Personal website of Martin Tournoij (“arp242”); writing about programming (CV) and various other things.

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Vim has a vertical learning curve

Okay, Vim isn’t the easiest program to get started with; but it’s not as hard as it’s made out to be. The welcome screen helpfully provides useful information:

            type  :q<Enter>               to exit
            type  :help<Enter>  or  <F1>  for on-line help
            type  :help version8<Enter>   for version info

Press :help<Enter> will get you some basic information to get started. In particular:

Getting started:  Do the Vim tutor, a 20 minute interactive training for the
                    basic commands, see vimtutor.

The vimtutor program is brilliant. Run it. It will take about 30 minutes and you will be productive in Vim afterwards. There is a lot of information in vimtutor and there is no shame in running it several times.

Here’s a great thing about Vim: everything you learn about it is for life. Vim is extremely stable, and its developers place a high value on backwards compatibility. While this can have the occasional drawbacks, the upshot of it is that Vim changes on only one condition: when you want it to.

In the 15 years I’ve used Vim Firefox has seen more redesigns than I can count; but the Vim experience from 15 years ago is remarkably similar to what it is today.

hjkl is so much faster

Some people claim that using hjkl instead of moving the arrow keys is a great time-saver. I’m skeptical; sure, moving yours hands from the home row to the arrow keys take some time, but does it really take that much time?

More importantly, I cringe whenever new users are told to use hjkl like Real™ Vim users. There are many ways to improve efficiency in Vim, and many of them – motions, macros, change/jumplist, registers, autocmds, etc. etc. – will give new users a better cost/benefit ratio than re-learning to use the arrow keys. It’s a micro-optimisation.

Unfortunately, some guides recommend to “disable arrow keys from the start” to new users, and even the otherwise excellent vimtutor starts with it:

NOTE: The cursor keys should also work.  But using hjkl you will be able to
    move around much faster, once you get used to it.  Really!

Also see e.g.: What are easy to learn things that massively improve speed and productivity in vim?

Vim is an editor, not an IDE!

This really reminds me of all the silly discussions about whether Cradle of Filth is “extreme metal”, “symphonic black metal”, “extreme gothic metal”, or some other metal subgenre. Yes, people have lengthy discussions about this. No one really cares, and it doesn’t really change anything, so 🤷

Vim has most features that you’d expect from an IDE: tools to analyse source code, completion, integration with build systems, debugging tools, etc. By depending more on external tools and/or plugins Vim has a different approach than some other IDEs – which can can be considered either a good or bad thing – but that doesn’t mean it’s “not an IDE”.

Vim is more efficient than $other_tool

In my observation, when averaged out over the period of weeks or months, it doesn’t really matter which editor/IDE you use: when properly mastered, all mainstream tools are roughly equally efficient.

Sure, Vim is faster at some tasks, but slower at others. In general, I find that the most time is spent in thinking about what to write, rather than sending input to your computer. In the end, it comes down to a matter of personal taste more than anything else.