Your text editor is religion.
You start ignorant… wondering what all the fuss is about and then you either discover or are forced into a particular editor. In time, you grow comfortable with it, like your favorite type of pen, and that’s it… you’re done. You are the wizard of Emacs or the king of bbedit. Arguing with you about moving to a different editor is pointless. Might as well compare and contrast reasons to breathe. (I’m for it)
My first conversion to (hold your breath) Wordstar. This was an editor which ran many years ago on CP/M. I would literally reboot my Apple ] [ (equipped with my swank CP/M hardware card) in order to get to my word processor. Who cared none of my other apps ran in CP/M... I knew Wordstar... and still do today. Start a block = ^KB. End a block = ^KK. You thought I was kidding.
When forced to abandon my Apple ][ for a PC, Wordstar was there and continued to be there as early versions of Windows arrived. I did most of early college work inside a DOS window running Wordstar even as Wordperfect, Lotus Ami Pro, and early versions of Microsoft Word were kicking the shit out of Wordstar. Nope. Don't care. I fly Wordstar.
It's entirely possible if I wasn't afflicted with N.A.D.D. that I’d be running Wordstar in a Virtual PC window on my Mac right now. You would never believe me how many people on this planet are still using DOS-based versions of WordPerfect right this very second… so I’m not going to tell you… you probably know one.
But I am a geek and geeks evolve because if they don’t they become a joke.
Wordstar was dead and graphical user interfaces were the shit, so I spent a brief time courting relevant versions of Microsoft Word within Windows 95, but I quickly learned this wasn’t going to work in my industry. See, you can’t code in Word. Well, you can, but your code looks horrible because graphical user interfaces do a splendid job of forcing look and feel down your throat, but as a programmer all you care about is the precision of the content. The words.
At the time, I was working at Borland and the engineering community used Brief. Like WordPerfect, Brief used an obscure set of keystrokes to get the done. Like WordPerfect, Brief went out of it’s way to get the hell out of your way which, given real estate situation with text based non-GUI editors, was a plus. Unlike WordStar, I don’t remember much of these keystrokes although I suspect Ctrl-Arrow is a holdover from those days.
When I left Borland for Netscape, I kept Brief nearby mainly because another tool, Coderwright, provided a Windows-based programmer’s editor as well Brief keyboard emulation. I still have my cwright.ini preferences sitting around somewhere that made Codewright look EXACTLY like my favorite DOS-based editor. Black background with stunningly annoying syntax highlighting. Further proof that all you need to see to understand the origin story of a programmer is what colored background they use in their editor: Black = Unix or DOS. White = Windows / Mac.
After Netscape, the shit hit the fan. I turned into a manager. I was now tweaking email sorting rules rather than highlighting syntax. I kept Codewright around for grins, but I was never really using it. For writing I was using Word, getting lost in font selection, page spacing, and other irrelevant formatting tasks that took me away from what mattered. The words.
Fast forward to my conversion to the Mac. Amongst the promise of Unix was the promise of a new religion. They say the first application developed for Mac OS X was BBEdit. The buzz about BBEdit is actually is loud enough to hear about in Windows land. Folks ask, “Do they have BBEdit for the PC?” They ask knowing nothing about the actual application, they ask because the reverence for BBEdit sounds like religion and that means it must be important.
I’m writing this article in BBEdit right this moment and I’m here to ask you, “What’s the big deal?” Heresy.
I want the religion. Honest. I swear I want to love BBEdit. I’m still a manager and maybe that’s my problem… I don’t have a real word use case for an editor. It does everything I ask for it. It’s aggregated common meta-commands as tools right on the main menu. I can tweak the keystrokes to my heart’s content, but I’m still waiting for my BBEdit holy shit moment that demonstrates it’s greatness.
Perhaps it’s where I came from. A requirement for a editor may come from my Wordstar days… it’s gotta be a chore to learn how to use. I’ve gotta have mental skin in the game. Using that logic, you’re going to point me at Emacs to which I’m going to respond, “I want a new text editor religion, not a new religion, a new language, and a new operating system”.
Not an Emacs guys, Rands? Then Vi is for you. Obscure commands. Black background. Just what the doctored ordered. Right? Nope. Paragraph #6: “Geeks evolve lest they become a joke” and Vi pre-dates all my other editor excursions… I want something new. A good religion doesn’t tell you how things were, they tell you how things are going to be.