On walkabout in life and technology

Stop With the Old Text Editors Already

Over the past few years, it has become a thing to stop using IDE’s and modern text editors in favor of Vim. I understand older programmers using Vim out of habit, but the new generation of programmers? I don’t get it. Every-time I write about text editors, this growing group tweets to give modern GUI editors up and switch to old trusty rusty crusty terminal-based Vim.

Stop it! I’m not going to do that.

My reasoning is not religious fervor or hatred. Folks, I’m a graybeard, I used vi on a real physical VT100 terminal in the late 1980’s and with emulators in the early 1990’s to do all my work. vi worked great when you had full-screen 80x25 terminals, no GUI or mouse, and petrol (gasoline) was leaded. If you remembered the shortcuts, you could be pretty productive in it. I know the product very well. That’s why I used it back then.

But vi on a VT100 was more than 22 years ago. Technology has changed.

We use GUI’s and mice and touch screens now and have for a long time. We’re no longer limited to 80x25 and a keyboard and fixed-width fonts. We’re no longer sharing limited memory or CPU cycles on time-sharing mini-computers.

And text editors have progressed and improved a lot in 20 years. Autocompletion, color-coding, language recognition and macros are all part of modern text editors. Sure, these things have been back-ported and bolted on to vi to make Vim, but how has the process of producing, editing, reviewing and reading text improved?

I switched to BBEdit in the late 1990’s on the Mac (still my hammer tool today) and to UltraEdit on PC’s. And became more productive. Fonts, tabs, scrolling, color coding, keyboard mapping, macros, copy and paste, all available. I used Borland’s amazing Turbo IDE’s to program in Pascal and it was brilliant. And these days, I use Microsoft’s lovely Visual Studio for C# and Apple’s Xcode for programming iOS. For the last 6 years I’ve been using TextMate for Ruby on Rails work. Amazingly productive.

I have never been more productive editing text than I am today with the tools of today.

So what gives with the move to Vim? It’s like moving from a modern motor car back to puttering in a horse and buggy. I don’t get it. You can be as or more productive in a modern editor like TextMate knowing its shortcuts and using a trackpad than with Vim. I know, because I am. TextMate, even the 2 alpha, looks better, works better, displays text better, helps you program better, presents features and preferences better, installs easier and helps me make fewer mistakes.

Alex Payne writing in On The Flight to Old Text Editors had the same problem in 2008 and concluded:

That a new generation of programmers flocking to these old tools is concerning, if for no reason more selfish than the desire for peers in my dissatisfaction. Without a consensus that we can do better, there’s no incentive, no motivation, no market for improvements. If as modest a step towards a better editor as TextMate is abandoned, what hope is there for a true leap forward?

I, for one, want text editors to get even better than what we have and would purchase and use that leap forward product in an instant. Anything that makes text editors better and me more productive is a good thing. BBEdit, TextMate 2 and Sublime Text 2 are currently the leaders, but I want to know what’s next and who is working on this next leap forward. I’ll happily switch to it.

I’m @hiltmon on Twitter and @hiltmon on App.Net. Follow me and let me know what you think.