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My Personal Emacs History

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Update 2017-06-08: Reddit thread about other Emacs stories

This article describes my personal history with Emacs.

Let me be clear right from the start: I happily use vim on a daily basis and choose my tools deliberately. I don't understand the editor war because I do think that Emacs is not just an editor such as vim is for the most parts. Emacs has its domains, vim has its domains. And in my opinion, those domains do not overlap for the most parts in case you got a deeper understanding of both.

First Encounter in the Nineties

I don't remember how I got in touch with Emacs, most probably XEmacs in the nineties, when I was studying. Somehow I started to use Emacs, after having used other editors such as QEdit on DOS and Windows. The email setup at the university defined Pine as an email client with JOE as the editor.

Emacs was the ultimate choice of environment to write LaTeX documents using the awesome AUCTeX package. As I remember correctly, this was my main application for Emacs besides the usual text file manipulation.

I had no deeper understanding of Emacs or Elisp. Therefore, modifying the configuration of Emacs was a bit of a Russian roulette: new snippets could sometimes break previously working functions. This did not raise my confidence in Elisp at all.

My Dark Emacs Ages: Going vim-only

For some years, I did not use Emacs because I switched to vim-only for various reasons. Mostly because there was no necessity to write LaTeX any more and I knew some really advanced vim users whereas advanced Emacs users did not seem to exist in my environment.

As I mentioned above: I do use vim on a daily basis and feel comfortably composing emails, Usenet postings or modifying text files with it.

Second Encounter: Deep-dive Into Org-mode

When I attended an Emacs talk in 2011 somebody from the audience (thanks Eraldo!) showed us some features of Org-mode within less than ten minutes: outlining, tables, Python source code blocks. I immediately saw the huge potential of this technology and converted all of my Zim data to Org-mode, embracing this beautiful new universe of possibilities.

Meanwhile, GNU Emacs did turn out as the Emacs implementation of choice on all important platforms. So I was using it on OS X (now macOS), Windows, and GNU/Linux.

I started to read a bit on Emacs in general, raising my understanding of the philosophy, default bindings, and even some Elisp paradigms. This would have helped me in the nineties a lot.

Current Status

Somehow, I still do hesitate to code in Elisp since it feels very paralyzing in contrast to coding with Python which I enjoy. I did not read that much Elisp code of others to get an overview on basic library functions to avoid re-inventing the wheel all over again.

However, I still got better over time. With help of the awesome Org-mode community, I could realize my workflows within Emacs/Org-mode. I analyze every Elisp snippet somebody writes for me, learning on the journey.

As I re-organized my complete Emacs setup, I realized that I've produces way more Elisp code by myself than I thought.

My passion for PIM and the quest for the best PIM tools and methods out there resulted in a pretty advanced setup I've got. Meanwhile, I do almost anything within Emacs and Org-mode: todos, errands, project management, calendar/agenda, contact management, reference management, bookmark collection, knowledge base management, blogging, doing spreadsheet, presentations, quantified self, managing files such as photographs, accessing all kinds of data about me, and many more.

Having all those really advanced methods at hand, I really do think that Emacs is an example of a new kind of information computing.

As a drawback, I sometimes seem to repel others when I start praising my setup. My long journey with Emacs did result in a personal cozy environment that normal computer users do not seem to understand any more. Therefore, I have to remember to suppress the urge of mentioning the virtues of my environment. I have to stick to mentioning only the ultimate basics when I promote Emacs to normal computer users. Which is a pity, in my opinion.

Others

In case you liked this blog post, you might be as well interested in this reddit thread about personal Emacs stories.


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