Editor Popularity: Does it Matter?

Editor Popularity: Does it matter?

Articles and forum threads with concern about Emacs’ perceived lack of popularity keep appearing every year or two.

Today we’re going to discuss the topic of popularity as it relates to text editors:

  • Does popularity matter?
  • What happens when an editor starts to lose popularity

The goal of this conversation is for us to try answer the following questions:

Which text editors have been popular in the last 10-15 years?

What are some examples of editors losing popularity and why did it happen?


Other more extensible and featureful editors came along despite TextMate being very influential.

Also no UTF-8 support

DHH stopped using it?


Potentially unseated by Atom because it had more broad scope and extensibility.

Sublime Text

There were no new updates to Sublime Text 2 and 3 for a long time and then VS Code came long.

No built in package manager, extensibility wasn’t as good as other editors.

Not open source, single developer (or small team at least) and proprietary code.


VS Code appeared, lots of hype after it was released, took attention away from Atom


More options appearing over time that are more appealing to different types of users

What happens when an editor loses popularity?

  • Less people contributing to the project
  • No new features being added to stay competitive with newer editors
  • Code rot, bugs and security issue
  • Less people creating and maintaining community packages
  • Less blog posts, videos, etc educating people on how to learn it
  • Not as much discussion about it on forums or chat
  • Might not be packaged anymore in Linux distributions
  • Not as many new users coming in can have a compounding effect on user loss

How much popularity is enough to keep an editor alive?

What are the signs that there is enough popularity?

  • Do people still care enough to set up conferences about the editor
  • Plenty of different places where users congregate and chat (Reddit, IRC, Discord, etc)
  • A healthy stream of blog posts or videos that explain how to use it or at least provide perspectives
  • Users that can’t stop talking about it, even to people who don’t want to hear it

So, does popularity really matter?

Yes and no, but an editor does not need to be the most popular editor to survive. It only needs dedicated users who care enough to keep moving things forward.

Other points

  • The type of users can also help keep the editor alive if they can contribute to the project; Emacs users have much more understanding of how to contribute to Emacs as they get better at config hacking and writing packages
  • Emacs hacking scales from simple tweaks to building full packages and even contributing to the core
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