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Org Mode keeps being pushed again and again, but honestly this title is one of the boldest claims I've seen about it.

Just look at the document. It's a 400+kb HTML page of Emacs configurations, keybindings and other stuff that makes absolutely no sense unless you've been an avid Emacs user for years. Where is the Plain Text here? I see nothing of the sort. Sure, the output might resemble Plain Text, but it's clearly not.

I have nothing against it or those who use it, more power to you, but please be realistic.

Sorry about the rant.




The article is pretty clearly written for someone who is already an emacs+org user. I guess it was posted mostly as a teaser of what can be done with it.

The "plain text" catch phrase is not baseless, though. One of the best things about org mode is that there really is a simple and intuitive markup format at its core. Most users probably only ever use the "outliner" features, which are pretty obvious. But once you're used to that, there are lots of more complex features you can start using, one by one. Or just ignore.

Being text, org mode files are also pretty easy to e.g. grep.


Every time I see something about org mode it makes me want to learn emacs, but I am very used to vim. This one is especially tempting, though.


doom emacs have evil bindings so you can vim while you emacs https://github.com/hlissner/doom-emacs Really a great starting point


Good thing evil-mode exists. That was my own path - started with using emacs just for orgmode, now fully shifted over.


Then I suggest to try doom emacs


This user is probably in the 0.01% of hardcore org-mode users. For others like myself, org-mode files are far simpler. I have, for example, long eschewed even commonly used features like task management, preferring to focus on things like recording ideas, how to notes, anniversaries, progress logs, etc. After nearly a decade, I truly believe it has organized my life, in plain text.


I have used Emacs for 30 years or so, but only started using org-mode a few years ago. I'm using it for activities of the kind you mention.


I suppose it is like saying: "Python: Write computer programs in plain text!"

In my experience, one does actually just edit text files using org-mode. It is different than the Tasks sub-application of Thunderbird/Lightening, for instance.


Yeah, my first thought when I started reading your comment was “yeah, it’s a bit silly, but you can’t ‘grep’ Jira”.

I’ve been a long time org user and am slowly starting to move bits of my workflow out of it to ease collaboration with the staff I’m planning to hire in the next couple months. I absolutely love Org and am not particularly happy about moving away from it, but... it seems like trying to use it in a collaborative way is not going to go well. I’ll keep using it for myself though because it’s awesome :D


> you can’t ‘grep’ Jira”.

Well, you can, if you export your issues. Jira has a well working API. It's not hard to write a script for fetching your stuff locally. There are even one or two plugins on melpa for loading it directly into org-mode.


I haven't had great luck with the melpa plugins, but I'm probably going to try it again here, maybe things have gotten better in the last couple of years.

Running `grep` from the root of my Org directory gives me access to about 10 years of notes from various projects across various organizations. In hindsight, I could have tried to periodically dump things out of my clients' various project management systems for historical reference, but just using Org on its own has proven pretty effective at that :)


> it seems like trying to use it in a collaborative way is not going to go well.

Could collaboration be done using a public git repository?


Possibly. That adds a fair bit of friction though. My workflow right now is to use Org to organize projects, do time tracking, and keep relatively free-form notes on each task I work on. Currently stored in Dropbox so that the same set of files is auto-synced to multiple machines.

Forgetting to commit and push my notes before switching from my Mac laptop to my Linux laptop would be pretty disappointing, compared to them magically showing up. On the other hand, if I had multiple people working on the same set of org files in Dropbox, I suspect Dropbox would start having trouble with conflicts pretty quickly.

And... unfortunately... it seems unlikely that someone I'm going to hire is going to be on-board with project management in Emacs. While I'd love to have an army of Emacs lovers working for me, that seems unrealistic to expect :)


Org-mode clearly is two things:

1. A syntax for organizing information 2. An Emacs configuration to create and maintain files in said syntax.

Clearly, the "plain text" part of the quote that tripped you off refers to 1. And in theory, you can write and read that format in any editor that supports plain text files. But I think you're right that in reality, and unlike competitors like Markdown or reText, this one is tightly coupled to a single text editor: Emacs.

Does that make the tag-line wrong? I don't think so. But perhaps it sounds like a stretch in the light of point 2.

At the same time, I think this motto ("your life in plain text") has been around for a long, long time - from a time, when org-mode was less complex. Like many successful (niche or non-niche) products, it has grown tremendously in terms of features. So, perhaps that motto was more fitting to org-mode's beginning.

That said, all tools for using anything with a non-trivial set of options or features are complex. Think IDE's or Photoshop etc. -- you don't need all the features to get started and you won't even use all features on a regular basis. But whenever you want to do something, and the tools gives you the possibility to do it, it will make you happy.

That's why you end up with long instruction manuals.

Is it different for any other tool of sufficient complexity?


I use Org with Emacs, but am confident I would be able to continue using my old notes on any editor, should I switch. It would impact my workflow, sure, but not to the extent where I'd rather have used a more universal format in the first place.

So I think "Your life in plain text" still holds today.


I think it's a perfect excuse to procrastinate. You can spend months configuring Org Mode, tweaking and hacking away, instead of using something like Things, Todoist, or OmniFocus (or thousands more, whichever one you like best) and focusing on the things you should actually be doing and organizing. I've been guilty of that myself.


I have a pretty large emacs config. I wrote it over 4 years. I tend to figure out repetitive tasks on my workflow and code them to key bindings. It saves time in the end and it is quite lazy. I also get all crazy refactoring tasks at work, cause colleagues know I will write a little emacs script and have it done in no time. So 4 years of time "wasting" seem to be valuable for my employer and colleagues.

I use org cause I can write code in multiple languages as well as having my notes and thoughts on the process. Again colleagues like that I then share those as HTML. I like that is instant documentation. Trello and family don't do that.


> I think it's a perfect excuse to procrastinate.

Well, I mean this does come up all the time, where people talk about how much time they sink into Emacs. Emacs is an interface to a programming language. Of course you can stick time into it, just as people spend hundreds of hours writing code with any programming language. For basic usage, you don't need to. I don't think Emacs needs to apologize for being a lot of fun for experimenting and customizing. Those same people would be scrolling Twitter or Facebook if they procrastinated using Emacs.


I write polyglot literate programming academic papers with it. Nothing compares. We are many with that use case.


Confession: 30 year emacs user here. Have been using org-mode since 2008 or so (I think the first org-mode shipped in 2003). So, why so many articles? Emacs is dwindling away. There are enough users, emacs will likely never die.

I think there are a lot of org-mode users that would like to see org-mode for VS Code (there are some starts) and other editors. Org-mode is really an extendable dsl for personal information. Source code (which is what you are calling the output) is interesting in that it looks like a semi-structured text file, and compiles to many output formats (pdf, HTML, spreadsheets, etc).


If you use any of the Emacs hosted mail readers, org-mode is tremendously useful for tracking actions/TODOs. I use it with GNUS and the org agenda mode is how I organize my work (enterprise sales). It was a game-changer for me.


I have been using Emacs/Orgmode for a year. Can you point me to a setup/configuration about your workflow? I am in enterprise sales too. Thanks much


Shameless plug: I wrote a package called Gnorb that is meant to tie Org and Gnus more closely together, precisely for this sort of project management. It's in the ELPA repository.


Thanks for your suggestion, I will explore the package.


A few simple observations:

- the venn diagram of people using emacs and using org-mode seems to largely overlap. That makes it impractical in non emacs heavy environments (aka. the wider industry).

- tooling outside of emacs is mostly not there.

- org mode is a basically similar to other wiki dialects with similar syntax, limitations, tooling, etc. Other than the (emacs) tooling, I don't see a strong reason for preferring it.

The above makes it a non-starter for me personally (not an emacs user) or for teams that have non emacs users (i.e. all teams I've been on, ever). That does not invalidate it as a personal note taking tool of course. But lets indeed not overstate its utility. Some people like post-its, scribbling in a notebook, simply remembering to do stuff, or their super duper emacs setups. Whatever works for you.


Honestly, even though it's not sold that way (it's usually promoted with links to encyclopedias like this) I think the vast majority of computer users could easily use org-mode productively without knowing anything about Emacs.

1. org-mode is already installed in Emacs. Open a .org file in Emacs and you have everything you need ready and waiting.

2. You can make an outline by putting * for first-level heading, two * for second-level, and so on.

3. You can add notes below a heading simply by typing.

4. You can link wiki-style to other documents with the shortcut C-c C-l and entering the filename. Remember to include the path as in ./filename.org. The same shortcut works to edit the link. You can click on the link to open it and then start typing.

5. You can move headings and the full subtree below them using the Alt key plus arrows. This outlining capability is very nice if you're used to it from Workflowy or Dynalist.

There are lots of other things you can do with org-mode, but as a basic way to organize your information, it's very simple even if you've never used Emacs.


I think you just proved my point.


I guess that's up to you, but I'd be genuinely curious as to what exactly "proves your point"? Is it the part about org-mode being installed by default? The difficulty of pressing C-c C-l? The difficulty of pushing Alt-arrow?

Be dismissive of my comment if you want, but I'm guessing you either didn't bother to read it or to understand it, because there's nothing in there that the vast majority of computer users don't already do.


> That makes it impractical in non emacs heavy environments (aka. the wider industry).

Depends. It's very practical if you're an independent contractor. I run my contracting from Emacs, including tracking tasks, time, generating invoices and processing documents. The main extra integration I have is LaTeX, which I use to generate nice PDFs to send to customers.

Before, as a salaried employee, I still used it for task management and time tracking - regular software used for that purpose (e.g. Jira) is nowhere near ergonomic enough to make detailed TODO lists, and store notes and code samples along with them. Not to mention, it's not the kind of stuff you'd want to spam on public time/task tracker systems. So Org Mode works really great as a private, more detailed tracking/noting system. Bonus points if you develop with Emacs too, as then you can achieve nice synergy (e.g. evaluating code snippets straight from the notes).

> org mode is a basically similar to other wiki dialects with similar syntax, limitations, tooling, etc. Other than the (emacs) tooling, I don't see a strong reason for preferring it.

That's only partly true. Org's markup language is pretty similar to Markdown. But it's the tooling - the Org Mode - that makes it unique, and mostly unusable outside of Emacs. Within Org language, like TODO markers, priorities, drawers, header options, code block parameters, etc. serve as hooks for the tooling, and this is what lets you turn an .org document from a glorified Markdown into a fully-featured outliner/task tracker/time tracker/spreadsheet/literate programming environment.


> org mode is a basically similar to other wiki dialects with similar syntax, limitations, tooling, etc. Other than the (emacs) tooling, I don't see a strong reason for preferring it.

Org-mode has a strong focus on organisational features (hence the name) and is quite extendable and modulare. With org-babel it has also a very sophisticated environment for literate programming. How are wikis in that regard this days?


Anything involving code samples, I pretty much reach for github flavor markdown. I came across asciidoc as well recently. I've never encountered any org mode in the wild (no emacs users on any of my recent projects).


Yep, it's close to how I see it.

org-mode is great tool for emacs as an environment. If the idea of having such a tool so close so tied into how you're working then it's the best tool I know of.

If you just want a markdown-ish outliner you can probably get that workflow elsewhere.


I started using org mode with doom Emacs. As an Emacs novice it was pretty easy to set up and came with some nice defaults for org mode.


The document is just plain markup exported to HTML, no fancy data formats involved here. It just happens to explain emacs and org mode, so naturally there's a lot of writing and code blocks that "makes absolutely no sense unless you've been an avid Emacs user for years." But this is the property of the document, not the org mode markup itself.

That being said, there are many tools built on the org mode format to help with things like todo management and interactive execution of code blocks, but it doesn't make it any less plain text.


I have just started the plunge into the emacs and org mode life, so I am by no means a die hard defender of the name.

Org modes files do export as plain text; this makes them super simple to deal with. It looks similar to a non-rendered markup file. Not pretty, but definitely plain-text.

One huge feature of org mode I have yet to use is that you can nest org mode files. So you can have ten org mode files from different parts of your life all get pulled and displayed into one screen.


So... do you prefer the (only 234kb) plain text [1] version?

[1]: http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.org


for those of us who are working to improve our ability to use org & lisp+emacs this is incredibly helpful.


You are welcome, mr_spothawk. This was exactly my intention in posting it.


Just curious, what is the org mode alternative for the average knowledge worker?


rant appreciated!

this thing is a 5 year old specialist's setup and its not appropriate for new users, even the installation instructions have not aged well.

that didn't stop me from copying way to much of his work into my initial setup and crying about the mess i made when i got started though :) if you want to get started with org or that strange editor, consider yourself as having been trolled and look for something that has popup captures and does linked images not something this time/billing specific at first!


Or just markdown


Markdown is comparable the the org mode format (although not favourably), but it can't be compared to org mode as a whole.


Agreed. I'm finding how often it's posted quite bizarre. I tried it for a while about six years ago - no idea what the enthusiasm is for.


Bed wetters in the house. The weekend is over.


I agree. Why use Org Mode when, for example, Workflowy exists?

The latter is robust to your hard drive failing and downloadable in plaintext, too. And it looks better. And you don't have to learn a billion key shortcuts with silly names like "yank" to use it.


But you don't really have to learn many keyboard shortcuts at all to get started with org-mode. TAB is pretty much all you need in the beginning.

And later on, if you decide to keep using it, you can decide to add more shortcuts to your repertoire on a case-by-case basis.

"Yank" is not specific to org-more, btw, but Emacs lingo which predates, of course, a lot of modern UI conventions. Most other names are quite straight-forward.

Note also, that it's not the keyboard shortcut that is called "yank" - the latter is the name of a functionality which you could, if you wanted so, type out in order to use it. The keyboard short is there so you don't have to, and you don't even have to remember the proper name of the function that the shortcut is for.


If Workflowy does exactly and everything you want, then sure, use that. If there are times though when you wish it did something a little different or a little more or integrated better with some other tools you use then, well, with emacs and org mode you could scratch that itch with probably just a few dozen lines of elisp code.

Or if you later find some other tool that suits you better it may not be possible to move all your data to the other system, or at least prohibitively hard. With org mode, you can probably whip up an extension that mimics that other tool, or else just port you data.

The attraction of org mode is that it it's probably close to the simplest, most primitive way of solving that problem it solves, while also being one of the most easily extensible and customizable (because, emacs).


But, Workflowly literally does exactly and everything I want. It exports plain text, so my data is always portable. It's great.

I don't want primitive, I want convenient and easy to use. I don't want to have to think about how I'm taking notes or write in lisp or "rice" anything.

Also, Emacs is ugly and doesn't sync with my phone. I'm sure I could fix both of those things with sufficient effort, but again, I want to put forth effort solving actual problems, not remaking my Workflowy setup.

This entire topic is microcosm of goofy command line/unix fetishism.

If you want primitive, get a paper notebook. One page per day. That works well, too (seriously).


With Org you do not need to use a fancy web interface that might disappear from one day to the next. (Though you definitely have the option) The default representation is plain text but you may export to HTML, LaTeX, etc. which is what you are seeing in the original submission. Org can also be used without learning any shortcuts and Emacs terminology, but they are always at your disposal if you need to improve your workflow.

I'm not claiming Org is a silver bullet, or even better than WorkFlowly or anything else people might use, but it definitely has it's place.


Org mode has so many more functions than workflowy. You also don't need any of the keyboard shortcuts -- they simply Ardmore efficient ways to edit text, but they are just editing text. Orgmode is also plane text and extremely easy to replicate, even with Dropbox &c.

Workflowy has the opposite problem of orgmode. Workflowy owns your data and unless you frequently sync it with your hard drive then you risk losing all of your notes.

However, the best tool is the one that fits your needs and that you're familiar with. That said, would I encourage you to Wade into the orgmode pool? Most certainly!


I'm sorry I didn't proof-read this post before submitting. It's embarrassing.


I use it because I already spend about 70% of my computer time in Emacs, and I use org mode almost exclusively for the same things I use Emacs for (getting things done).

It syncs to 3 places, of which 2 are encrypted off-site backups. Since I already do everything in Emacs, org mode extends all the tools I already use (links to emails, specific lines in a source code file, contacts, IRC). I spent one hour learning it about 4 years ago and I use it to manage just about everything I have to do on my computer.

If you are not already sold.on Emacs, however, I understand that it can be a tough thing to swallow.


A lot of people use org-mode for writing documents and note-taking. For instance, there are tools like the following:

https://github.com/weirdNox/org-noter

If you also use org-mode for tasks then you can add todo items to your notes that show up in your general agenda, which you may be using to keep track of meetings or events, as well.


There's always cua-mode if you want something more compatible with usual text editors. No telling what will happen for any other Ctrl,Alt shortcuts, but most regular keys should work as expected. And there's always M-x to just search a command (which will also tell you the hotkey, if any).


Besides "yank," calling alt "Meta" is another silly thing, too. And yes, I'm aware of the reasons. It's still silly in 2020, as was discussed in the recent HN topic on why Emacs isn't attracting new users.


if you happen to remember the headline title on that, i'd be interested to read about why Emacs isn't attracting new users.

in the last year i know two new developers who have written their own emacs configs.


I suspect it was this piece:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23107123




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