All these years, since the day I first turned on a linux distribution, I’ve ignored vi/vim. Sure, there are swarms of geeks covering you with saliva as they spew fact after fact about how superior vim is to everything else, but to me it’s always been “that editor that is on every system that I eventually replace with pico anyway.”
Ok, now I’m interested. I installed vim for Windows (gvim), which was followed by a slow-but-steady growing period of “well, how do I do this” and “HA…I bet vim can’t do THI…oh, it can.” There are “marks” for saving your place in code, you can open the same file in multiple views (aka “windows”), you can bind just about any key combination to run any command or set of commands, etc. I even discovered tonight there’s a “windows” mode for vim that mimics how any normal editor works. I hate to admit it, but I’ll be using that a lot. One feature that blew my mind is the undo tree. Not stack, tree. Make a change, undo, make a new change, and the first change you did before your undo is still accessible (:undolist)!
The nice thing about vim is that it saves none of its settings. Every change you make to it while inside the editor is lost after a restart. This sounds aggravating, but it actually makes playing with the editor really fun and easy. If I open 30 windows and don’t know how to close them, just restart the editor. There are literally hundreds of trillions of instances when I was like “oh, shit” *restart*.
Once you have a good idea of what you want your environment to be like, you put all your startup commands in .vimrc (_vimrc on Windows) and vim runs it before it loads. Your settings file uses the same syntax as the commands you run inline in the editor, which is awesome and makes it easy to remember how to actually use vim.
So far I’m extremely impressed. The makers of vim have literally thought of everything you could possibly want to do when coding. And if they haven’t thought of it, someone else has and has written a plugin you can drop into your plugins directory and it “just works.” Speaking of plugins, vim.org’s plugin list seems neverending. I was half expecting to see most plugins have a final mod date of 2002 or something, but a good portion have newer version released within the past two weeks. It seems the ones that are from 2002 never get updated because they’re mostly perfect. Excellent.
I do miss a few things though. First off, the project file list most editors have on the left side. I installed NERDTree to alleviate that pain, but honestly it’s not the same as having my right click menus and pretty icons. I’m slowly getting used to it though. The nice thing about a text-only file tree is that in those instances where you only have shell access and need to do some coding, there isn’t a dependency on a GUI.
Tabs are another thing I miss. Gvim has tabs, but they aren’t one tab == one file (aka “buffer”) like most editors. You can hack it to do this, sort of, but it works really jenky. Instead I’m using MiniBufExplorer, which takes away some of the pain. I actually hacked it a bit because I didn’t like the way it displays the tabs, which gave me a chance to look at some real vim script. It’s mostly readable to someone who’s never touched it before.
That about does it for my rant. Vim is fast, free, customizable, extendable, scriptable, portable, wonderful, etc…and I’ve barely scratched the surface.