I have found the key to one of life’s great mysteries, and in doing so settled an argument that has plagued and divided people since nigh-on the beginning of the Epoch. It is a burning, eternal question, the tinder that set alight countless flame wars, the fracas that launched a thousand threads and burned the borderless buttons of trn.
In short, it is: vi or Emacs?
For many years I’ve used Emacs for code and long-form fiction, including my PhD thesis[*].
I’ve used vi where necessary, mostly on tiny or weird systems where nothing else is available. Working on single-board computers and the like in recent years I’ve been doing a lot of that, so my vi skillz have been improving, which is what has allowed me to reach my current state of enlightenment:
Emacs is for prose, vi is for poetry.
Emacs is effusive. It’s infinitely configurable, flexible, and suitable as a replacement for the shell. I know (just) enough lisp to get a laugh out of “my other car is a cdr”, which is sufficient to make Emacs do pretty much anything I want.
Vi is minimal, especially when you’re really running vi (or vim in compatibility mode). It’s inflexible, unforgiving and requires you to really pay attention. Many commands are by default line or word oriented, which should have been my first clue as to its obviously intended use.
Emacs supports all kinds of nice features that make handling large amounts of raw text easy. Vi requires focus and concentration on the details, yet makes certain character level operations, like replacement, trivially easy. Oscar Wilde famously said, “I worked on my poem all day. In the morning I added a comma. In the afternoon I removed it.” Clearly he was running vi.
So: People of the Internet, be at peace! The eternal struggle is ended. Beat your mice into trackballs and study flames no more. Write poetry with vi in the morning, prose with Emacs in the afternoon and do something with sheep in the evening (isn’t that what Marx told us to do? Or possibly RMS–it’s easy to get them confused…)
[*] The work I did wasn’t fictional, but the work that motivated it was, as it eventually turned out.