Linux remains the operating system of choice for geeks because it’s free, open source, and full of delightful tools like vi. Vi is an old tool designed by Bill Joy for UNIX systems in the 1970s. In layman’s terms, it edits text files from the command line entirely with keyboard shortcuts.
Programmers like vi for its speed. Once you memorize its many commands, vi flies like a hawk. System admins like it because they can use it from the command line when SSHing into another computer.
I wanted to give it a try myself. Apple thoughtfully included a copy of vim (vi IMproved, which functions similarly to vi) in Mountain Lion. You can use this from the Terminal by typing “vim (filename)”. This functions similarly to vi on Linux as a bare-bones keyboard-only editing program.
However, vim users looking for something easier to use and with more options should try MacVim, a free app for OS X that Applifies vim. It’s great, and here’s why.
A Friendlier Vim
MacVim polishes basic command-line vim like a dad rubbing a dab of spit on his kid’s forehead.
The program supports standard OS X shortcuts such as Cmd-S, Cmd-Z, and Cmd-V, which are more intuitive than “:w”.
“MacVim specifically makes it easier to get used to Vim since it integrates with OS X and allows you to do basic things like opening files, copying and pasting, and so on, without having to think about it,” said creator Björn Winckler.
While it’s better to learn the native Vim shortcuts in case you need to use it in another system (e.g. Linux), the convenience of a normal interface helps.
The app supports Mountain Lion full-screening and unofficial full-screen mode for better use with an external monitor.
Lastly, I appreciated the customization options. You can change the font, font size, font color, and background of the windows.
MacVim automatically switched to IDE mode when I saved a file as .cpp (C++ project), highlighting special language like include statements, the kind of thing you don’t see in the terminal.
Interview with the Creator
Winckler cites two goals behind the creation of MacVim. “First of all I wanted Vim to look and feel like a native Mac app to the furthest extent possible,” he said.
“My second goal was to learn Objective-C and the Cocoa frameworks.”
For new users, Winckler recommends that you “start with the basics and customize as you go along.”
Vim, in general, is worth learning. “Once you know Vim you’ll be able to use it on pretty much any platform you’re likely to come across and Vim is a sufficiently powerful editor that once learned, you’ll never need another editor,” Winckler said.
He sees little in the app’s future. “At the moment I have no particular plans other than maintenance and responding to questions and bug reports,” Winckler said.
MacVim adds enough functionality to make it worth downloading. The backgrounds, window management, and friendlier interface make this easier to use than undiluted vim.