Microsoft to build an 'Emacs.Net' text editor

Microsoft to build an 'Emacs.Net' text editor

Summary: Developers are puzzling over recent clues blogged by a few Microsoft employees regarding a new "Emacs.Net" tool the company is building -- and about which it will share more details at the Professional Developers Conference in October 2008.


Developers are puzzling over recent clues blogged by a few Microsoft employees regarding a new "Emacs.Net" tool the company is building.

Microsoft's Connected Systems Division (the folks who developed the Windows Communication Framework, a k a "Indigo")  is hiring developers  to build a product that team member Doug Purdy described as "Emacs.Net." Purdy hinted that Microsoft will divulge its Emacs.Net product/strategy plans at the company's Professional Developers Conference in late October 2008.

Emacs is a text editor used primarily by the Unix community (though versions of Emacs that work on Windows systems already exist). Richard Stallman is credited as the father of Emacs, the name of which was derived from "Editing MACRoS."

"Emacs is a text editor where a lot of the functionality is written in Lisp. It's very easy to customize if you can write Lisp code. Maybe by Emacs.NET they mean an Emacs-like editor built on .NET languages (maybe with PowerShell integration) instead of Lisp," speculated Joel Spolsky, a former Softie and current CEO of Fog Creek Software.

Miguel de Icaza, the Vice President of Developer Platforms at Novell (and force behind Mono and the Linux port of Silverlight, known as Moonlight) also hazarded a guess: "Emacs.Net probably refers to a programming environment, that happens to have an editor, and they would probably replace Lisp with .NET."

Responding in comments on the Microsoft Channel 9 blog, Microsoft "Chief Modeling Officer" Don Box added a few more bits of information:

"There are two kinds of emacs users: those who start up emacs in a top-level window and use M-x shell to do shell work, and those who live in tcsh/ksh/bash and crank up emacs -nw to take over their console/terminal window.

"I was always in the former camp, and I believe that's the design point for Doug (Purdy)'s project.  If you look up and down our hallway, all other remaining emacs users are in that former camp as well."

No one has said anything about how the forthcoming Emacs.Net tool will work with Microsoft's PowerShell, the Unix-like command-line interface and scripting shell that Microsoft is building into a number of its products, ranging from Exchange Server, to Windows Server 2008.

What's your take on what an "Emacs.Net" will look like?

Topics: Microsoft, CXO, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development, IT Employment, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Its a terminal-based multifunction text editor

    I think it is going to be advanced text editor which is extendable.

    What Microsoft really lack is a decent text editor that can be run inside the four wall of the terminal console/Command Prompt. As sysadmin do more and more work using the terminal console, lack of an advanced text editor inside the four walls is becoming more and more a hindrance.

    Like emacs, it will allow addition of extra capabilities : IDE-like if you are programming, text editing if you are working on text file and since it is a good idea, probably a way to connect/download and display html pages (as text pages).

    It's a good idea. If my prediction is correct, then it means command line had not died but is experiencing a resurgence at Microsoft
    • Well emacs also has a X windows verision
      • Actually...

        Regular GNU Emacs (not just xemacs) has GUIs for (at least), X, 32-bit Windows, and the OS/2 Presentation Manager. Not as flashy as what xemacs offers, but definitely functional.
        John L. Ries
    • What good is that?

      Half the reason I use Emacs at all is because it's easy to pop up the GUI version and keep my terminal session free (I use vi for quick and dirty road repairs).

      I suppose that MS can make their own Emacs if they want to (as long as they don't use FSF code without following their rules), but it does need to have at least the most important capabilities of GNU Emacs (to include at least as good of a GUI as GNU Emacs provides on the Windwos side), or nobody's going to use it. A quick and dirty port of ancient public domain Emacs is a waste of time.
      John L. Ries
  • Do Winows users really need 'Escape Meta Alt Control Shift'?

    Emacs (the name) is just a combination of the "special" keys that it gave people to do stuff. Why would they need a clone of the old Unix editor ported to Windows?
    • Well you should try and learn just a little more about it...

      you may find it quite useful.
      And it has already been ported to Windows !!!
      • I fail to see why I (or anyone for that matter) needs EMACS.

        At no point in my life (from college to managing everything from Solaris to various flavors of Linux to HP-UX to AIX to Wndows (anything) to BSD to touching IRIX and several other dead flavors of Unix have I ever needed emacs. And where on a QWERTY keyboard is the Meta key? Remember, Emacs is an acronym for the Escape Meta Alt Control Shift (as it allows for mapping of all of these keys) and is heavily LISP oriented (though you can use C++ now).

        for some things, it is just easier to do something like:
        # cat >> /etc/sysctl << EOF
        > ... (whatever you want to place in the file)
        > EOF

        Windows equivalent is:
        COPY CON somefilename

        Emacs is just a heavy editor ported to a bunch of platforms.
        • I smell a troll.

          Now you're just trolling. Emacs is not an acronym. The meta key is typically the Alt key on Windows keyboards, but Unix keyboards (with dedicated meta keys) are also QWERTY. And to compare emacs to cat or COPY CON is like comparing Visual Studio to Notepad.
  • At first glance it doesn't sound useful

    On the surface it doesn't seem like an idea with much value, but I guess since we really have no idea where they are going with this, it's too early to make judgments at this time.
  • Another nail in the UNIX coffin...

    I questioned the importance of this with my rep this morning over lattes and scones. He silently sat there for about 1 minute, and then said "the release of EMACS.NET is part of the master plan to extinguish Stallman". What utter brilliance! Microsoft will win hearts and minds with a new EMACS tool that will crush the competition. BRILLIANT!
    Mike Cox
    • Now I'm Intrigued

      Any hints from your rep as to what next Microsoft will develop to vi for our attentions?
      • Leave my vi alone!

        Leave the beautiful vi alone - I don't want it to be bastardised and fused into something disgustingly complicated like EMACS.
    • Your Rep is a genius

      Absolutely. And, of course, Don Box is a massive, bearded longhaired hippie (who makes a point of using the DOS emulator, in order to launch the DOS emulator) so clearly he is their intended replacement for Stallman. I promise you: I've met the man! He even smells of stale beer and Chinese food, sometimes! Perfect!

      (I take it is title of "Chief Modelling officer" does not relate to glamour modelling).

      You haven't lived until you've run VI on Vista, or Emacs on an iMac! Welcome to the 21st Century. Please form an orderly queue.
  • VI.NET!!

    I don't care, I just use EditPlus. Notepad is so weak, Windows is the only operating system I HAVE to install a text editor. Linux of course is text editing heaven, I personally use Gnome and GEdit. On my Mac, I use TextMate, which incurs a relatively hefty charge for a "text editor", but after a trial version I found it's so much more, but Mac's default isn't terrible.
    • No, really:

      Personally, I would buy a genuine vi-clone, if was exactly that. Gvim keeps me going on Windows in the meantime.
      Jason Etheridge
      • I would personally prefer


        Nice syntax file would be fine.
  • RE: Microsoft to build an 'Emacs.Net' text editor

    I've always joked that emacs is one upgrade away from being an OS... I guess this is sort of the same concept the other way around.
  • RE: Microsoft to build an 'Emacs.Net' text editor

    Years ago, when the internet was really starting to take off and executives were rubbing their wallets thinking ???how can I cash-in on this internet craze???? Meanwhile, Microsoft executives were really starting to sweat how they were going to complete with Netscape and remain competitive in this new internet based world. The MS Windows team was worried about future prospects ...

  • Message has been deleted.

    • Who is dataland

      and do they matter at all?

      Probally not.