Configuration and plugin hell and why I don't use Vim and Tmux anymore

post, Mar 14, 2024, on Mitja Felicijan's blog

There are three tiers of CLI software as far as I am concerned:

  • tools like ls, cat, ps (you use flags to customize, and you pipe results through them),
  • tools like htop, nvtop, midnight commander (you can change the theme and maybe small things),
  • editors like vim, helix, emacs and multiplexers like tmux, zellij, screen (usually very customizable).

I understand that something like GNU utils need to be small and concise and minimal. No unnecessary fat or configuration options. I am a massive proponent of POSIX style of utilities. I still think the pipe operator is one of the most amazing things ever invented. I am still in awe when I use it today.

But when it comes to applications like text editors or terminal multiplexers, I have a bit of a different opinion. I think they need to have some basic batteries included. And I agree that basic batteries included is a loaded term and means different things to different people. I will try to make a case that takes in account things that matter to me and, by extension, also may matter to others. Otherwise, they would not have configuration files for these applications that are bigger than some of their own projects.

It is very naive to think that bare-bones Vim is enough for working on a larger codebase. For some it may be so, but the majority of people would prefer some minimal LSP integration to quickly jump to definitions, fuzzy finding of files, things like that. And in Vim, I need a plugin to do this. The same goes for Neovim.

People bash on others when they say: I would rather not deal with configurations, or I just want to use my system without the time investment of learning everything into details and then configuring it.

Most people don't derive their pleasure from ricing their setup. How is this so impossible to understand for some people?

There is also the argument that you should learn your tools. That is correct and true. But again, it's a matter of perspective. Not everything needs to be conquered and dominated. I am perfectly fine with knowing only 30% of some tool if 30% is what I need from it to do the job I need to do.

For me, the argument, "But what if you end up being on a server?" is ridiculous. Firstly, you shouldn't be developing on a server. If you need to SSH to debug something, there is probably Vi there already and :w and searching config files will work. And if nothing else, you most likely have nano. Not pretty, but gets the job done. I don't think people making these arguments take their Neovim setup (with all their custom shortcuts and plugins, which makes this a PDE actually) with them on the server. If they do this, they should be fired. :)

You should learn Vim motions is another one. They will change your life. I did learn a lot of them. I think they are amazing. But my life wasn't changed at all. I can still hop into a normal notepad and do some coding there and be very productive. Nothing really changed for me. I suspect these are the things that people who have very addictive personalities say because Vim motions bring joy to them. I can imagine they get a massive dopamine hit using it. For me, it does nothing. It is a convenient way to edit text. If I don't have them, I also don't miss them. Vim motions I mean. I adapt quickly. Doesn't bother me at all.

The next argument I hear a lot is, "I only check my setup once a year, and then I am set. I don't tinker with my setup at all". This is an argument of a seasoned user who went through all the stages of Vimtopia. If you were to put a vanilla Vim in front of them, they would feel almost as lost as a first-time user. You get a completely warped sense of reality when you rice your setup to ungodly levels. Which you tend to do anyway. It's the nature of the beast. Sure, you would know some basic motions, but all those custom shortcuts you are so used to would not be there. You would feel lost. No question about it.

Did I have a massive .vimrc? Yes, I did. I was transitioning from Emacs to Vim and I wanted some basic things to navigate code and not waste time finding stuff in projects I work on. And to reproduce something usable required multiple plugins to make LSP work, fuzzy searching was a bit easier, just two plugins, I think. But it required a ton of reading and Googling for information. Also, let's not pretend these plugins are frozen in time. Making LSP work with Neovim became much easier, and you now use different plugins than you did two years ago. So, you also have to keep track of these things. This adds a big overhead. Let's be honest about it.

The same goes for Tmux. Tmux also supports plugins. And here we go again. And saying you can just use the native functionalities is a dishonest thing to say. Because if that were true, nobody would use these plugins, and they would not be popular at all.

Now, if you like ricing your setup. Configuring things. And playing around with your environment, you go for it. I can understand. I was the same in my youth. It was fun and I loved every minute of it.

The problematic thing that occurs is that Vim evangelists then go and preach the Vim gospel, making everybody not using it feel like shit and incompetent fools who do not care about "real" programming.

I have friends who use VS Code and are amazing programmers. They don't care about terminals or plugins or config files. They open their editor of choice and smash at writing the code they need to write. And my respect for them has nothing to do with the complexity of their setup. I respect them because the code they write is of high quality. How they come up with it is of no importance to me.

Most of the software we use daily or runs our world was written by people who barely knew how to use a keyboard. Just watch Brian Kernighan type and you will see what I mean. And then look at his accomplishments. Slow typing doesn't mean shit. It's the quality of the work that matters.

The reason why I switched to Helix is simple. It has LSP and fuzzy finding built-in. There is no plugin system in place, so they needed to include common things programmers need these days. For commenting a line, you don't need a plugin. Just press ctrl+c over the line and that's it. I don't remap anything. I use the defaults. The only thing I did was change a default theme. And I choose one that was bundled with the editor. That was it!

The same goes for Tmux. I don't use it anymore, but I need a multiplexer. I am used to it. Old dog, new tricks kind of a thing. I've used it for years and years. And Zellij is a modern take on Tmux. Batteries included and with sane defaults. No config file or plugins on my system to make it usable.

This elitism about personal setups is so exhausting. You should use your computer the way you want to use it, and I will use mine the way I see fit. This herd mentality I see so often is so cringe. I'm so over taking people seriously when it comes to these topics.