A robust text editor capable of achieving whatever it is the writer wishes. It supports a plethora of programming languages and other faculties of text editing. Yet its advantages do not stop there. If one wishes to delve into the wizardry of Emacs, they can use it for email, web browsing, organizing ones life and so much more. With all these factors pertaining to the sovereignty of Emacs, only one question remains. What is stopping you from beholding its power?
Ranked in these QuestionsQuestion Ranking
Pro Keyboard-focused, mouse-free editing
Emacs can be controlled entirely with the keyboard. While true, I often find the mouse and menus handy for those lesser-used commands. An aide-memoir.
Pro Total customizability
Customizations can be made to a wide range of Emacs' functions through a Lisp dialect (Emacs Lisp). A robust list of existing Lisp extensions include the practical (git integration, syntax highlighting, etc) to the utilitarian (calculators, calendars) to the sublime (chess, Eliza).
Pro It's also an IDE
You can debug, compile, manage files, integrate with version control systems, etc. All through the various plugins that can be installed.
Pro Works in terminal or as a GUI application
You can use Emacs' command line interface or graphical user interface.
Licensed under GNU GPL.
Pro Self documenting
Emacs has extensive help support built-in as well as a tutorial accessed with C-h t.
Pro Great documentation
With 30+ years of use the Emacs documentation is very thorough. There are also a lot of tutorials and guides written by third parties.
Pro Rectangular cut and paste
Emacs can select rectangularly.
Pro Lisp customizations
With lisp customization, any behavior of Emacs can be changed. Update with pre-release patch can be also applied without recompiling the whole Emacs.
Pro Provides org-mode
Advanced planning and publication which can start as a simple list.
Fully compliant GNU-emacs is available on many platforms, and they all understand .emacs configuration files.
Pro Enormous range of functionalities (way beyond simple "text editing")
Through its programmability, a very broad range of functionalities can be integrated in emacs, turning it even into a "single point of contact" with the underlying operating system.
Pro Support multi-line editing, multiple frame, powerful paren, crazy jumping style
Review the "Emacs Rocks" video.
Works on Linux, Windows, Macintosh, BSD, and others.
Pro dabbrev-expand (Alt-/)
Dynamic word completion.
Pro Mini buffer
You can pass complicated arguments in the mini buffer.
Pro Vi keybindings through Evil mode
Evil mode emulates vim behaviors within Emacs. It enables Vi users to move inside the Emacs universe.
Pro Has been widely used for a long time
The first verion of Emacs was written in 1974 and GNU Emacs in 1984.
Emacs is great for everything.
Pro Visual selection and text objects with Evil
Evil is an extensible vi layer for Emacs. It provides Vim features like Visual selection and text objects.
Pro Integrates planning in your development process
You can jump straight from your org-mode files to programming tasks - and back - and build a seamless workflow.
Pro Helm plugin adds even more power to Emacs
Powerful commands, search, and more with the Helm plugin.
Pro GTK+ widgets support
Pro Excelent tutorial to get you started
The tutorial you are presented with at startup shows you exactly what you need to get started and teaches you how to use the built-in help yourself later.
Pro Interactive Shells
Emacs has a number of shell variants: ansi-term, shell, and eshell.
Pro Emacs provides magit, the best and most complete GIT interface
Complex git history editing become a breeze with very few keystrokes. And simple ones are quickly stashed in muscle memory. Git becomes an direct extension of your brain thanks to Magit. Cherrypicking, blaming, resetting, interactive rebasing, line level commit, spinoff branches... you name it, magit already has it and has typically all those 5 to 10 git CLI commands of higher-level patterns also tide to one simple shortcut (want to amend a commit three commits away ? forgot to branch out and you've got already N commits on
master ? ... etc... ).
Managing several large mailing lists has never been easier using Gnus. The threading commands and the various ways of scoring articles means that I never miss important messages/authors, etc. A joy to use.
Pro Eshell is cross platform
You can use the underlying operating system shell as a terminal emulation in an Emacs buffer. Don't like the default shell for your configuration? You can change it to your liking.
Pro Excellent Lisp editing support
Built-in packages make editing Lisp source code feel natural.
Pro Use-package and org-mode
Missing some neural package that predicts actions, maybe in the next release ...
Con Sometimes the extensibility can distract you from your actual work
If I ever want to lose half a day, I'll start by tweaking my .spacemacs config file.
Con Learning curve is long
While it's better than it used to be, with most functions being possible through the menu, Emacs is still quite a bit different from your standard editor. You'll need to learn new keyboard shortcuts.
Con Keyboard combinations can be confusing for new users
For example, for navigation it uses the b, n, p, l keys. Which for some people may seem strange in the begging. However they can be changed easily.
Con Documentation is not beginner-friendly
Although lots of good built-in documentation _exists_, I have after four years of Emacs as my primary editor not figured out how to actually make use of it, and rely completely on Google / StackOverflow for help.
Con User interface is terrible
I was using Emacs in the early 1980's, before there were GUIs. In fairness to Emacs, its original design was conceived in that context and is rather good at some things, like flexible ability to bind commands to keyboard shortcuts. Unfortunately, it didn't keep up with the times and fails to take advantage of the entire world of GUI design that's revolutionized computer science since then. So Emacs does 5% or what an editor should do quite will, and is surprisingly under-powered and old fashioned at the other 95%. To this day, it lacks or struggles with very basic things, like interactive dialogs, toolbars, tabbed interface, file system navigation, etc., etc. The things I just mentioned, are all present in some limited and inept form, but falls far short of current standard of good user interface design. For this reason, I would not recommend Emacs to anyone who is under 50 year old, or who needs power user capabilities. For casual, unsophisticated applications by someone who grew up with green screen character based computers, it's probably OK.
Con Emacs lisp is very poorly designed
The language that's used for user customization, extensions, and for much of the basic editor functionality, is Emacs lisp, or elisp for short. I actually like lisp in general, especially Scheme, but unfortunately, elisp is one of the worst versions of lisp ever created, barely meriting being called lisp. It's very slow, impoverished in features, inconsistent, and rather inelegant in design. Elisp needed to be overhauled 20 or 30 years ago, but the Emacs developers were not willing to do the work. I believe this is one of the major reasons Emacs is so buggy, lacking in features, development is so slow, and consequently almost nobody uses it (or should use it) anymore.
Con Very poorly maintained
It's not clear to what extent Emacs is still supported. There's still some development taking place, but so slow that it's almost an abandoned project. There are numerous bugs in Emacs, many these days associated with start up and package management. When you search the Internet for solutions, you often find many posts, sometimes going back months or even years, with no clear fix.
Con Hard customization
For customization, you need to learn Lisp.