Emacs GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source

Paying for a text editor


Lifehacker published an article about how a plain text code editor called Textastic rivals the famous Textmate in features with a lower price. I find this kind of articles a bit funny when the “fathers” of almost all text code editors are Emacs and Vi, both of which free as in freedom and cost. Why would anyone pay for a proprietary product that has only a subset of features from these two? It’s beyond my comprehension.

I can understand it a bit more when comparing text editors to IDEs like Eclipse, Netbeans or Zend Studio, which have their unique connectors and fancy things to debug stuff (like the whole Android development kit, which is, by the way, also available at no cost). But when talking about text editors, I really don’t see the advantages.

In this case, since I’m an Emacs user, I can only compare to that. If you’re a Vi(m) user, leave some tips in the comments.

On the features mentioned in the article it talks about code completion and highlighting for “many popular languages”, when Emacs has that for those, plus the unpopular ones. Both Vi and Emacs run on the three major platforms (Gnu/Linux, OS X and Windows) and there are some mobile versions of them too. In any case, you can use them through a remote terminal on your device. Autosaves and versioning are built in on Emacs since I don’t know how many years ago, it also has theming since about two years ago. Emacs also supports “textmate snippets” using YaSnippet mode. To manage files I haven’t seen anything more powerful than Dired mode and you can even view images and PDF files inside your text editor.

There is so much more you can do using Emacs as your text editor. The advantage of learning one tool for many tasks is that you won’t need to relearn new commands, workflows or keyboard shortcuts. But there are also many other alternatives: Vi, Nano, Kedit, Gedit, Notepad++ and the list goes on.

So my question still remains: Why do people pay for sub-par products when better options are available at no cost?

By Gabriel Saldaña

Gabriel Saldaña is a web developer, photographer and free software advocate. Connect with him on and Twitter