Thoughts, rants, experiences, reviews and other things from the mind of Jason O’Conal

Is Vim Really That Hard?

15 Jul 2013

Caution: Opinions

No. Vim is not hard to use. I suppose it’s a little bit harder than many other text editors, but it’s not hard.

To use vim with exactly the same proficiency as new user might use nano or Sublime Text, you only need to know these five things:

  1. There are two modes: normal and insert
  2. Push i to enter insert mode – this is where you type text
  3. Push esc to exit insert mode and go back into normal mode – this is where you type commands
  4. Push :w in normal mode to save the file
  5. Push :q in normal mode to quit

In Sublime Sext, you don’t need to know these things if you’ve ever used a computer before. There’s a File menu with some pretty familiar commands.

In nano, you need to know what the ^ (caret) character followed by another character means (it means that you should hit the ctrl key, hold it down and the hit the other character, let it go, then let the ctrl key go). You also need to understand the unfamiliar phrase WriteOut.

Sublime Text has a load of features. Vim definitely has more. Nano definitely has fewer.

Vim is not hard to use. But it is hard to become extremely proficient. You don’t need to become extremely proficient, just proficient.

I’ve been using vim for about 7 years now and I still don’t know everything. This is a good thing:

Sure, editors like Sublime Text have loads of features, but if you can learn it quickly, then you’ve reached your peak editing efficiency very quickly. If you can build them into your muscle memory, into your everyday workflow, in, say, a couple of days, then there can’t be that much there. This lack of features is viewed by some as a Good Thing – ‘Editing shouldn’t be difficult’ they say. They’re right. They also say that vim is hard. They’re wrong.

What people mean when they say vim is hard is that vim is complicated. And it can be. But it doesn’t need to be. The key is not to overwhelm yourself by trying to learn everything at once.

Start off with learning the five things I mentioned above. You’re now as proficient with vim as you would have been with nano or notepad or other simple text editors.

See also: http://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=download+vim%2C+download+sublime+text%2C+download+emacs.

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