Emacs 23 on OSX – pros and cons

January 3, 2010

I’ve been considering upgrading my Emacs installation on OSX for a while. Until now, I’ve been using Carbon Emacs, and I have been quite pleased with it.

However, Emacs 23 has been the recommended release for a while now, and it’s probably time to move on. So I thought I’d use this entry to sum up my findings so far about making the switch.

The facts

First, a note about naming. “Carbon Emacs” is Emacs 22.x, distributed by Apple (CORRECTION: No, it is built and distributed by Seiji Zenitani. Thanks Ian). Not maintained or supported by Apple, but they have a pretty download page for it nonetheless. As of this writing, the build is about 6 months old.

To get Emacs 23 on the Mac, you need the Cocoa version, called simply “Emacs.app”. It can be downloaded from here, and the current version is 23.1.


Much nicer fonts

Ah yes, this is what everybody has been talking about. I know very little about typography, but I think it has to do with antialiasing and the fact that Emacs.app uses the Cocoa libraries instead of Carbon (which has been around since Mac OS 9).

The fonts look great. At first I almost couldn’t tell the difference, but it becomes very apparent once you switch to a smaller font. In Carbon Emacs, I never managed to use a 10pt font for very long at a time, because it was pretty hard for me to read. Now, it is very clear. This is obviously a huge improvement because it allows me to have more text on the screen.

–daemon mode

I haven’t really played with this yet, but it looks cool.

This feature allows you to run emacs in “daemon mode”, meaning that it evaluates all startup files but does not open a frame. It then opens a socket and listens for clients.

To open an Emacs frame, use emacsclient. It seems to require a little extra tweaking in my setup, because when opening a client frame the toolbar is not disabled, the Meta key is not properly set up etc. But I’m sure that would be easy to fix.

The great news here is that it allows you to have one master instance of Emacs running and open files in it easily. For example, set your $EDITOR variable to “emacsclient -t”. The advantage of this method is that you can use the same instance of Emacs throughout your system. Right now I’m used to invoking something like “emacs -q -nw /etc/foo” if I need to quickly edit a file in the shell and don’t want to wait for my sea of customizations to be loaded.


weblogger.el is messed up again

I know I have no right to say this, but I want to be honest. This really, really pisses me off. I cannot believe how fragile the weblogger.el/xml-rpc.el combination is.

Until I updated to the latest versions, it didn’t work at all. I already forgot what was wrong, because I’ve gotten so used to just trying out all sorts of tweaks until it works (or I give up).

So after installing the latest versions, I am able to download the list of posts (with weblogger-fetch-entries). But alas, all of a sudden there is some issue with longlines-mode, so when writing a new entry, the text just becomes invisible. Figuring that out within a few minutes gave me a sense of Deja Vu. I must have been bitten by this issues at some time in the past, or I would never have figured out so quickly what was wrong. (UPDATE: It turned out that only the showing of hard newlines had to be turned off, and that this is not related to weblogger.el. But somewhere along the way, this entry was messed up so real newlines were inserted.)

Having to disable longlines-mode is painful to be sure, but the annoyance passes quickly as I discover another two issues.

After saving an entry (weblogger-send-entry) the *weblogger-entry* buffer is buried. Why?? (UPDATE: It turns out that this was also the case in the previous versions. I had just forgotten that I had made a dirty hack in weblogger.el to fix it).

Also, the interaction with wordpress.com is just painfully slow. It takes me about 10 secs to save an entry. I have no idea why that is. I haven’t started using https or anyting like that. A quick look at tcpdump reveals an 8 second pause that is new since my Emacs 22 setup.

twit.el broken

This is another regression I just discovered while writing this entry. When trying to run twit-show-recent-tweets, I get the following error.

error in process sentinel: Symbol's value as variable is void: url-http-attempt-keepalives

Again, no idea what is wrong. I updated to the latest twit.el (which worked fine in Carbon Emacs). When trying in an Emacs with no customizations, it just hangs.

Fullscreen mode broken

This is a well-known issue, and a pretty serious one IMO. I get some extra text from reducing the font size, but it is wasted on menubar and window decorations as long as I can’t properly fullscreen the frame.


So, is it time for me to upgrade to Emacs 23? Absolutely not. It has taken me way too long just to write this blog entry simply because stuff keeps falling apart.

I’m afraid I’ll have to spend a significant amount of time tweaking all my customizations to work with Emacs 23. And I’m afraid it is going to be a while before I have nothing better to do. Until then, I’m stuck with Emacs 22.

But hey, that’s not so bad, is it?

3 Responses to “Emacs 23 on OSX – pros and cons”

  1. […] Emacs 23 on OSX – pros and cons If you really are interested in this, I have other programming articles on my blog.  Click here. […]

  2. Ian Eure Says:

    Your facts are wrong. Carbon Emacs is _not_ built or distrubuted by Apple, but built by Seiji Zenitani.

    The only Emacs which Apple has anything to do with is the terminal-only Emacs 22 which ships with Mac OS X.

  3. chopmo Says:

    @Ian Thanks for the correction. I was mislead by the URL of the download page (http://www.apple.com/downloads/…) and the download link itself (http://wsidecar.apple.com/…), but I see now that you’re right. The binary is downloaded from http://macwiki.sourceforge.jp.

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