September 27, 2001, 12:00 AM — Emacs, one of the oldest and most commonly used free software
applications, provides a highly customizable, programmable text editor.
Thousands of developers swear that this is the tool that makes them
Emacs has two main drawbacks, although some may consider them
* Emacs requires a lot of keystrokes to run its many commands. The
editor was created long before the mouse found widespread
acceptance, and Emacs provides keyboard commands for every
action. Furthermore, Emacs supports a dazzling array of commands.
* Emacs uses a confusing text selection policy. Since it lacks
conventional support for Ctrl-X, Ctrl-C, and Ctrl-V as cut, copy,
and paste respectively, you have to be very careful when copying
and pasting between Emacs and other desktop applications.
Despite all these drawbacks, Emacs offers an incredible number of
features that makes learning this quirky editor worthwhile for
thousands of users. Hundreds, if not thousands, of add-ons exist for
reading email and news, working with source code revision control
systems, comparing files, merging differences, managing disk
directories, and much more. Emacs supports both text and graphic modes
with the same commands, which proves very useful if you need to log on
to multiple computers. There's a version of Emacs that runs on Windows
to go along with versions for Linux, Unix, and a plethora of other
Learning Emacs isn't that hard either, as it comes with a built in
tutorial. If you're a newcomer, I'd suggest starting with the graphical
version and just using the menu commands until you feel comfortable
with the text editor. Once you start learning the keyboard commands,
though, you will discover the power of this editor.
Two main versions of Emacs are available. Emacs (http://www.emacs.org)
is the official version. If the main site is down, then you can try
another GNU site, such as http://www.gnu.org/directory/emacs.html. An
alternative version, called XEmacs, is available at
Most Linux distributions include Emacs, so you may already have this
editor available on your system. You can find information on the
Windows versions at http://www.gnusoftware.com/Emacs.