I Tried Living Completely Using Just Emacs… Here is What I Have Learnt

And When I say “Completely”, I mean even the Desktop interface itself!

FadinGeek
6 min readSep 12, 2022

Ok, this is a crazy experiment I tried. There were some good experiences, some bad ones, and some horrible ones here. Here’s what I did. I deleted every software I have on my computer-The image view, the desktop GUI, the pdf viewer, text editors, menus… EVERYTHING. And used literally just Emacs for everything and here’s what I did and how I did it. I think it’s a fairly good workflow to work in and could be used as your complete operating system focus. I would also talk about for whom this would actually fit, so you might want to just try it rather than implement it completely if it does not fit you. Also if you are wondering why Emacs (I have a long history of hating Emacs), it’s just because I hate myself and want to torture myself. I’ll see if I could make a complete video on this on my dear YouTube channel at some point because setting it up by itself is a complete mess.

NOTE: For those of you who don’t know, of course, you cannot delete file managers and stuff in Windows, so I’m talking about Linux in this article. The complete article will be just using a Linux Distribution, in this case, Arch Linux.

Setting It Up

Extensions… This piece of the program relies completely on extensions to take it to extremes. It could be made into anything and could be easily customized to anything you want just using extensions. Without extensions, it’s just a simple text editor.

Which Distro Of Emacs Did I Use?

Well… Emacs comes with different “editions” of themselves made by different people. The one I would be using is called Doom Emacs since it comes with all sorts of preinstalled features which I need and is also beginner friendly to start with.

GUI

As I said, I deleted my complete GUI. Which means I’m left with nothing. But, I had emacs installed, which means I have everything installed. In doom emacs, Win+X would give me a menu where I have to select “Install package”. Now that I have a complete store in front of me, I installed the “exam” extension which is a window manager. A window manager is the simplest form of GUI you would operate daily. It just manages windows as the name suggests.

File Manager

The most basic program needed to travel around your computer. For this, I used a simple extension in Doom Emacs called Dired-which is a very good name to keep for a file manager and has so much meaning in it (no it doesn’t). Dired comes preinstalled in most Emacs distros, so after googling it, I just went ahead and started using it in my workflow.

Search

Hitting space would bring you a menu through which you could open/run anything you want. It’s a tedious workflow, and I’ll talk about that later.

Windows

Windows, as in the boxes of apps we have on our desktops. For that, you just have to configure the emacs config file in a way through which it could tile itself using Lisp, which is a complete rocket science alternative by itself. So I did something which nobody should do. Copy, and paste from this non-living thing called the internet.

Image viewer

For this, again dired+ comes with some pretty good features which you could get from hours of tweaking. But at the end of the day, it did work in previewing the image right from the “file manager” which is the same as any other file manager.

Web Browsing

Yes… When I say using only emacs, I mean using it as a web browser as well. For this, I use eww. It’s as weird as its name and gives all the features you could have with some or the other problem. eww is a web browser made for people who want nothing in their web browser other than challenges. It’s obvious why nobody uses it. Neither does it use Chrome extensions, nor does it have great community support.

And More

There were, of course, some smaller simpler packages I had to install to keep my computer far from killing itself and it was VERY time-consuming. If added up, I think setting it up itself would be 24 hrs non-stop.

Using This

It was not the best experience. The major problem I got from this is the workflow as mentioned above. I get that emacs is trying to be a completely keyboard oriented interface, but it just does not work efficiently. For text editing as a software developer, this is not useful. Don’t get me wrong though, I know some of you might use emacs daily, but it’s not useful as a complete GUI and system itself. Even as a text editor, you have a learn A LOT and tweak A LOT just to get head on head with text editors like VSC or Sublime (I cannot say Atom anymore). So, this is definitely now for me. As a cool breeze of wind even though there wasn’t any in my room and extreme relieve even though I had all my work piled up, just by changing back to my good old Linux Distro of choice, which does not use Emacs in anyway.

When This works?

The only place where this could work is in servers… As in CUI interfaces or in interfaces where in you use terminal extensively.

Overall

I could now say for sure, that I have fairly good experience in how the “Elite” workflow works. But honestly, I think the setup was a very time-consuming chore to be done. This did not help me in any logical way, nor did it help me efficiently use the computer even after setting it up. It’s a mess created with great effort. If there was Anything positive it has done, it just has to be satisfying by challenging mentality and ego.

Conclusion: When Should You Switch and Should You?

Well, I think there are some cases where you could use this. If you want to learn, this would be a good place to start, but again if you are learning while you are also in a mainstream project, this would not be a good idea. I would say if you want to challenge yourself, keep a separate computer which would handle all your skills and mistakes. You could try a virtual machine, but you would have Vsync and many other unnecessary problems.

In the end, should you even try this out? NO… Definitely not from my side since this has no practical use. I changed back to my all-time favorite Distro now and I’m a happy guy living without any depression. I wouldn’t say that if I continue using that. Let me know if you had the same brain as mine and if you also tried Emacs out. With that said, I’ll make many more YouTube videos on YouTube (obviously) and I’ll see you in the next one.

You’re Awesome :)

FadinGeek

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FadinGeek

My thoughts and world. Just want to keep sharing thoughts, experiments & new stuff. YouTube, Instagram, Patreon, BuyMeACoffee, you could reach me out anywhere!