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Is Eclipse the next Emacs?

with 8 comments

Emacs, for those who know me, I am an big fan of, almost to the point of being religious. And and recently I’ve found another one – Eclipse. Emacs, as most would know is the ultimate editor that is written in a dialect of lisp called elisp (which predates attempts to standardize lisp and common lisp) – was the result of a time and a place where almost every programmer wrote lisp, AI was a buzzword and Symbolics was a household name.

Thus, emacs, naturally was written in the language of its time – lisp. With over 3o years behind its belt, emacs is now a mature multipurpose software application that most people go to the extent of calling it an operating system. The things that made emacs such a huge success story was not only was it written in lisp, the language of the day, it was also extensible in lisp, the language that most programmers who first used emacs knew. Thus, every pet-peeve of almost every programmer was solvable with just a few lines of elisp. Extensibility – Thats what made emacs a huge success. With packages for everything from terminal emulation, remote editing, newsreaders and even a web browser – Emacs is one multipurpose software application.

With, the coming of the AI winter, lisp lost ground and eventually gave way to Java. Java, being severely used in the past 10-20 years has become the lingua franca of the time. And, with Java we have another emacs incarnate, something that’s not only written in Java, also extensible in Java – eclipse. It has the same extensibility as emacs has , though not as mature in terms of extensions as emacs. So, Is Eclipse the next emacs?

Signing Off,
Vishnu Vyas


Written by vishnuvyas

March 4, 2008 at 3:48 am

8 Responses

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  1. Have you even used Eclipse? Compared to emacs, extensibility in eclipse is a joke. Try to write a simple extension, and see how far you get before throwing your hands up in despair.


    March 4, 2008 at 4:13 am

  2. Stu, that’s why the question “Is eclipse the next emacs?” – Also, this analogy was a surface level one, not really a deep one. And writing eclipse extensions is not as easy as as emacs, but the point is its still possible. And, btw, writing an eclipse extension is not really that hard.


    March 4, 2008 at 4:17 am

  3. Don’t you mean will Eclipse be the next Vim?

    William Chang

    April 18, 2008 at 12:26 am

  4. Vim!!! Heresy I say !


    April 18, 2008 at 12:46 am

  5. No, Eclipse is not the next Emacs. Not even close. Compared to Emacs, Eclipse is not extensible at all. Simple tasks that are handled in Emacs with a couple of keystrokes appear to be completely impossible in Eclipse. For example, how does one view two source files side-by-side so that bits of one can be moved to the other?

    Kevin Cline

    May 7, 2008 at 9:32 pm

  6. Kevin:

    you use the compare feature?


    July 21, 2008 at 9:13 pm

  7. Kevin,
    You need to use your mouse to do that 🙂
    Just drag an editor to the left and drop it when the grey rectangle appears. It isn’t that easy as in emacs (c-x 2, c-x c-f) but how often do you copy and paste between files?



    March 1, 2009 at 8:53 pm

  8. I would argue that there is more to it than lisp being a fashionable language at the time. What is more important is that writing lisp compilers is (to some extent was) a lot more simple than for other dialects, and at the time something that was done on a regular basis. ELisp is in many ways a DSL for editors, having features in the language for things like listeners for extensions, and things like the ‘save-excursion’ keyword for extensibility.

    Even more important is that the easy customization of emacs rely almost completely on there being things like higher order functions being build into the language, that is also interpreted. This is really the biggest problem with writing Eclipse… Java. How could one pick a _worse_ language for this purpose?

    Of course, the fact that lisp is not a language known to most programmers is probably the biggest tragedy in the industry ^^

    Philip Nilsson

    June 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm

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