The Other Emacsen

While Emacs remains my primary text editor, there are times when starting a full Emacs session with tons of packages is simply too slow, especially on a terminal window, and when the task at hand is simply to make a few lines of changes in a configuration file.

Yes, I do know about the handy -q command-line option, which prevents the init.el file from being loaded, thereby ensuring a sub-second initialization of Emacs, or the emacsclient route (which I have enabled, and do use), but sometimes it is just more convenient to have a fast editor that has the Emacs feel, without the bloat. And for a text nerd such as myself, it is also a matter of curiosity to try out other editors once in a while.

Emacs actually has had a rich history of variants and alternate implementations, with XEmacs being one of more well known forks. On the Mac OS X, Aquamacs has remained a good option for a number of years. A more comprehensive list is available on the Wikipedia page for Emacs.

Both XEmacs and Aquamacs are forked from, or derivatives of GNU Emacs, which is probably the most used Emacs these days. However, other light-weight Emacs-like editors still exist, and I have been trying out three of these, vile, zile, and jmacs. On the Mac, these are available via Mac Ports, on Fink, and possibly on Homebrew.

vile is an interesting blend of Emacs and vi, and provides the modal commands from vi, but also has many of the window management features of Emacs (including similar Emacs key-bindings). It is really more of a vi variant, but the window management does make it very handy, though it does not support the text objects and other vi extensions as Vim does.

jmacs (the Joe editor’s Emacs emulation) seems to be the most feature rich, and the syntax highlighting seems to be best of the lot.

Then there is zile, yet another Emacs clone that I am beginning to love for being lightweight, and having the most Emacs-like behavior. For simple text entry, zile seems to feel to be the fastest—though in reality—all three editors start up pretty fast.

In the end, while I still end up with using Emacs/emacsclient for most of my editing (after all, I do keep a Emacs session running most of the time like the true faithful), it is still fun to dabble with these editors, if for nothing else than to marvel at the core Emacs editing experience that these micro-editors can provide, in sub-Megabyte packages (vile = 680K, zile = 251K, joe = 440K on my machine).