Vim or Emacs? The Debate is over…

By: Jennifer Ellard

Look across pop culture and you’ll find holy wars everywhere: Coke vs Pepsi, iPhone vs Android, Marvel vs DC, pirates vs ninjas… the list goes on. It’s human nature, and it happens to all of us.

But for #LinuxLovers, we’re talking a whole different level. There is a set of polarizing topics that mere mortals will never understand, but for techies they cause divorces, break-up friendships, and create personality complexes that top psychologists have trouble resolving. LinuxLovers will stand on one side of the fence and troll anyone that opposes their views on topics such as: 

Case in point, this relationship-ending moment in Season 3 of Silicon Valley:


The Original Editor War

One of the oldest and most long-standing of these arguments is the Editor War between Vim and Emacs. This rivalry goes back to pretty much before there was even an Internet. You’ll find flame wars on old Usenet groups dating back to 1985 (yes, that’s the year of Back to the Future and New Coke).

If you’re not a Linux user, here’s the deal: Vim (along with its predecessor Vi) and Emacs are both text editors used in coding, editing files, administering systems, and a whole bunch of other tasks. Emacs tends to be relatively straightforward, similar to commonly used text editors like Notepad. On the other hand, Vim is a power-user’s tool, using keyboard shortcuts to speed up tasks. Vim is known to have a much steeper learning curve than Emacs. However, it’s been said that putting in the extra effort is worth it because you will ultimately be able to work much faster and more comfortably in Vim.

The Test, and the Results

A few weeks ago, our CEO Jake King, wanted to resolve the long term battle at Cmd with our CTO Mike Sample, about which is a more popular text editor: Vim OR Emacs. 

We started by asking the twittersphere which text editor they preferred…there seemed to be overwhelming support for Vim.

So that’s what people think, but what do people actually use?

Guess what – we have the data. 

As part of the information that Cmd collects to monitor for suspicious and dangerous user activity, we also gather insight into what commands and programs users run. We use data science and machine learning inside Cmd to build a fingerprint of an individual user’s behavior that drives alerts on threats and other security incidents.

With over 50 billion commands collected across the Cmd user base, we were able to deep dive into the stats and figure out if Vim is actually the preferred text editor compared to Emacs.

In our findings, we found 93% of the users on all our clients’ projects use Vi/Vim as their primary file editor. 

Vi/Vim: 93%

Nano: 5%

Emacs: 2%

Even more interesting – look at how small the Emacs footprint is. Nano actually beats Emacs by 3% to 2%! We didn’t see that coming!

So there you have it. The debate is pretty much over. We live in a Vim world.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a lot more interesting stats in that database and we’re going to do some more publishing. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and we’ll keep the information flowing.

[UPDATE] Cmd Free is Here – Get In Now!

If you want to see what users are running in your own organization so you can identify issues, improve operations, and stop threats – our free version of Cmd is available today!


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