Going Evil

After suffering much inner turmoil, I committed the greatest sin of any Emacs user. I am talking about true heresy. There are many great articles by long-time Vim users who made the switch to Emacs via Evil. But I am approaching Evil from the opposite direction. I have used Vim only sparingly, while I’ve used Emacs for a lot of years. Today I want to talk about why I decided to use Evil and share my initial impressions.

Chords, the Gateway Drug

For a while I’d been using Key Chord Mode by David Andersson. It allows me to define two-key chords which I use to simplify commonly used commands, e.g. qv runs vc-next-action, $$ runs ispell-buffer, qt runs tiny-expand, and so on. Over time I found myself defining more and more of these chords.

Then one day I had the thought, “You know what editor uses chords to great effect….”

Giving in to the Dark Side

Thus I decided to setup Evil, along with a bevy of related packages available at MELPA. It did not take long to adjust, e.g. using / to search instead of C-s, or C-f instead of C-v. My habit of using the aforementioned key-chords helped, but my extensive use of another program greatly eased the transition: Conkeror. The browser is almost entirely keyboard-driven and has a system of chords at its core. Most are in the format of object-verb. So for example, nf follows a link, nc copies a link, ic copies the URL for an image, et cetera. This concept of using individual keys to represent objects and actions on them is also at the heart of Vim. And even though Conkeror is inspired by Emacs, it feels more like Vim in that regard.

Initial Impressions

I have yet to encounter any snags or serious problems with Evil. There are times when I must resort to a cheat-sheet. And there are even times when I’ll use Emacs commands (using \ in Evil). But these ’crutches’ are disappearing quickly.

The most important question, however, is this: Do I feel more productive by using Evil? While I have no metrics available for support, I must answer with a resounding Yes. That is not to say my productivity has doubled or anything like that. But I am moving through files more quickly and editing, deleted, and re-arranging chunks of text faster than before, all of which has made me feel more productive in Emacs than before.


Give Evil a try. Just don’t tell your die-hard Emacs fans or you may suddenly find yourself ex-communicated.


4 thoughts on “Going Evil

  1. Great blog! Thanks.

    It may be heresy but I started using evil for pragmatic reasons quite a while ago now and love it. I was weaned on vi but moved to Emacs decades ago. However, I suffer from keyboard related RSI and having to type M-, C-, M-C-, M-S- key combinations were killing my wrists. Moving to evil has helped incredibly.

    1. I’ve also had trouble with such key combinations, albeit for different reasons. What helped a lot was to use a keyboard with a foot pedal, which I used for Alt/Meta. Personally I used a Kinesis but there are other keyboards out there like it. Just something I wanted to mention in the hope that it might be helpful.

  2. +1
    I use evil for some time now and one thing I like best is that I have vi and all the emacs power underlying; so for example I can use some keybindings without having always to hit ESC, e.g. end-of-line. Evil for me means this straight file editing of vi combined with a pleasant loss of some annoyances of an untamed vi, above all ESC…

    1. That’s basically my sentiment as well. I’ve long thought that Vim was the superior text-editor but Emacs the superior IDE. Evil continues to prove itself as a nice sweet spot between the two.

      Sorry—I would continue with this comment but a horde of Vim and Emacs users are outside my house with flaming pitch-forks. BRB.

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