Making the jump: Textmate to VIM

August 17, 2011 in Technology

Despite a recent clean install, my faithful travel companion has pretty much had it. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, since I dragged it out of deep storage just for this trip, but the good news is I'm upgrading to a shiny new MacBook Air later this week. I'm looking at this as an opportunity to tighten up some of my computing habits, including -- brace yourself -- switching to VIM.

Why? Because it feels like every single day I read another post on how amazing it is, and because Textmate, my trusty workhorse, is getting a little long in the tooth.

With no sign of Textmate 2.0, I have come to the sad realization that it's time to say farewell. This is a tough decision, because Textmate does just about everything I need. It's the most Mac-like editing experience I've ever seen (and that's a very good thing). It handles every type of file I work with, and the bundle system is so powerful that I can write interfaces for those random programs it doesn't work with, like IPython 0.11. Articles like Watts Martin's "Text Editor Intervention" calmly told me that it was ok to stay with Textmate.

And also, it's pretty.

This, I'm almost embarrassed to say, is the number one thing that keeps me attached to Textmate: I like looking at it. There, I said it. Interface is beyond important to me. If I don't enjoy looking at a program, I won't work in it. It's that simple. Say what you will, that's just how it is.

And here's the thing: VIM is ugly. Really ugly.

Most people try VIM and run screaming for the hills the first time they try switching modes and accidentally erase a line. Me, I can't even bring myself to type. What is this abomination of garish colors and contrasty highlights? I know vi dates to the 80's, but come on! 

Anyway, with the new computer on its way -- and it's not easy getting one of those things to Israel, my current location -- I decided to give VIM another shot. Encouraged by the combined experiences of Daniel Fischer and Henrik Nyh, I held my virtual breath and typed brew install macvim. In particular, I really appreciated that Daniel's post began with the following:

"I’m a visual person. The editor that I use must be visually appealing to me, and visually reflect sexy code. This is how I interact with my material, and if it doesn’t look pleasing then I am turned off and cannot be productive. This is one of the reasons why I picked Textmate from the beginning, the themes made the code look really attractive."

(Then, he decides the default icon is ugly and makes his own. I'm not quite that crazy... but I will use his icon.)

When the world failed to end, I began to load the Janus plugin bundle and while that was happening I followed the consensus  advice and fired up the vimtutor. I was pleasantly surprised as I worked through the tutorial -- the black on white colorscheme was acceptable and I could see the appeal of the key commands, even as I struggled to learn them. My initial frustrations ("This is a TEXT EDITOR -- why is it so impossible to EDIT TEXT?") melted into appreciation that maybe there was a better way.

But it's still ugly. I'm working on that, though.

I'll miss Textmate, with the sole exception of undo-ing one character at a time (I mean, really?!). I'll probably keep it around as a general purpose file editor -- I know, I know... but it's going to be a little while before I'm totally fluent in VIM, and I've got things to do! Plus, I did pay for it -- $30 and five years ago, but who's counting?

Anyone out there have some helpful suggestions for a VIM novice?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: