PLUG Emacs Apps Presentation

Presenter Michael Olson
Web site

This presentation will cover the various applications that can be run from within Emacs.

What is Emacs?
What are its basic features?
Basic Emacs terminology
Helper programs
Standalone programs
Featured software
Q and A

What is Emacs?

To quote the Emacs Manual:

Emacs is the extensible, customizable, self-documenting real-time display editor.

Emacs is also: an operating system that happens to edit text really well.

What are its basic features?

Why should you use Emacs instead of Notepad or GNotepad?

And my favorite feature:

This programming language is older than C, but still used by many people today! With it, all kinds of applications can be made that run from within Emacs.

Basic Emacs terminology

Place in memory where an opened file is stored. These don't necessarily have to have a file associated with them, however. In that case, a buffer would act like a temporary file.
Emacs operates in several "modes", the most prevalent of which is Text mode. Having different modes allows Emacs to colorize files and map keystrokes depending on what kind of file you are editing.
The sequence of keys that you have to press in order to perform an action. Emacs can have prefix keys, which means you hit the keys, release them, and then hit something else to complete an action.

The way we refer to key sequences in Emacs is probably a little different than what you're used to. In the previous node, I wrote the keys in a way that looks familiar. Here's what they would look like in the Emacs documentation.

Familiar notation Emacs notation
Alt+x global-font-lock-mode, ENTER M-x global-font-lock-mode RET
Control+h, T C-h T
Control+h, f, what-page, ENTER C-h f what-page RET
Control+h, i C-h i

The reason that Alt becomes "M-" is rather esoteric, but has to do with the fact that keyboards used to have a Meta key rather than an Alt key when it was first made. Emacs is old.


There are 2 kinds of software programs that you can be made for Emacs: helper programs and standalone programs.

Helper programs

Helper programs are Emacs Lisp programs that extend other Emacs modes, but are not considered modes themselves.

Automatically breaks up long lines as you type.
Allows footnotes to be inserted in a document. It puts a numeric place-holder in the text, like "[1]".
Provides as-you-type spell-checking.

These all come with Emacs.

Standalone programs

Standalone programs are those that have their own mode.

The following are available separately.

Program Description URL
AUCTeX Make it easier to write TeX files
BBDB Keep track of people - useful for contact information
Emacspeak Audio desktop for the vision-impaired
EMMS Listen to music and manage playlists
ERC Modular, extensible IRC Client
Rcirc "Just works" IRC client
Jabber Jabber client
Gnus Read email and news, thorough, expert-level
MH-E An easy-to-use, yet featureful, Mail reader
Muse Publish documents
Planner Plan your life
w3m Browse the web
Xtla Revision control helper

The following come with Emacs.

Program Description
Appt Get reminders when appointments are near
Calc Featureful RPN calculator
Calendar Show the events of the month
Diary Keep track of appointments
Dired File manager

Featured software


Read email, news, RSS, and anything else you can think of. A bit hard to get working. Features include:


Full-featured IRC client. Features include:

When combined with Bitlbee (, an AIM, Jabber, MSN, ICQ, and Yahoo to IRC gateway, it can even be used to send messages to buddies from other chat networks.

The #PurdueLUG channel on freenode has a bot called plugbot that runs on a dedicated ERC session, with the help of the ErBot add-on software for ERC (


Emacs Muse is an authoring and publishing environment for Emacs. It simplifies the process of writings documents and publishing them to various output formats. Muse uses a very simple Wiki-like format as input.

Muse consists of two main parts: an enhanced text-mode for authoring documents and navigating within Muse projects, and a set of publishing styles for generating different kinds of output.

I maintain it.

A full manual is available in several formats.

Possible uses:


Planner is a Personal Information Manager (PIM). You can use it to manage your tasks, schedule, and notes.


Core features:

Additional features:


Emacs interface to the GNU Arch ( revision control system.


The following are available when editing a file that is associated with an Arch project.

Q and A

At this time, feel free to ask questions about Emacs or its add-ons. I will demo other Emacs applications on request if I have them.