Vim Boss

August 2023

Bram is one of my heroes. That’s literal and recursive: when I say it, internally I check before making a frivolous claim, which is a feature of this particular role-model; “What would Bram do?” is a fixture in me which informs my choices.

Those who studied vim_dev and the Vim source and docs, accumulated treasure from a stream of copious messages and spare impressions. But also from what he omitted: he never appealed to sensationalism or personal judgements.

Even when treated rudely, Bram usually responded only to advance his understanding of a problem to solve. Bram was one of those humans quietly providing deep value to the universe, but there was no parade and little celebrity.

Bram was anchored to reality, directly interested in results and adjusting what produced them. The “Problem/Solution” mantra in his commit messages is simple yet profoundly effective. He used that approach to help people in Uganda, managing resources directly instead of abstractly.

Bram’s principles (as I observed them) extended beyond mere technical craftsmanship. The ability to adopt a position of modesty is a mind-trick that channels an endeavor through a “narrow waist”, a voluntary constraint. That lens can create a more composable and powerful result. Plugins like unimpaired riff on the theme. And this touches on a central point: the main utility—not ideology, but utility—of “lifestyle software” like Emacs and Vim, is that the ecosystem is alive, and has escape velocity, so its momentum is self-perpetuated.

Neovim has always been intentionally positioned as a derivative of Vim, which means simultaneously it both continues and diverges from Vim. I’m convinced that forks create energy rather than destroy it. So although we can’t deliver Vim without Bram, we can continue some essential parts:

  • Maintenance: Experimentation is good, and the world needs creative destruction and playful failures. But Neovim does not represent lust for the new (“neomania”).
  • Documentation: the habits of Vim documentation are obvious, this is one of the biggest gains that Nvim acquired by building on vim.
  • Extensibility: Bram’s own Agide project aspired to a similar sort of extensibility as Neovim:

    Agide is not a monolitic application. Separate tools can be plugged in. Thus you are not forced to use one editor. … Each tool implements part of the plugin interface.

  • Embedding: Vim’s :help design-not for most of its life proclaimed this tenet of Neovim:

    Vim is not a shell or an Operating System. … This should work the other way around: Use Vim as a component from a shell or in an IDE.

And another thing: Bram didn’t take himself too seriously. He had his own sense of humor.

Neovim is a monument to Vim and Bram. We should be pragmatic, not dogmatic; we should remember what the goal is, and compare our actions to the results.

— Justin M. Keyes

P.S. Jan van den Berg wrote a nice post on Bram’s legacy.


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What is Neovim?

Neovim is a Vim-based text editor engineered for extensibility and usability, to encourage new applications and contributions.


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