In an office in a city there lived a programmer. Sitting at his desk, (or standing, thanks to his adjustable desk), noice-cancelling headphones in place, typing away on his fancy keyboard with RGB backlights, happily immersed in Neovim. Err, wait. That's not right. Happily immersed in Visual Studio Code. Ahh, not quite. Happily immersed in Neovim. Dang. Doesn't feel right. Ok, last try. Unhappily immersed in whichever text editor he'd happened to decide on for that week.
Does this sound familiar? I surely can't be the only one out there who just can't seem to settle on a text editor. It feels silly, I feel like I'm spending way too much mental energy on something so... boring? bland? uninteresting? unproductive? all of the above? Who knows. But since I'm probably not the only person to have felt this way, I've decided to share my experience a little, and hopefully shed some light on the value of things being good enough.
In the beginning, I used Atom. It was what they suggested us to use when I was at my bootcamp. It was neat. It had cool colourschemes, and convenient keyboard shortcuts. No problems there. Until one day I decided to take a look at the mystical terminal-based text editor, Vim.
Vim was a bit of a crazy experience. My first encounter with Vim in the wild
was when I was first learning about Git and typed
git commit in the terminal.
I found myself in a screen I couldn't exit. Like so many others, I ended up
just closing the terminal, before I was able to figure out that I was inside a
program called Vim. Then, again, like so many others, I googled "How to exit
Vim?", and was led to one of the most popular Stack Overflow posts of all
isn't a post about why vim and modal editing is undisputably the best way to
edit text, so I won't go into detail. But suffice to say, once I figured out
how to quit, I was in it. I loved it. I felt so fast, so slick, so cool. Flying
around the document without using a mouse, coding at the speed of thought -- it
was awesome. I was hooked.
Ok, it wasn't quite such smooth sailing. Vim is pretty barebones by default, so it didn't take long for me to fall down the rabbit hole of plugins and personalized configuration. While I forget the precise details, at some point I was pointed towards Neovim, a community-driven fork of the original Vim codebase. It promised async plugin execution, faster and more community-driven feature development, but an otherwise Vim-equivalent experience.
So once again, I hopped over. I swapped out my old single-threaded plugins for new, fancy, Neovim-only plugins. I loved it. I had asynchronous linting and formatting of my code, I had a keyboard shortcut to run the test under my cursor, I could fuzzy-find files in a snap, and even live-grep the entire codebase without even thinking about it. Once again, I loved it.
As Neovim matured, so did my configuration. Eventually, Neovim introduced Lua as a configuration language, supplementing the somewhat esoteric Vimscript it had been using before. This was a big jump. Plugins could be written in a nicer language, so plugins got better! Then Neovim added built-in support for the Language Server Protocol, and other awesome pieces like Treesitter. Between these two features, we were assured, you'll have complete support for any programming language you choose! It'll be perfect!
Of course, these promises were slightly too good to be true. While you could certainly get Neovim configured with deep language integrations for just about anything, doing so took a lot of work. Getting LSP config files set up, installing, managing, and configuring external tools to do your formatting and linting, plugins with overlapping functionality -- all this made it a bit of a pain. While I was able to get things mostly working, my setup always felt somewhat janky, and I often didn't really know how things were wired up under the hood.
And so now I had two great options on my hands. My custom, hacked-together, mostly-working Neovim setup, which I'd spent a lot of time customizing, setting up keyboard shortcuts, getting the colourscheme just the way I liked, all that kind of stuff. And on the other hand, VSCode, which was shiny and polished and seemed a bit easier to get up and running.
So what did I do? I flip flopped, relentlessly. I'd spend a week in one editor, a month in the other, an afternoon back in the first, three days in the other, then back to the first for six months. It got to be a bit silly. I was so indecisive. I liked them both, but just couldn't land on one over the other.
And so, finally, I decided. Let's go back to VSCode. Let's stick with it for a
while, and see where we land. Turns out VSCode has a Neovim plugin, which lets
you configure your editor with a Vim config file, and even lets you use Vim
plugins. I've got things configured mostly the way I like them. Prettier
required googling "how to do X in vim". It's clean and polished, and
relatively snappy. I'm still missing a few keybinds I used to have, and I
still prefer using iTerm instead of the VSCode built-in terminal. I miss
vim-test in particular, but VSCode has decent
replacements for both.
So here we are. My roundabout journey to VSCode. I'm committing myself to stick here for a while at least, to really give it a go. Part of the problem with Neovim was that I was so into the idea of customizing my workspace that I'd often find myself spending more time tweaking my config than actually working. VSCode hasn't allowed me that kind of customizability yet, so I think that's a win. And here's the crux of the matter. A text editor is a tool. Yes, your tools need to be comfortable, they need to work well. But the more important thing is what you do with that tool, and for me, VSCode is good enough to let me be productive and happy. I'd been on a search for the perfect text editor, when what I really needed was one that was good enough for me to get my work done. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good, as they always say, whoever they are. I'm customizing VSCode, sure. But I'm not spending anywhere near the time I was customizing Vim. Find something that works, make it comfortable for you, but focus on what that tool lets do you, rather than the tool itself.
At least, that's what works for me.
If you've read this far, thank you for taking the time to listen to this rant! And now, off to check out the new shiny toy, Zed!