Not Giving Up on vi(m)

I wrote this blog as a reaction to reading James McKay’s blog entry, “:q!,” in which he describes abandoning vim. A story familiar to me, but I fortunately never abandoned it for good. I do have to agree that Intellisense and other wonders of modern IDEs make them the preferred environment for things like Java, but I still get a lot of use out of vim.

In the past, I’d be forced to use vim while, say, having to do a small amount of my work on Solaris servers, but then I’d be back on Windows shortly thereafter. I loaded RedHat at home many years ago but it didn’t stick. Then I tried Ubuntu… a couple times, and Un*x finally stuck. Yet I was still only occasionally using vim, which meant I was a perpetual newb, at a “level 1” of vim capability (I’ll sadly call the scale the VCM, or vim capability model).

VCM level 1 is the ability to get in and out of the tool and do basic editing (search, page forward, change/replace text, occasional use of the dot operator, etc.). I remember that I too thought the only way to delete many lines was via count-based commands (e.g., 10d). At VCM level 1, vim beeps at you a lot, and you don’t understand why people swear by it.

What changed things was a result of being forced into having to hit vim on a daily basis for an extended period of time. I had the opportunity to work with Tim Ottinger a bit, and we would pair from time to time. Tim is the author of a great article on vim, “Use vim Like a Pro.” I won’t mention pairing after this paragraph, but I will say that without the ability to pair with someone at a higher VCM level, I might never have advanced much from my level 1 proficiency.

I’m making up the VCM based on my history, of course, but it might just work for others, too. VCM level 2 is marked by use of these critical elements of vim:

  • regular use of the dot operator
  • use of hjkl for cursor movement
  • ability to manage buffers, registers, and split windows
  • ability to visually mark code
  • regular use of f and t in combination with other commands; use of other context-based movement commands
  • use of ctrl-n for auto completion
  • awareness and occasional use of macros
  • occasional use of help facility to learn something new
  • regular (no pun intended) use of regex
  • use of ctags to aid code navigation

Reaching level 2 was important: At level 1, I simply thought vim was a frustrating, not-very-powerful tool. At level 2, I am fairly effective when editing, and faster at many tasks than most people in their GUI editors. I also see that there is much more to learn and master.

Tim is probably at VCM level 4: mastery of most, if not all, of vim’s features. I suppose that marks Level 3 as when you have ingrained all the major facilities (i.e. most everything that Tim covers in Use vim Like a Pro), are trying to ingrain something new on a regular basis (I’ve now habituated the use of ~ to toggle case, for example), have considerably customized your .vimrc, and are making an active attempt to do everything in the most efficient way possible. I am getting into level 3 now, but I haven’t used vim heavily in a while.

During my fortunate opportunities to learn vim from Tim, I discovered there were a few things about vim that he didn’t know. Shocker! It’s an extensive tool, but I guess what that means is that there’s a VCM level 5. Let’s define that as mastering VCM Level 4 plus everything that Tim doesn’t know now.