Here’s something I wrote for the introduction to the Emacs book I started years ago and will never, ever finish writing (“Emacs Mastery: Attaining Coding Supremacy”):

Emacs is a master craftsman’s tool. No, wait — Emacs is an empty canvas, complete with brushes, paints (oil and acrylic), charcoal, scrapers, sponges, turpentine, and a nuclear-powered color wheel.

Since I’m a musician and not a woodworker or painter, here’s an analogy I can get behind: Emacs is a synthesizer. At first, you play the presets and have fun making music. You don’t need all those knobs, but you do wonder what they’re for. One day you’re unhappy with the preset bass sound you’re using — it needs a sharper attack, a longer decay, and a brighter sound. You tweak a few knobs. They don’t do what you want at first, but after a bit of reading the manual (ugh!) you start to understand what some of them do and you achieve that sound you were looking for.

After reading more of the manual you begin to understand how the synth creates sounds and what’s really going on when you turn those knobs. You start finding things that the synth can do that you never imagined it could. Not only that, getting the sounds you want is easier so you’re spending less time tweaking knobs and more time making music.

Meanwhile, you’ve come across terms like “subtractive synthesis”, “wavetables”, and “frequency modulation” so you start reading up on what those things mean. You’re learning how sound synthesis works and that there are different ways of creating sounds. This knowledge helps you create new sounds and textures, opening up a universe of sound explosions you use to create mega-hit after mega-hit making you so mega-rich you mega-retire and give all your money to charity. A combination music/philanthropy prize is named after you and statues to you are erected everywhere.

That’s Emacs.

I’ve been using Emacs since about 1982, and I still discover new things it can do or new ways to be more efficient. It may not be possible to know all there is to know about Emacs, but that’s not the point. The point is to have a tool that helps me create what I want and be more efficient so I can create more. And knobs. Lots of knobs.