back to article Richard Stallman decides Emacs should go WYSIWYG

GNU daddy Richard Stallman seems to have found an old To-Do list behind the sofa, because he's posted a message on the GNU forums reviving an old ambition for the venerable EMacs text editor. Here's what he's after: 25 years ago I hoped we would extend Emacs to do [sic] WYSIWG word processing. That is why we added text …


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  1. Daniel Voyce

    Emacs or Vi(m) - what's your preferred?

    For me Vi as its what I was forced to use at IBM, University preferred Emacs but I never really felt comfortable with it!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I use VI! ;-)

    No, this isn't a troll post but obviously I couldn't resist the topic :)

    "Could people please start working on the features that are needed?"

    With all due respect but whatever happened to starting something new by actually taking a little effort yourself? At the very least mention the stuff required to actually make this work (iow: do some research up front), better yet; setup a source repository for it and start coordinating. And obviously the very best approach: post stuff like this after you did all of the above and actually spend an evening or two coding parts of some of those requirements yourself.

    Sure, people are free to ignore his post in its entirety, but for someone who's so focussed on personal freedom and such I consider it a bit odd to see him posting things which sound as if he's dishing out orders.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I use VI! ;-)

      Absolutely agree. This kind of sentence comes across as a clueless manager who just had a brainwave and passes it along to the grunts to "do the ground work". Pick up an editor (anything but emacs, gawd, anything but that -- you can pry vim from my cold dead hands) and start doing some work yourself. That will motivate people to jump aboard, happiness ensues, etc.

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: I use VI! ;-)

        Well said. It's an awesome idea, so awesome I can be bother putting exactly no effort into it ..... inspiring!

        As for vi :) Genuine question from someone who uses pico \ nano , what would be the benefit to learning \ using vi? I just started with pico and never really found a need to learn vi but I guess given its popularity there must be good reasons.

        1. jake Silver badge

          @ Rampant Spaniel (was: Re: I use VI! ;-))

          It's vi, not VI ... If you don't grok CaSe, you don't grok *nix.

          vi is the de facto *nix text editor. Has been for decades. If you want to become a real *nix admin, learn vi ... kitchensinkware linux distributions not withstanding.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. jake Silver badge

              @AC08:19 (was: Re: @ Rampant Spaniel (was: I use VI! ;-)))

              No offense, but not groking grok implies that you have absolutely zero clue about the culture of TehIntraWebTubes.

              Probably why you are a self-confessed coward.

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: @AC08:19 (was: @ Rampant Spaniel (was: I use VI! ;-)))

                No offense, but not groking grok implies that you have absolutely zero clue about the culture of TehIntraWebTubes.

                I'm sure most of us are familiar with Heinlein's coinage. I first read Stranger in a Strange Land (and thought it rather overrated) when I was but a lad, and reread it a couple of times over the years to see if I'd missed some hidden greatness. I'm pretty comfortable in the belief I have not.1

                Use "grok" if you must - we can hardly prevent it - but its place in "Internet culture" is exaggerated, as is its utility as a term. It's only distinguished from its synonyms (at least as far as denotation) by fiat - that is, by Heinlein's claim in the novel that it means something more than, say, "comprehend".

                1And I make some claim to expertise in this area, as I've been reading novels since I was 4, have a baccalaureate in English, am ABD in English Lit (specializing in literary theory and 20th century prose), etc.

            2. Frumious Bandersnatch

              Re: @ Rampant Spaniel (was: I use VI! ;-))

              No offense meant but using the word "grok" makes you sound like an utter bellend.

              I downvoted you because it's not the word "grok" that's the problem. jake does a fine job of making himself sound like an utter bellend all by himself.

          2. John Riddoch

            Re: @ Rampant Spaniel (was: I use VI! ;-))

            Technically, ed is the default Unix text editor (try unset EDITOR; crontab -e), but all major Unix distros have vi installed by default. As a result, most Unix admins default to using vi as the text editor because no matter how bad you might think it is, it's many times better than ed.... Sure, you can install emacs, nano, pico or whatever onto AIX/Solaris/HP-UX, but you'll be SOL when you have to recover a system from CD.

            Added to that, for a lot of work, I find vi far more powerful than a standard text editor, mainly due to being able to repeat commands (.) and searches (n/N).

            1. Rampant Spaniel

              Thank you for the considered replies.

              To the others, I did use lower case except in the title which was verbatim from the post I replied to. Perhaps some perspective is required ;)

          3. nijam Silver badge

            Re: @ Rampant Spaniel (was: I use VI! ;-))

            Well,, I thought ed was the actual standard *nix text editor, has been since before vi - a half-baked abomination if ever there was one - was developed.

            1. BlueGreen

              Re: @ Rampant Spaniel (was: I use VI! ;-))

              Ed was necessary and perhaps perfect for the original unix system. Remember, this was before crts were universal. You had a paper printing terminal (a teleprinter I think they're call, here's one I <>). You don't know how neolithic this was until you try using one. *that* sucked, not ed.

              TBH I'd rather use ed than learn vi, and I am fond of emacs.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I use VI! ;-)

          > what would be the benefit to learning \ using vi?

          Perhaps none, unless you're lacking a graphical environment.

          Doing admin over 2400 baud links (yes, those still exist) or a satellite connection with its 2-second lag brings home the importance of a tool that was created for that kind of environment. Plus ça change ...

          1. marky_boi

            Re: I use VI! ;-)

            It's rather elementary Watson, I use Vi coz there ain't not pretty GUI DE on the machines I administer.

            Don't get me wrong, I use a gui text editor when I choose to but the cli is so much easier and faster for a small change.

            emacs just plain confuses me................

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I use VI! ;-)

              I don't, (g)VIM on Windows when I'm 'ere.

              Much to the chagrin of my boss, who insisted on textpad.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          "Genuine question from someone who uses pico \ nano , what would be the benefit to learning \ using vi?"

          This is a strict personal opinion obviously, but for me it boils down to not having to think about which platform I'm on (Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, etc.) when I need to edit a file. I simply start vi (or vim), get to work and that's the end of it.

          So in the end I'm simply lazy ;)

          And it also does wonders for my Nethack scores :)

        4. shaolin cookie

          Re: I use VI! ;-)

          > what would be the benefit to learning \ using vi?

          For basic vi I guess the benefits would be that it's fast even for huge files and exists pretty much everywhere. But Vim is another matter, the fact that it supports pretty much everything makes it indispensable especially when you don't have a graphical environment, but once you learn the basics it's a lot faster also when you do have graphics. Syntax highlighting, regular expressions, block inserts, folding, etc, etc, etc.

        5. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: I use VI! ;-)

          If your system is a bit b0rked, you sometimes need to use vi to get it back into a state where it can run emacs. That is the only use for vi.

        6. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: I use VI! ;-)

          Genuine question from someone who uses pico \ nano , what would be the benefit to learning \ using vi?

          [Argh! The backslashes! They burn!]

          You'll find vi is more pleasant and makes you more productive - if you happen to be the sort of person who finds vi pleasant and productive. I myself prefer vi;1 I like its modal UI and over the past quarter-century or so I've memorized a lot of its functionality. Things like regex replace and repeat-command save me a lot of repetition and a little bit of time (if I didn't have vi I'd probably use sed or the like to do them anyway).

          Could I do the same things with emacs? Sure, but I've only used emacs a few times, and there's no benefit in switching to it, and it doesn't suit my tastes as well.

          On the other hand, if I were using pico for the sorts of things I do in vi, vi would be a revelation (once I gained some fluency in it). I'm a toolsmith2 by inclination, so I'd rather perform a regex replace than make the same change in three places.

          Proponents of the Editor Religious Wars - including many of the people posting in this forum - would have you believe that their editor of choice is clearly superior, and others clearly flawed. That's either bombast or stupidity. Different artisans use different tools.

          1That said, I install vim on any UNIX system I use for any length of time, mostly for multiple-buffer support and multiple undo/redo. Things like visual blocks are sometimes convenient, but they really don't save any time over basic vi functionality. On Windows, I use vim, except on one Windows machine where character-mode vim takes a long time to start for some reason I've never tracked down, so I just have it aliased to gvim.

          2As defined by Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month. In Brooksian nomenclature I'm also a language lawyer, and on various projects surgeon, copilot, and editor. Maybe the "surgical team" metaphor doesn't so well after all. (Also, I just looked at TMMM again, and I notice Brooks credits Harlan Mills for this idea, from a 1971 publication. Gosh, did Agile advocates not invent the feature team?)

    2. BlueGreen

      Re: I use VI! ;-) @ShelLuser

      > With all due respect but whatever happened to starting something new by actually taking a little effort yourself?

      What about making a little effort at checking out some facts first.

      RMS wrote the original emacs and I belive was involved till quite recently <>.

  3. Oh Homer

    Emacs is a great operating system

    So it makes sense that it should eventually get a decent text editor.

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: Emacs is a great operating system

      I'm not really into anything that has to do with macs.

  4. jake Silver badge

    Normally, I use vi ...

    ... but after reading the article, I typ(o)ed a dead-tree letter to my Great Uncle Lincoln (who is computer illiterate) in EMACS, and printed it out on a Daisy Wheel. It'll be stuffed into an envelope and sent via USPS tomorrow, he'll get it Monday or Tuesday. It pretty much looks WYSIWYG from here.

    Horses for courses & all that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Normally, I use vi ...

      It'll only look like WYSIWYG if the typeface on your daisywheel printer is a screen font, which I seriously doubt.

      But, as per usual, you're just trying to get the rise out of people, so meh.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Tim Parker

    "At the time of writing the discussion was considering whether the best way to bring WYSIWYG to EMACS might be to create extensions to LibreOffice."

    Not a bad idea - but what do I know, I use emacs in viper mode so am universally hated :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Use evil-mode

      Emacs user, and not an evil/viper-mode traitor... but just a protip, evil-mode is far superior to viper-mode. Feel free to join us at /r/Emacs on reddit by the way, there's lots of evil users on there, which is how I am aware of the major-mode.

  7. Denarius Silver badge

    What goes around...

    How about WYSIWYG for vi as well, so the religious wars of the 1980s can have a rerun. Since the coming of Linus, POSIX software wars have faded away, removing much opportunity for creative abuse and humour, . Aside from that, any editor that can spawn a spoof religion is to be avoided IMHO. I will stick with vi and a console. A black and white console.

    Ladies and gentlemen, start your flames

    1. jake Silver badge

      @Denarius (was: Re: What goes around...)

      Might want to check your echo-canceler settings :-)

  8. Ian Easson

    Stallman is a total Luddite.

    He doesn't use a PC anything less than a decade old (because it might compromise his "open software" philosophy), and he doesn't use the Internet at all (he asks his friends to surf on his behalf, and then send him the results via email).

    Why should anyone pay any attention whatsoever to his pronouncements?

    1. dogged

      > and he doesn't use the Internet at all (he asks his friends to surf on his behalf, and then send him the results via email).

      Try reading that back to yourself.

      1. Hi Wreck

        Re: email

        He probably has an acoustic modem and runs uucp to do that email thing. I'll bet there's still a sendmail config for that!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Your comment would have been so much cooler if you had replaced email with netmail (the FidoNet way of sending e-mail).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Educate yourself and find out what luddites really stood for.

      > he doesn't use the Internet at all (he asks his friends to surf on his behalf, and then send him the results via email).

      So he doesn't use the internet at all yet he manages to receive email. Amazing!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who talks like this?

    The last time I heard the term "WYSIWYG" somebody was talking about WordPerfect.

    1. RISC OS

      Re: Who talks like this?

      He probably stilll calls his tv a "colour tv" when talking about it too

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He has the freedom to alter the code...

    ...why doesn't he? He is always banging on about how important that is...

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: He has the freedom to alter the code...

      He is the Stall Man - clue is in the name.

  11. poopypants

    All this vi and emacs talk

    reminds me of the dispute between Lilliput and Blefuscu. Bizarre and irrelevant.

    1. HippyFreetard

      Re: All this vi and emacs talk


      I know.

      We all know ed is best...




  12. Tac Eht Xilef

    Free as in "you're free to go and get your own beer"

    Whatever happened to the open-source credo? Namely:

    "If you have a very strong desire to see a particular feature implemented, your odds of success of ultimately having it become a part of the tool are dramatically increased if instead of asking for it to be implemented, you check out a copy of the latest source code tree, code it yourself (even if slightly incomplete or somewhat buggy), and submit it for peer review by the existing developer pool. Other technical parties are far more likely to help you complete a worthwhile code enhancement that you've clearly put time and thought into than they are to remotely consider doing what you want from scratch just because you want it."

    1. Sandtreader

      Re: Free as in "you're free to go and get your own beer"

      Oh FFS, don't you (and the others on a similar vein) think RMS has earned the right to make suggestions rather than code it all himself? Suggest you try whinging about it without using anything compiled by GCC, running on GNU/Linux or developed in emacs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Free as in "you're free to go and get your own beer"

        Yes, I have to say that I'm no fan of RMS, but the guy is running the project, so doesn't need to deal with that crap. If I told one of my developers at work to do something to the spec I'd made and they said "code it yourself you lazy fucker" (which I take to be the implication here) it'd be time for a trip to HR, followed by a visitation by a canvas bag.

  13. Diogenes

    Don't use it

    but I have fond memories of the simplicity of non wysiwyg wordperfect 5.0 & 5.1. Apart from the spil chucker and features grammer and readabilty stats I have no need for most "modern" features in wysiwyg word processors - and if the result did look mangled in print preview , you could easily read the "markup" to sort it out - and the lovely 10 variable macros that you could write to create "styles" .

    Thinks this might be a nice programming assignment for my year 10 class (cackles evilly)

    1. Goobertee

      Re: Don't use it

      >>but I have fond memories of the simplicity of non wysiwyg wordperfect 5.0 & 5.1.

      As one who still thinks that WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS was as close to perfection as I'm going to see in this life, that all but brought tears to my eyes.

  14. Champ

    Real Programmers believe...

    ...that What You See Is What You Get is as undesirable a feature in text editors as it is in women.

    Still love that article, 30 years after I first read it :-)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "However, every time I am unhappy that (1) it is missing all the other capabilities of Emacs"

    I for one I'm extremely happy that LibreOffice is missing "all the other" capabilities of Emacs. At least I can use the fucker with only ten fingers and an equal amount of toes.

  16. Frankee Llonnygog

    Knights of the Realm!

    I your King have relied for many years on my trusty sword to right wrongs and smite my enemies. However, I can't help noticing that, while I can see most of those enemies, many of them beyond arm's reach. Verily, forsooth, and wouldn't it be cool if my sword could offer a WICSTMIK interface (Whom I Can See, They May I Kill). So, what I need is a sword that shoots bullets or fires arrows, or something like that. Make it so, will you, my good fellows? Now, I'm off to carouse with wenches, slay dragons and quaff foaming flagons of mead.

    Cheerio - King Cnut of Freesoftia

  17. Sandtreader
    Thumb Up

    Tell you what I would like...

    My ideal text processing system would be:

    1) Simple structured text entered in emacs - maybe XML but some kind of tag generation/folding/autocomplete assist would be good

    2) CSS stylesheets with import (so they can be standardised across documents)

    3) Live preview in a side window

    4) Export to sane PDF

    That would give me both consistency and the ability to properly source control documentation. Not exactly WYSIWYG but the optimum combination I think. I know some/all of that is possible in LaTeX but the styling isn't to my taste.

    (emacs coder currently using LO for docs)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tell you what I would like...

      Congratulations, you've just invented LaTEX, well, almost.

      1. HippyFreetard

        Re: Tell you what I would like...

        I've worked in and out of admin for a while now, and I'm convinced the whole MS Office culture needs a complete rewrite.

        I thought about all those hours making Powerpoints, wrangling with Excels, and the millions of letter templates for Word.

        I'd like to see it completely replaced with a monolithic system that's a combination of Database, Imagemagick/GD and LaTEX/PDF. All presentations, letters, memos, completely automated. All branding and graphics coded in. No need for a million windows open, just the Company Software. No hours wasted getting an Excel chart right, just have it all automated.

        Calendar and email all part of the same system, and modular so no Outlook necessary (although could still be used on eg roaming laptops and phones), also Gantt charts etc...

        This would mean admin staff would have to be a bit codery too, so my plan is to adapt a Scratch-style interface for add-on modules, or prototyping new algorithms (tax codes, etc), or for cases where a Spreadsheet might have worked before.

        WYSIWYG is an inefficient nightmare that only encourages OCD fiddling with margins and fonts. Replace it with GWYGALI (Get What You're Given And Like It) and admin efficiency will improve.

    2. Gunnar Wolf
      Thumb Up

      Re: Tell you what I would like...

      Then go look at Org-mode. It's really a breeze to use, a very intuitive and rich markup language, with all kinds of export filters for different formats — I most often use LaTeX for PDF generation and HTML, but you can export Org documents to Docbook, even to ODF.

      Besides, for fine-controlling the layout exports' presentation details, you can include little snippets. As an example, if you want a figure to be placed spanning two thirds of the text width when outputting to TeX, or 500px when outputting to HTML, just do:

      #+caption: This caption will hang below the figure

      #+latex_attr: width=0.66\textwidth

      #+html_attr: width="500"


      And yes, that's as heavy as the markup goes. It's often almost indistnguishible from straight text. Oh, and for WYSIWYGers: Emacs *will* render in different faces italic, bold or other kinds of text, headers, etc. Of course, they will not be rendered as they appear on the final document (as Emacs does not even attempt to know which will that final document's export format be), but the structure will be clearly shown.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ummm.... I use vi

    Not because I have anything against Emacs, but because vi is an important survival skill. I can log onto any of my customers' remote systems and know that via is there. Even our Windows servers have vi on them, for when we have to Telnet or SSH into them (because Remote Desktop isn't a good idea when the server is in the arse end of Africa, with a piss poor internet connection).

  19. John Sanders

    There is no stopping this now...

    There is only the war!

  20. Bob Hoskins

    Emacs. Really?

    I thought it was only furry toothed cobol programmers who still bothered with this dated crap. Sort your self out Stallman - it's no longer the 1980s.

  21. lambda_beta

    Real Programmers

    Real Programmers use TECO!

  22. Andrew Garrard


    I'm not 100% sure what he's after, but XEmacs had quite a lot more integrated font and image management than Emacs did, and there was a big war about it, in part because of Stallman not wanting to take his hands off the Emacs source code (as I understood). Things come around...

    Anyway. I still occasionally use XEmacs, though it hasn't been updated much for a while. Emacs itself seems to be a bit more current, so I'm currently running that. (And yes, there's a good reason I still use these editors, and it's not just meta-x butterfly or meta-x dunnet.)

    1. bjr

      Re: XEmacs?

      XEmacs isn't a WYSIWYG editor it's just a better Emacs. I use it constantly, it's a great editor but it's for text files not documents.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



  24. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Cheers to MS

    Let's raise a cheer for MS One Note.

    Its sections and pages cater for me and the most scatterbrained author. Inbuilt OCR, handwriting recognition (if you write it yourself; it won't decipher a file with handwriting within).

    Then you can export it, to PDF or to Stallman's pet hate MSWORD.

    No, I don't work for them, no connection.

  25. Kubla Cant


    I'm very much not an emacs expert, but in my experience the problem is not the absence of WYSIWYG.

    What You Get may well be What You See, but it's not necessarily What You Expected. For someone of my modest skills, emacs is a sort of WYGIWYG (What You Get Is What You're Given) editor.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems like it would be easier

    to add emacs support to LibreOffice via its extension mechanism.

  27. IGnatius T Foobar

    Grumpy Cat says: "GOOD."

    Good. The more time RMS spends working on a dead-end emacs project, the less time he will spend getting in our faces over how we have to follow the G-Nazi-U standards of calling everything "GNU/Linux" and "GNU/Windows" and "GNU/Solaris" and RMS being all "you have to call everything what I say you must call it"

    Meanwhile, those of us in the reality based community will continue getting real work done with vi (for editing code) and LibreOffice (for editing documents).

    Seriously, RMS needs something productive to do with his life.

  28. Daniel Voyce

    My work here is done


  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    vi ftw

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