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Why use that primitive Vi?

© May 2008 Anthony Lawrence

Sometimes after leading some customer through a vi session to fix their problem I'll hear something like this:

"Why does (Unix/Linux) make things so hard? That 'vi' is so primitive - they should have a word processor!"

Of course there are Linux and Unix word processors - plenty to choose from. There are even text editors that would probably be easier for an unskilled person to use. But even if the person on the other end of the phone line said "I know how to use Joe" (a common and fairly user friendly text editor), I'd still probably say "I'd rather lead you through it with vi."

Why? Well, first off, it's me that is leading you through the necessary keystrokes, and it's one heck of a lot easier for me to give precise instructions in an editor I know cold than to say what I want accomplished and have it get screwed up. If the person at the other end types exactly what I tell them to type, I know what the results will be: I don't have to wonder. If they can't follow directions closely, it's also easy for me to know that they weren't paying attention, and it's usually easy to get the error fixed and get them back on track and touching no keys until I say to.

But it's more than that. With Vi I can control what happens and where it happens very specifically (see Vi Primer to learn a bit about vi if you need to). If I need exactly seven characters deleted, I can say "Type 7 and then x". I don't have to worry that the person at the other end will lose count and trash eight characters: vi will do just what I say. I can delete exactly four lines, I can specifically delete or change line 378, I can in one command change every occurrence of "foo" to "bar".. you get the picture. Like most other Unixy things, it's about having CONTROL. You don't get that kind of power with a word processor or a "user friendly" text editor.

Unfortunately, I don't usually have the time to explain all this to someone who complains about primitive editors. They probably wouldn't be interested anyway, but now that I've written this, maybe I'll just send them a link in email.. just so they can understand why I use that "primitive" vi.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Why vi instead of a Word Processor?


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Fri May 23 20:53:45 2008: 4230   drag

Agree with them. Say that you like the syntax highlighting of Vim much more (even if it's a lie)

Sat May 24 09:55:15 2008: 4232   joe

How many hours y spent with my old SCOīs vi.....

Itīs hard to use, but it do as exactly i meant....

(as i become older y love more vi and less use msword)

Regards anthony from patagonia argentina...

Sun May 25 14:43:29 2008: 4235   Lantrix

I use vi every day at work, but prefer vim on my own machines (gvim on win32 where I must). I'm slowly converting all my geek friends one at a time.

Even when I use apps like textmate which are nice - I always miss the simple elegance of vi (and vim).

Thu Jul 31 05:28:15 2008: 4463   AlanHaggaiAlavi

I use vi(m) for almost all editing purposes. It is just the overhead of initially learning the vi(m) editor that gives it the term `hard'. However, after mastering it, we have a heads up over everyone using other editors. It simply is worth the effort.

Thu Aug 21 20:27:33 2008: 4500   SirTuna

I'm still a pico guy. Lightweight, but not terribly cryptic - no frills, really. Though, I have friends that swear by emacs... *shudders*

Fri Sep 26 13:02:01 2008: 4607   tweetiepooh

Also vi is always there; HPUX, Solaris, Linux vi is there. (I needed to faf around a bit on Gentoo to get it there during install).

Fri Sep 26 21:09:53 2008: 4608   TonyLawrence

Yes, vi is almost always there. In the old days, you couldn't depend on emacs being installed, but you could depend on finding ed and vi..


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