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RE: Emacs's popularity (was: Distributed Maintenance for Emacs)

From: Drew Adams
Subject: RE: Emacs's popularity (was: Distributed Maintenance for Emacs)
Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2008 09:50:53 -0800

> >> Sadly, vim outvotes all flavours of GNU emacs on the above 
> >> graph when added to it (although to be fair, on Debian emacs
> >> is not installed by default but some flavour of vi is).
> >
> > Hm. Dunno why that should make one sad. I would never use 
> > vi or vim (unless I had to), but I don't see why I should be
> > sad or bothered if other people find it useful. One person
> > likes to live in the forest; another prefers the city; a
> > third the shore.
> >
> > Why the need to make Emacs the most popular? It's good to 
> > make Emacs better, but what's the popularity contest about?
> > Perhaps Americans on average listen to
> > Britney Spears more than Mozart or Muddy Waters. So what?
> A tool with a shrinking user base also has a shrinking pool 
> of potential developers that will continue to make it better.
> Fewer developers to make it better will make it less competitive
> with other tools causing it to lose more users.  And so on.
> There are also fewer people to file
> bug reports and help other users with problems.

You miss the point. No one has argued that Emacs should be unpopular or that
unpopularity is better than popularity. No one has said that having fewer users
and developers is better than having more.

I said "Why the need to make Emacs _the most_ popular?". And I argued against
chasing popularity for its own sake, as opposed to trying to improve Emacs - a
difference in aim.

> Another reason that is would be nice if it was growing in popularity
> is to give people like me some ammunition when many people
> in my company are saying emacs is obsolete and I should start 
> using eclipse.

Let them use Eclipse. Learn from Eclipse. Improve Emacs using Eclipse as
inspiration, if that's appropriate.

If you want to help people learn how Emacs can help them, then show them (and
argue from) the specific merits of Emacs. Show and describe Emacs features.
Don't try to sell them on Emacs because it is the most popular.

Trying to persuade others to use Emacs because of its relative popularity is a
misguided approach. I don't know many good developers who would be persuaded to
use a tool just because of its popularity. Talk to them about features, not

And when you try to argue from its merits (features), you will no doubt discover
lacunae - things the Emacs doesn't do so well out of the box. Learning that is
the first step to improving Emacs. Argument in favor of Emacs based only on
popularity will teach you nothing about how to improve it. The devil is in the

> There is something to be said for standardizing tools within 
> a company. 

Is there? Depends what you mean. If you mean standards, yes. If you mean how
tools interface, yes.

But if you mean which tools an individual uses to accomplish tasks such as
editing, email, etc., then no, I'm not convinced.

The company I work for, which is quite large and has (and produces) tools and
products that interface with lots of different standards and lots of other tools
and products, does not, in general, impose specific tools for individual use by
its developers or other employees. Some platforms and tools are more readily
available than others, and employees generally do not have a choice wrt some of
the servers (e.g. mail) they interact with, but in general nothing prevents them
from using the individual (e.g. client) tools they want.

This can be a hassle for the IT department, which tries to help employees with
their multiple browsers, mail clients, editors, ftp clients, and so on. If you
choose to use something that is not "supported", then you don't get much support
from IT, of course. But there is no pressure to use only the tools that are
supported or are provided by default.

And I don't think that's a problem, in general. In fact, I think it is a benefit
overall. We learn from each other. We compare features (not popularity). We pick
and choose what we use based on our different professional needs, individual
preferences, and knowledge of what's available and how to install it. There is
no Central Tools Department that makes all of our tools choices for us.

Looking around me, I see developers using Emacs, vi, Eclipse, various editors
and IDEs made by the company itself, and many other tools. It's not unusual to
see the same developer use both vi and Emacs, and be proficient at both.
Likewise, for office workers - they use a mix of tools. People are different;
their tasks, goals, and styles are different; the tools they use are different.

> I always get frustrated when I sit down with somebody to help them debug 
> something and don't know my way around eclipse and I know they feel
> the same with emacs.

So learn to use Eclipse. Do you need Emacs to be _the most popular_ just so you
don't need to learn Eclipse? 

If you really want to help Emacs, then learn Eclipse and improve Emacs by adding
some of the features that only Eclipse has. That will help Emacs more than
trying to convince someone to give up Eclipse because Emacs is more popular.

> If a company forces developers to use a certain
> tool or a few more popular tools (which many companies do), it's
> like people are forced to listen to Britney Spears (to use your
> analogy).

Uh, and that's a good thing? Are you arguing for 100 flowers or for a monocrop?
Are you arguing to replace all-Eclipse by all-Emacs (to simplify the argument)?
Or are you arguing to let people use whatever they want?

I say let people choose (let 'em choose Britney, if they want). Let there be
competition among tools, yes, in the sense of learning helpful features from the
other. But forget about competition to win the popularity contest - that's a
dead end.

If you're an Emacs lover, then it's about improving Emacs. If you're an Eclipse
lover, then it's about improving Eclipse. (And I assume that one can be both.)
Improvement, not popularity.

The Emacs or the Eclipse that you use ten years from now will have been improved
by people who enabled it to do some of the things that only Eclipse or only
Emacs, respectively, does today. I'm willing to bet that neither will win the
popularity contest and eliminate the other. Likewise, vi or TextMate or any
other editor or programming environment.

Those tools that have a user base ten years from now will be those that people
find useful, not necessarily those that are most popular today. And Emacs will
be among them, I am sure. The greatest strength of Emacs is its extensibility,
even by ordinary end users. If any tool can be improved and adopt (and adapt)
good features from other tools, it is Emacs.

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