When comparing Atom vs GNU Emacs, the Slant community recommends GNU Emacs for most people. In the question“What are the best IDEs for C++ on Linux?” GNU Emacs is ranked 3rd while Atom is ranked 15th. The most important reason people chose GNU Emacs is:
Licensed under GNU GPL.
Ranked in these QuestionsQuestion Ranking
Pro Extensive list of packages
Atom has a built-in package manager and an extensive list of packages. Packages are written in CoffeeScript.
Pro Built-in package management
Atom was built from the ground up with the community in mind. Package management is therefore a first class feature.
Due to its modular design, almost any aspect of the editor can be changed. Even seemingly core packages, like those taking care of search and replace functionality, can be forked on GitHub, and changed and replaced in the editor.
The documentation for creating new plugins is also great, making it easier for developers to jump in and create plugins for Atom.
Atom can run on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Pro Free and open source
Atom is free, open source, and written in C++, LESS, and CoffeeScript.
Pro Beginner friendly
One of the goals of Atom is to be a text editor for both experienced and beginner programmers. You can add keyboard shortcuts, change themes, install plugins, and change core settings by clicking through a GUI, or by manually editing config files the old-fashioned way. It has the added advantage of being built using the same engine that powers Google Chrome, so actions like opening and closing tabs feel familiar, even to new or non-programmers.
Pro Multi-line select and edit
Multiple cursors and column selection allow for versatile ways of editing.
ctrl + d will select the current word and each time the command is repeated, it adds the next occurrence of the word to the selection.
ctrl + click or
middle-mouse click will place another cursor in the place that's clicked. Cursors can then be controlled together. This also allows for selecting vertically.
Pro Embedded Git control
Atom will highlight folders, files, and lines that have any uncommitted edits made. It also integrates really well with GitHub.
Pro Command Palette support
The Command Palette permits fuzzy searching all available functions, settings, snippets, etc.
Pro Allows for instant file switching
By pressing Ctrl or Command + T and using fuzzy search, you can look for a file in your project.
Pro Command line integration out of the box
Installing Atom adds two command line commands -
apm. The first one runs the application itself while the second is the Atom Package Manager that's used to add and remove various components from the package listing. While these features can be set up with other editors as well, Atom takes care of them out of the box.
You can theme and customize Atom to your liking.
Pro HiDPI support
Atom has built-in HiDPI support with zero scaling issues.
Pro Modern feel and very customizable and extendable
Pro Vim plugin turns Atom into a modernized vim
Pro Best support for Arduino with Platformio
Arduino is the most important platform for developing embedded systems.
Pro Completely free
Licensed under GNU GPL.
Pro Works in terminal
You can use Emacs' command line interface or graphical user interface.
Pro Infinitely customisable
Customizations can be made to a wide range of Emacs' functions through a Lisp dialect. 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 Keyboard-focused, mouse-free editing
Emacs can be controlled entirely with the keyboard.
Pro Self documenting
Emacs has extensive help support built-in as well as a tutorial accessed with C-h t.
Pro Has turn-key packages for IDE work
Packs like spacemacs make it easy to get started and bring the learning curve down from an infinitely regressing spiral to something more manageable.
Pro Has Vim emulation
Evil-mode makes Emacs actually usable as an editor.
Pro Great Integration
Emacs has modes for nearly every use case, even ones like mail and internet browsing. It has often been said that Emacs is essentially an operating system on its own.
Pro Works over SSH
Con Very slow startup time
Atom is very slow to startup, which is a big disadvantage if you are accustomed to using it to make quick changes on your files.
Con High memory usage
Atom has a relatively high memory usage, especially when compared to some other text editors not based on Electron. For those who develop on the go, this also tends to mean shorter battery life.
Con Has difficulty with large text files
Tends to crash or hang with large >(10MB) text files, making it less useful as a general text editor.
Con Slows down exponentially with plugins
Extending it needs sacrificing responsiveness
Con No text UI
Con Doesn't handle RTL (right-to-left text) well
Text can't be highlighted and manipulated properly, cursor isn't displayed visually according to where it is logically (you have to type to find out), and similar issues.
Con Not known when a new window will open
It's not really clear why and when a new window is opened when you open a file out of the tree view.
Atom is not a native application. As such performance is subpar and the lag is especially noticeable on larger projects. It also opens a surprising amount of sub-processes and leaks a considerable amount of memory.
Con Missing additional touches
As Atom is still relatively new, it's missing nice little touches that other text editors have implemented over the years. From simple ease-of-use items like middle-mouse button multi-cursor select, to the ways pasted information from a spreadsheet is interpreted in multi-select situations.
Con Crash and data loss
I lost unsaved changes 2 times when the app crashes.
A bugreport about that was closed automatically after some time, nobody cares.
Con Doesn't recognize some keyboards
Con Not set up as an IDE by default
Requires customization to get IDE-like features. Luckily a few features such as compilation, debugging, and syntax highlighting are included.
Con Learning curve is steep
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 Non-standard keyboard commands
I'm editing this in Chrome, but I could be using Firefox, Edge, or any other browser, or Notepad, or even Libreoffice or Microsoft Word, and in ALL of those cases, keys would work exactly the same way, including how to jump around by word, select words, cut/copy/paste, etc.
Pretty much all modern editors share the same basic key combinations, from Visual Studio to Sublime to Atom to VS Code to Xcode. Becoming an Emacs expert means you need to mode-shift between code editing and editing in your browser; adding Emacs modes to SOME apps means you need to remember which key bindings to use where. The cognitive load added by switching between Emacs and other text editors is not worth it, especially since all the advantages of Emacs are now available in free editors elsewhere.
Con A UI designed before anyone had a clue about UI design
Emacs is positively NOT a well-designed user interface. Its design dates back to the time when all microwaves still needed instructions and VCRs universally displayed a flashing 12:00 because no one could figure out how to operate them. Many modern editors have 100% of the power of Emacs with none of the hassle.
Con Chorded keyboard combinations can be baffling
For example, for navigation it uses the b, n, p, l keys. Which for some people may seem strange.