A CEOs guide to Emacs


There have always been certain industries and professions where people have used specialist tools, particularly tools that they can customise and even rebuild when the standard isn’t enough. Specialist tools require practice and skill to use, they need some commitment from the user. Emacs demands it. But Emacs with Org Mode is such a powerful tool that your investment in time will pay back. Yes it’s an old piece of software that seems oddly out of place with “apps” but your “apps” can’t do what this does, not ever.

Emacs isn’t for everyone, sadly, because people don’t have the “time” to learn how to use professional tools. I’ve been using Emacs for over 10 years and I can honestly say that using it gives you back the power that other software slowly leeches away from you: the power over your computing device.

Emacs uses Elisp, a version of lisp, and every part of it is programmable. I don’t use Emacs in that way, I customise it using the settings and by using packages that extend the functionality. Org mode is one of the packages. Org mode alone makes learning Emacs worth the struggle.

Charlie Stross and Neal Stephenson are both writers who have used it and swear by it. I use it for note taking, as a knowledge base, and also as a personal organiser. I store the back end files (which are just text) in either Dropbox or OneDrive and sync across a myriad of devices. And I can edit JavaScript etc and interact with git repositories for source code.

Would I ever advocate it for my customers to use? No, of course not. It’s part of my personal toolkit. A professional decorator wouldn’t go around telling people about their professional sable paint brushes or spray equipment. And chefs and caterers have similar professional tools that people at home would never need or safely own. Why would they tell people their trade secrets? I would only confuse people if I spoke about this. And I also use other tools such as OneNote for many similar tasks, which ties in more obviously with the Office 365 stack that I work with the most. That’s the front of house. Back in the kitchen however…..

…..I would go further and say that this software doesn’t need me to tell you to use it. And it doesn’t need to be easy to use. And you won’t get sexy using it, or rich, or gain other things. In fact if you try to use it you will more than likely hate it and me for telling you about it. But computers are like an instrument where the music is ideas, and emacs is like a violin, and if you take the time to learn to play it, you can make great things.

Also read Convivial Tools by Ivan Illich.

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