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Why Emacs is still so useful today (xahlee.blogspot.com)
36 points by rayvega on Mar 11, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 16 comments

Xah's article on how to pick prostitutes is much better.


That's both funny and an evil character assassination. If you leave his career of trolling usenet aside, he does in fact write good tutorials on Emacs, Linux, Mathematics and Lisp (even though he hates them all.)

Hey, he wrote it, not me.

With that in mind; his Lisp advice is terrible. After years of writing Lisp tutorials, he still hasn't actually learned it himself. Every time he comes up with a convoluted way to write something very simple in Lisp; and then formats it like he's writing C++. Very annoying. I ignore everything he says.

This is where emacs comes in. Emacs has several find and replace commands, by regex or by plain string, on a text selection, or entire file (buffer), or multiple files. The beauty is that it works all in a interactive way, with the option to do it in batch when you press a button.

Both Visual Studio and Eclipse have these features, I'm sure there are many, many other editors and IDEs that also have them. It's not exactly rocket science.

If you want to champion Emacs, you might want to point out the features that really are unique and unmatched, instead of common features that everyone else implemented 10 years ago. Yes, yes, Emacs did it 20 years ago. Woo.

More like between 30 and 40 years ago, but yes.

What makes Emacs so useful is not only what it has out of the box (it has a whole lot), but what it allows you to do with that. People often jokingly describe it as an operating system, but that's a surprisingly apt description. Everything in Emacs is accessible (most of it, anyway) and it is (a great part of it, at least) written in itself. To make a small function that searches for a, in this case, a booklike block, and replaces the classes with the proper ones is more or less a trivial task. I wouldn't use it for this case - it's too little work - but I would write a search-and-replace-with-option function that would highlight occurrences and offer me a menu of replacements.

If it doesn't exist in there already.

And that would also be a worthwhile exercise in IDE zen.

Contrast that with Eclipse or Visual Studio, where the job of writing extensions start to look like a whole career.

Emacs is more than the sum of its parts. Using find-and-replace in emacs compared to find-and-replace in any other software I've ever used in my entire life (except a 90s-era hex editor for DOS called xe and that was only good for searching through hex) is like eating with real, quality, polished silverware compared to cheap plastic party utensils.

I use find and replace routinely with emacs, for tasks of many sizes, almost without thinking about it.

Keyboard macros are a killer feature. I recently got a 10 page spec for a data file format. I didn't want to type all that stuff in. I used an OCR program to scan the text (~80% correct), then used Emacs to clean it up into a table. Then I copied a rectangle of all field names and used a keyboard macro to convert it into the XML format I required. Then I wrote a script to convert each type specifier into the type I needed. I was able to get everything working in a day.

Some of Erik Naggum's best flames were with Xah Lee in mind. http://www.xach.com/naggum/articles/search?q=xah&sort=of

Not related to the article but related to the title of the article:

The only reason I use Emacs these days because it's the only decent freely available Common Lisp development environment (in conjunction with SLIME). In fact, I only use Emacs for Common Lisp. For everything else, there's vim / Eclipse / IntelliJ / Visual Studio.

>However, if the markup is not 100% regular, the scripting approach won't work.

Sounds like you need BeautifulSoup.

tl;dr; 99% of text is soup

Emacs has macros & M-x spoon

And a community of library writers so prolific that I actually went to check to see if M-x spoon existed.

Now it does.

Thank you. I should have read this first.

I got all the way to the bottom before I realized his only point was that editing macros are cool.

Why doesn't he actually step through the macro to format?

It's one thing to rave about Emacs, it's another thing to actually show its power. A line of elisp would have been much more of an argument.

I've been enjoying it since TECO EMACS on the DEC-20, so it's a bit depressing to me that still modern IDEs fall a bit short in basic areas (while adding their own nice features, it's true.) I know it's not easy to build a full-featured Emacs-equivalent, but jeeze, I've been going back to Emacs for almost 30 years now ... I've been expecting to be blown away by some new contender for that long.

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