One program to rule them all

Do you have a single program that you “live in” when you’re at a computer? Emacs users are known for “living” inside Emacs. This means more than just using the program for a large part of the day. It means using the program as the integration point for other programs, a sort of backplane for tying other things together.

Steve Yegge’s most recent blog post described his switch from Windows to Mac. He said the main reason for the switch was that he prefers the appearance of the fonts on a Mac. Changing operating systems was not a big deal for Yegge because he didn’t really live in Windows before, nor does he live in OS X now. He lives in Emacs. He concludes his essay by saying

So I’ll keep using my Macs. They’re all just plumbing for Emacs, anyway. And now my plumbing has nicer fonts.

Graphic artists may spend the majority of their work day using Photoshop, but they don’t send email from Photoshop, and they don’t keep their calendar in Photoshop. So I wouldn’t say they “live” in Photoshop. Microsoft developers spend a great deal of their time inside Visual Studio, though they don’t live inside Visual Studio to the same extent that Emacs users live inside Emacs. The Visual Studio experience is somewhere between Photoshop and Emacs on the “live in” scale. Unlike Emacs, Visual Studio has no ambition to become an operating system, probably because the company that makes Visual Studio already has an operating system.

I once knew someone who lived in Mathematica, doing his word processing etc. inside this mathematical package. Mathematica is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

A growing number of people now live inside their web browser, particularly if that browser is Firefox. There are Firefox plug-ins available to mow your lawn and take your children to the orthodontist. Maybe Firefox is becoming the Emacs of a new generation.

The choice of a program to live in is really a choice of how you want to tie applications together. To live in Emacs, you have to write Emacs Lisp, and that’s a deal-breaker for many. Interestingly, Microsoft has a project to create a highly configurable editor some have nick-named Emacs.NET. You can bet that the extension language will not be Emacs Lisp.

Some people live in their command shell and use shell scripts to tie everything together. While many Unix folks live that way, that hasn’t been practical on Windows until recently when PowerShell came out.

By the way, you can run PowerShell and Emacs at the same time. See Jeffrey Snover’s blog post PowerShell Running Inside of Emacs.

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