A Case for Small Editors

A lot of people spend a lot of time customizing their text editor. They bring in all sorts extensions, plugins, and shortcuts with the notion that it’ll make them more productive. In my experience, though, it doesn’t really do anything to help and can actually hurt. If you’re happy with your tricked out config, that’s your business, but it’s OK to not want it.

I do confess that I have a vimconfig that I keep in github. The thing is, I don’t really use very much of the fancy features in it. There’s a couple of spelling related things and a few shortcuts, but most of the things in my vimconfig are only there because I haven’t figured out what they do and what I might actually want that might depend on them. The most useful thing in there is the bit that sets the color scheme.

Some “features” are merely annoying. A lot of people like syntax highlighting, for instance. I find that it makes code confusing and hard to read, so it’s the first thing I turn off. Autoindent, automatically closing blocks, and other things that try to help you just get in the way. You end up spending a lot of time undoing what your editor “helpfully” did for you. Really, you’re better off without them.

Some added features can make your editor less stable. Tab completion can be nice, if you remember to use it, but I’ve had it make MacVim crash an awful lot. Typing out the full variable name can cause errors as well, but breaking when you use it, selecting the wrong thing, and making using tabs for spacing harder sucks all around.

Finally, there are many tasks you can perform poorly in your editor, or do well in a separate shell. There’s not a lot of point working with git or doing basic file management in your editor these days. Just fire up another term window and do it the right way. It’s really much easier.

If you’ve already been sucked in and have a super custom environment, you may as well keep it. It’s OK not to though, and I think you’d be better for it. As a bonus, you’ll be more comfortable in most any environment if you don’t depend on a bunch of editor customizations. Being happy with nvi is not a bad thing.

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