M-x all-things-emacs

Emacs on Mac OS X

January 13th, 2007 by Ryan McGeary · 86 Comments

Carbon Emacs Icon Like many, I am a recent Mac OS X convert. I left Windows about 9 months ago and haven’t looked back. Upon switching, I found several different emacs distributions. While each has its own strengths and weaknesses, only Carbon Emacs made the cut. Here’s why:

  • Actively Maintained – Updates are frequent and based on Emacs 22 CVS builds.
  • Included Packages – It includes common packages that most developers are going to need anyway. Why emacs doesn’t yet include most of these by default is beyond me. I guess tetris, gomoku, and doctor are more important than nxml-mode, psvn, and ruby-mode. I thank Seiji Zenitani for moving things in the right direction.
  • Mailing List – The Carbon Emacs Google Group is active and friendly (this replaced the old mailing list) .
  • Universal Binary – I’m fortunate enough to have a shiny Intel-based MacBook Pro, and I like using it.
  • GNU Emacs – I’m not a zealot, but I learned on GNU Emacs and remained loyal. The XEmacs contingent can tell me I’m crazy.

Tags: osx · tips

86 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeff Jolma // Jan 23, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    Do other distributions really not have ruby-mode or nxml-mode? I don’t think the world’s best tetris port can overcome that.

  • 2 Ryan McGeary // Jan 23, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Some distributions such as Aquamacs do include ruby-mode and nxml-mode, but Aquamacs failed to appeal to me for other reasons. Carbon Emacs seems to have a more comprehensive list of useful packages too. I don’t mind the 3rd party distributions taking the ball here, but I wish GNU Emacs included some of these important/popular modes by default.

  • 3 Jason // Jan 23, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Despite having chosen XEmacs on Linux/BSD for the last 8 years or so, I found Carbon Emacs to be the best on my new Mac (new Mac user).

    But I still can’t tear myself away from Linux (fvwm, mrxvt and xemacs) for my regular development.

    Good thing the Mac is my secondary computer.

  • 4 Gábor Farkas // Jan 23, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    “but Aquamacs failed to appeal to me for other reasons. “

    could you explain what those other reasons were?

  • 5 Ryan McGeary // Jan 24, 2007 at 12:04 am

    @Gabor, Aquamacs is a nice distribution. David Reitter has made some pretty clever customizations, but its style just doesn’t jive with mine. I’m sure Aquamacs is fully configurable, but the defaults of Carbon Emacs are just more of what I am used to. I understand what Aquamacs is trying to do, but the window behavior doesn’t work for me. In a world where tabbed applications are all the rage, I just don’t understand why someone would want multiple windows everywhere. Emacs with iswitchb has given me tabbed-like behavior well before it was a fad. I also like the Carbon Emacs default of making the command key the meta key. My brain was too hardwired under Windows/Linux to make the switch to an option-positioned meta key. I think this might be fixed now, but back when I tried Aquamacs, it generated pop-up windows for things that should have been handled in the minibuffer. Add that the installed packages of Carbon Emacs more closely match my own required packages, and Carbon Emacs won for me. Your mileage may vary. Btw, Carbon Emacs has benefited by some of the custom work that the Aquamacs team has done. If you’re not like me, Aquamacs is a fine alternative.

  • 6 Ryan McGeary // Jan 26, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    Here is a recent quote from Seiji Zenitani

    Both Carbon Emacs Package and Aquamacs emacs are developed, based on the emacs CVS code. Shortly speaking, Aquamacs’ goal seems to be a Macintosh text editor, something beyond the traditional GNU emacs. David Reitter constructed multi-window text-editing environment on the top of single-window-oriented emacs, by a lot of customization codes. On the other hand, my goal is a “Mac-friendly” version of the traditional GNU Emacs. I intend to provide moderate amount of UNIX & Mac integration, so that UNIX users feel comfortable. You can try both of them and you can choose either of them.

  • 7 Conrad // Jul 2, 2007 at 6:53 am

    Never having been an emacs expert I thought I would try Aquamacs. Couldn’t get on with it.

    Bought ‘Learning GNU Emacs’ from O’Reilly, still couldn’t get on with it.

    Thought I would try Carbon Emacs – instantly loved it.

    Carbon emacs just ‘felt’ better. Can’t say why!

  • 8 Arcadio // Oct 16, 2008 at 11:22 am

    I know its been a long time since you posted this…

    Now that Emacs.app has been merged into the GNU Emacs CVS, and taking into account that Emacs.app is a Cocoa application, would you still choose Carbon Emacs?

    By the way, your blog rocks. I’ve read most of your posts, and they’ve been very helpful while I learned Emacs. It’s a pitty you don’t post slightly more often.

  • 9 David Rogoff // Jan 29, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Hi – another recent convert to Mac. I found AquaEmacs, which seems pretty good. My confusion is that I’ve been using xemacs for about 13 years, so I have to get used to gnu.

    I was hoping someone could give a current status of Carbon Emacs vs AquaEmacs for 2010.



  • 10 Gilberto // Feb 7, 2010 at 5:26 am

    I’ve been a Mac user since 1989, and I started using Emacs almost two years ago (for LaTeX basically, at first; now, I really fancy org-mode, the calendar, the calculator and I’ve used it for very occasional html coding). I began with Aquamacs and loved it. I once tried Enhanced Carbon Emacs and didn’t feel quite at ease with it. Maybe now that I’ve used GNU Emacs on Windows and in the Terminal.app, I might give a second chance to Carbon Emacs.

  • 11 Yang Pei // Feb 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Hi Ryan, do you remember me? I’m the guy who asked you about the compeletion stuff monthes ago. I’ve checked out your emacs confs on github
    and I appreciate your sharing very much. So my question this time is: is there a clue or standard that you can reach on configuring emacs? in other words, as you program day by day and with your skills also increases each day, do you think you will change your emacs configuration drastically? or is there a limit on emacs configuration or a pattern to follow?

  • 12 Ryan McGeary // Feb 6, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Yang, Like any codebase, it needs to evolve and change. Like my application code, I continuously refactor and modify my configuration as I learn more and as my demands grow. My emacs config has gone through several major changes over the past several years. I’m fairly happy with where it stands now.