Customizing Emacs

I figure one way to become more familiar with Emacs is to customize some of its settings. Of the various pages I’ve found on the web that describe different customizations, I’ve found these two to be the most useful.

First, I wandered around the Emacs customization menu by clicking the Customize Setup link on the original home screen. There were so many options there that it was a bit overwhelming, even if you browse using the M-x customize-browse command. I did use the menu to “Save for future sessions,” which created a virtually empty .emacs file for me. I figured that way the file would be saved in the correct place (i.e., my home directory).

Next, I thought I’d browse the options for changing the color scheme. These instructions were the most helpful for installation. Once installed, I typed M-x color-theme-select and then clicked/RET on the different themes until I found one I liked. Not too complicated. Seems you can customize your own theme using this tool, too.

I poked around online and found several examples of .emacs.el or init.el files. (Seems like it’s a “thing” to post your Emacs customizations online…. kind of like the equivalent of a g33k bicep flex.) I also read more about the pros/cons of Emacs vs. WinEdt. It seems like one of the big cons of Emacs for Windows users is that several of the keyboard shortcuts and/or default behaviors are so different in Emacs that it creates problems if you’re moving back and forth across tools. Sure, you could customize Emacs to get rid of some of those annoying default behaviors, but, boy, does that seem like a lot of work. And, while it’s easy in linux to install packages from the command line, in Windows it’s a several step process.

What I’ve learned so far? I could be a super g33k and use Emacs if I really wanted to, but I’m not sure I really want to. As far as tools for writing and editing text files (research articles and R or Stata code) go, there are a range of options from g33kiest (Emacs+AUCTeX, with apologies to Chris) to smart but pragmatic g33k (WinEdt) to lazy g33k (LyX, with apologies to Justin) to least g33k (MSWord). [Actually, I guess a real geek would write LaTeX so natively they could just use Notepad2, or heavens forbid, the notepad that comes with Win. Or, I guess a real geek would be using a linux box anyway, but I digress...]

So, while I am confident I could learn to use Emacs, and maybe it really would be transformative and change my life forever, but I think I’m going to be more pragmatic and move on to WinEdt for now.

Updated to add: FWIW, I’ve saved the most useful pages about setting up Emacs on Windows to my delicious.

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  • fsolt

    cf. http://xkcd.com/378/

    For anyone on the Mac side to stumble on this, the killer `pragmatic’ option is TeXShop: http://pages.uoregon.edu/koch/texshop/

    Hi Michelle!

  • michelledion

    Nice xkcd, Fred. It’s too bad there isn’t a cross platform pragmatic option. I was hoping to use Emacs so I could teach Brian, who uses Linux O/S.

    In general, anyone who has written modest amounts of HTML or code for any statiscal software can figure out how to use these tools. It more about time and interest than abilities, contrary to what some folks would like to imply.