Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tip: Emacs and Vim Suck; JOE to the rescue!

Being a software architect and developer at RedPine Services, I often find myself working from the command line for a variety of purposes and on a variety of hardware. Unfortunately, I find the standard compliment of command line text editors to be lackluster.

I've found that most systems come bundled with three major editors: Emacs, Vi/Vim, and Pico. Although I use vim as my primary editor, I wish I didn't have to. All thee of these editors have major drawbacks:

  • Emacs is very large, complex, and cumbersome. Sure, it is very powerful, but it takes a lot of time and a good memory to learn all the unnecissarily long, funky key combinations, and until you've learned them, using Emacs from the CLI is impossible. This kills its approachability and leads me to wonder how it ever gained popularity in the first place.
  • Vi/Vim is also very powerful, but its unique and strange input mode vs. command mode paradigm makes it hard to pick-up, and its non-standard key commands make it difficult to learn as well.
  • Pico is sort of the opposite. It is very easy to pick-up and learn, with the most important key commands being shown as help right on the screen. This is very helpful for any novice, as you don't have to go fishing for the key command to bring up help or to save or to quit like you do with Emacs and Vim. The downside, though, is that Pico was made for e-mail composition purposes (being the bundled text editor for PINE) and thus lacks many features (and wraps and destroys your carefully made code and config files if you don't provide the right option on the command line!)

Now I admit that I use Vim in my everyday life because it is on all the systems and servers I have to work with in my professional career, and because Emacs is the complete opposite of what I value in a text editor. But no matter how much I use it, I can't shake my wish that people would always bundle the text editor that I used in my younger years: JOE.

I came across JOE as a teenager when my family first signed up for internet access with the ISP It has much of the simplicity and accessibility as Pico, while having most of the power features people actually want.

The key to JOE is its accessibility. When you first open it, you are presented with a screen that is intuitive to use and navigate, and which has a prominent message displaying how to get to the inline help screens, which can be toggled on and off at any time during use.

Thus you can just jump right in and go with JOE!

Then, as you use JOE more and more, you can start moving deeper and deeper into the help screens to learn how to use functionality such as buffers and simultaneous multi-buffer display.

I recommend that everyone that programs, who is unhappy with emacs and vim, give joe a look. It is easily downloaded, compiled, and install with the standard ./configure && make && sudo make install routine on Linux and Mac OS X.

Check-out JOE on SourceForge to get your copy now.

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