Emacs for Everything

Over at the Emacs reddit, ambrevar has a nice essay entitled Emacs Everywhere. This essay is a followup to his previous essay on Eshell that I wrote about previously. In it, he describes why he moved almost all his computing tasks into Emacs and why he resisted doing so for a long time.

Ambrevar is an adherent to the Unix philosophy that programs should do one thing well. Given that, he reasoned, why would he want to do everything with one program? Over time, though, he came to realize that one could view Emacs as providing a user interface for “back end” programs that adhere to the Unix philosophy. This makes even more sense if you consider back end programs to include Emacs packages written in Elisp. From this point of view, handling your email from within Emacs with something like mu4e is not a matter of Emacs doing too many tasks but rather of Emacs providing a consistent user interface that allows one to work more efficiently.

The bulk of the essay discusses the advantages of moving as much as possible into Emacs and lists some of the standalone apps that he’s replaced with something equivalent in Emacs. He even uses EXWM to make Emacs his system window manager. As a Mac user, that option isn’t open to me but I don’t really need it: I spend almost all my tube time in either Emacs or Safari. Both run in full-screen mode and I have function keys to switch between them easily from the keyboard.

Whether or not you’re an Emacs user or have advanced to moving as much as possible into it, you will probably find ambrevar’s essay interesting. Definitely worth a read.

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  • Once I understood the Emacs model of composability I instantly understood the UNIX model of composability in a substantive matter. Something beyond mentioning that piping the results of one command to another is useful. It probably works well in both directions. And it doesn't smell right when one claims to be different or better than the other. Maybe.