Don't use Emacs, says Java's father

More modern development environments increase productivity

Known in the development world as the father of Java, Sun Microsystems' vice president and fellow James Gosling has urged coders to stop using the antiquated Emacs text editor and move to a more modern IDE like Sun's own open source NetBeans.

During his keynote address at the Sydney leg of the Sun Tech Days worldwide developer conference, Gosling quizzed the audience by asking how many people "still use Emacs?"

When a few dozen people raised their arms in support of the 30-year-old editor, Gosling said "just stop!", much to the amusement of the audience.

"In a former life I was responsible for the first version of Emacs on Unix [Gosling Emacs]," Gosling said. "Emacs was a really great idea in the seventies and one of the frightening things about Emacs today is if you skip the last 20 years it is much the same."

The popular open source GNU Emacs has been under development since 1984 by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation.

Gosling said the GNU folks "added syntax highlighting", but it is still "very much the same" and is in no way keeping up with Moore's Law for computing power.

Gosling recommended the diehard Emacs users take a look at Sun's NetBeans IDE, which "fits together" components well and there was "a lot of work done in the GUI editing" for the recent version 6 release.

"NetBeans is a nice framework for building applications and we've done a lot of work on the enterprise side with components like AJAX that works together and ties in with SOA," he said, adding there are also a lot of mobility features in NetBeans.

While NetBeans is open source, Gosling said almost nobody bothers to modify its code because of its complexity.

On the server side, Gosling said the GlassFish J2EE application server has been a success for Sun over the past three years.

"It's a really high-performance app server and used in really large mission-critical apps," he said. "People are doing all the heavy stuff. Version 3 is coming soon and they have restructured the guts of it so it is really modular. It will be less than 100,000 lines of code so it's only what you need."

During the Q&A session, Gosling was asked if he always introduces himself as the father of Java.

"No f**king way!" He said. "People call me that because it pisses me off."

While Gosling wrote the original virtual machine specification and Java compiler, he said Java has really been a labour of love for a lot of people.

"Since then people who actually know what they are doing have worked on it," he said. "Java has many fathers and mothers."

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Obviously, the "father" don't know emacs at all.

Thomas K


Could not agree more. I don't see Netbeans replacing emacs running in a screen session over ssh. He should know better than to try to convert emacs users (which, for the most part I'd like to say, are die-hard programmers) to some java IDE.



Well, as Paul Graham said, "Java's designers were consciously designing a product for people not as smart as them" and since emacs has some fame as the "die-hard-programmer's editor choice" they need to justify the creation of big self-contained IDE like Netbeans so they won't show of Java programmers as "less smart".

Now a religious opinion: maybe Java programmers should avoid emacs, but that's because Java is not a very bright language.



Hmmm.....JAVA is not very bright language???? compare to what?
How do you determine if the programmer is "less smart" just for choosing to program in Java language?? this is ridiculous.

I agree that Emacs has its advantages compared to IDE in some aspects. Buuuuttt, when you have to configure EMacs to work as JAVA IDE you will face all the pain in this world. I personally prefer some moden Java IDE, if not NetBeans, such as Eclipse for Java programming.



Exactly, This emacs legacy cannot be carried on forever, of course emacs is a great editor no one denies that, but world has changed, Human computer interaction is no longer through just keyboard? Why resort to this ridiculously painful configuration drama what you can do with a few plugins and settings. Now emacs may be completely reconfigurable, nevertheless, so will IDE features be soon enough.



One day, Gosling will step into a Baptist church suggesting that this, you know, Jesus concept is really outdated and they should try the Elohim for a change.

Firstly, Moore's law cannot be reversed to mean that, because computing power has multiplied by 1000, so should the resource requirements of your editor.

And re. configuration, Eclipse may have a graphical interface for that, but it's comprised of an endless set of settings, in settings, in settings, ..., that is at least as impenetrable as Emacs' arcane variables- but the latter are somehow documented, somewhere.



OK, the article is two years old now, but who am I to resist responding to troll bait. What's conspicuous about Gosling's comment is that it implies that those who've been using Emacs for the last 30 years, 20 in my case, haven't tried anything else. For myself, I've used used everything else, Turbo Pascals c. 1986!, Turbo C++ c. 1990!, Eclipse, VS Studio, (multiple incarnations), Net Beans, you name it I've tried it, and I always come back to Emacs.

It's still clunky if you're doing Windows development. (My feeble brain has yet to manage to get it to open text documents in the main open Window for example.) But within Emacs you will find a synthesis all those 30 years and the experiences countless programmers that hacked on it. Programmers to whom programing was not a 9-5 job but a passion, a spiritual, and ethical pursuit. In a nutshell, programming is about the code and you should interact with it using an idiom that makes the expression of vast amounts of code transparent and natural. And to me that's exactly what Emacs does. When I work an a project with Emacs I never feel that there is any distance between me and a line of code in the remotest component, never any distance between and the remotest modification that's been made, never any distance between me and the farthest macro I've executed, text I've pasted or file I've visited. It allows me to build large amounts of the codes structure in my head, but never demands that I memorize it.

So, by all means try new technologies, but don't discount others out of hand because they don't have enough buttons across the menu bar or aren't the backed by major corporations and their marketing campaigns.



The modern IDEs like eclipse and netbeans are lacking a command prompt that bridges the begginer's mouse interaction with the guru's use of keyboard shortcuts.

Support for spliting the screen has also been neglected.



I'm confused. In the quote below, Gosling appears to criticise NetBeans... Perhaps the author made a typo here, and meant to type Emacs.

"While NetBeans is open source, Gosling said almost nobody bothers to modify its code because of its complexity."

Not being able to modify something because of the complexity is surely a bad thing?

ravi kumar


emacs vs netbeans?
equal to
lion vs rabbits
emacs (was is will be ) like a lion to a programmer

Pi Mo


... but there are more rabbits than lions. We shouldn't forget that.

I used NetBeans in some Java projects: it has some good features, it has some bad features. Debugging is somewhat better in NetBeans but overall I still prefer emacs.

I don't like the way IDEs like NetBeans and Eclipse tie the project to themselves. build.xml + ant is a better approach: every participant of the project is free to use the editor and tools they like most.



The JDEE plugin is perfect in emacs for java programming
I feel so free coding in emacs than coding in an IDE like netbeans or eclipse
maybe the main reason that i do this is we don't even need mouse in emacs so it raise up the speed of writing

Bob Roberts


Look at all of the dinosaurs coming out to growl about Emacs! "Argh! Emacs makes me more spiritual. Rar!" I prefer to not develop carpel tunnel syndrome because of an ancient text editor.

Rob Boberts


Argh! Rar! Diggilty Dee. If you love to exaggerate, you are an obese java programmer. First name Rob, last name Boberts. Clickin' on a dirty mouse-shaped device all day long. Breakin' chairs like there's no tomorrow. Flabbergastin' like the Father of Java. This is the way of "Net Beans".

Rob Boberts


When Gosling FLABBERGASTS his audience, he shakes his head and vibrates his lips, eventually drooling everywhere. We call this the FLABERGASTIN' technique, used by all follows of the Father of Java.

Renee Marie Jones


Integrated development environments were a compromise created to overcome the problem that DOS could only run one program at a time. They are not something to be desired, and it has always been the case that separate components, carefully chosen, always beat a single integrated part.

When someone creates an integrated platoform, you have to accept all the parts and compromises he made to get it. If he does not care as much about the editor as you do, you get a junk editor ... and you are stuck because it is integrated. Ya, in principle everything can be fixed, but the controller of the integrated environment never has the will, the time, or the expertise to do everything right. You are stuck.

I have never seen an integrated environment that works properly, It is very sad that so many people were brought up on DOS/Windows and know nothing else. They think IDEs are good only because of their ignorance coupled with an instinct to classify "unfamiliar" with "bad."

It is just one of the huge disservices that Microsoft did to the community. It will be a hundred years before the software industry recovers.

PS: Mr Gosling, someone who cannot write a correct demo of quicksort in Java should not lecture others on programming.




They're modeled after the arcane Unix system which we all know is rather old now - I urge you people to switch to a more efficient, modern OS and use Windows (TM).



GPL was articulated because of his greediness..

So thank you Mr Goshiit for that



If Netbeans source is so complicated that it can't be modifed then it is essentially a proprietary, closed source project.

The irony is that the same is true for emacs and many, MANY "open source"/GNU projects, including Java itself.

It is astounding to me that someone as allegedly smart as Gosling would say this about emacs, and then make that comment about Netbeans source complexity.

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