Choosing an Editor

June 12, 2007 at 4:22 pm 5 comments

This tutorial is a bit out dated now.  I have created a new version of it over on my new blog which is an updated version of this one.

Over the last few months, I have started playing with Ruby and of course Rails, and I quickly became frustrated with the number files I had to keep opening and closing to manage all my models, views and controllers to name just a few. Until recently, I used any editor that was close to hand – Vim or Emacs in a terminal, Textpad on Windows and Textedit or emacs on the mac – needless to say I could not call myself a power user in any of them.

As many bloggers have said in the past, its worth learning one editor well, which is easy to say until another holy editor war breaks out leaving vim and emacs in opposite corners hurling insults at one another.

First of all, I decided to try out Textmate on my macbook. Its certainly a nice product, and I loved the code browsing pane for developing my Rails apps. I played with it for an evening, but always had that nagging feeling that the lack of portability would bite me sooner rather than later. I have no doubt that Textmate is a fantastic editor, but if I am going to invest my time in learning an editor really well, I need to be able to use it on Windows, in a terminal window and on a Mac. For now Textmate is confined to the Mac, so I ruled it out.

The emacs zealots create a lot of fuss about how great it is and to be honest, I like the way a total newbie can fire it up and actually get something typed immediately, unlike with Vim. I set about my mission, which was to see if emacs would satisfy my wish-list:

  • Provide a code browser pane like in Textmate
  • Ruby (and other languages) syntax highlighting
  • Automatic code indenting and automatic closing braces, quotes, if statements would be nice
  • Compile/Run code inside the editor
  • Do all of this on Windows, OS X and inside a decent terminal

Other things that would be nice nice to have:

  • Rails code snippets like in Textmate
  • Spell check as you type
  • Customisable color schemes to suit tired eyes!

Needless to say, emacs did not disappoint. After quite a bit reading and fiddling, I got it doing everything I wanted, moving me a small way up that power user ladder. In the next few articles, I will describe exactly what I did to get things working.


Entry filed under: emacs.

Getting started

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nick C  |  July 3, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    You could also try using Netbeans’ Ruby editor: It’s quickly becoming a great Ruby IDE.

    Although that would mean that you wouldn’t learn Emacs (something I’m also trying to do).

  • 2. Jason  |  September 17, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I was using NetBeans IDE too. It was great until I started messing around with the Java runtime and it started behaving oddly. Have been using VIM since then and haven’t looked back…

  • 3. Rob Searles » A week with Emacs: one week later  |  October 25, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    […] Stephen O’Donnell – Choosing an Editor […]

  • 4. Rob Searles  |  October 25, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Found your blog post after Googling getting started with Emacs. Was in 2 minds if I should dive in and learn Emacs, but your post was another friendly point in the right direction. Did a write up on my first week:

  • 5. Private Network  |  March 7, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Having read this I believed it was really informative.
    I appreciate you spending some time and effort
    to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of
    time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


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