't think so.)

But I don't want to pour gasoline on this fire, any more than I want to pour gasoline on the perl vs. tcl vs. python fires. Both vi and emacs are great editors, and both are very widely used within O'Reilly. If you went down the list of our editors, you'd get strong partisans of each.

P.S. If you want to read more on why I like vi, you need only turn to the opening pages of our book Learning the vi Editor. While I don't have an author credit on the cover, I actually wrote a large part of the fourth and fifth editions, including the opening paean to the virtues of vi.

--Tim

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