[OS X Emacs] Stepping Down as Aquamacs Maintainer

David Reitter david.reitter at gmail.com
Mon Aug 19 19:22:10 EDT 2019


I am retiring as maintainer of Aquamacs Emacs.
I am grateful that Aquamacs-contributor Win Treese <https://www.linkedin.com/in/wintreese/> has agreed to manage the 3.6 release.

I have led the development of the Aquamacs variant of GNU Emacs since around 2004. It's been fun, and it had impact. 
That's the TLDR, but if you're interested, I'll give you a bit of a historical and personal perspective.

Around 2003, I was fresh out of undergrad and worked, in a research position in Dublin, Ireland, on multimodal interfaces to personal digital assistants: systems that were perhaps a bit too much inspired by linguistic theory and its symbolic manipulations and constraint optimization. I coded in Prolog <https://www.swi-prolog.org/> for this project <https://www.aclweb.org/anthology/N04-4012>. This beautiful language from the depths of classic AI research wasn't well supported by editors, and the only one that provided some syntax highlighting was Emacs.

Back then, my fingers and eyes disagreed with Emacs. I was used to Mac key bindings and its graphical UI. Emacs is configurable. So it wasn’t surprising that a heavily personalized version of Emacs came about rather quickly. And just because I could, I made a binary build available for download. To my surprise, it was downloaded a few thousand times overnight.

I thought I’d just publish a configuration script. But with the encouragement of author and publisher Kevin Walzer <https://www.wordtechcommunications.com/>, I built a whole package that we called "Aquamacs”. Kevin wrote the manual and even issued press releases <https://prmac.com/release-id-503-pf-1.htm> for the project.  I admit I got a little carried away with making Emacs work like a Mac program, but the result became -- and remains -- reasonably popular.

Much has happened professionally for me in the time since Aquamacs 0.x came out in 2005: I moved from Dublin to Edinburgh for my Ph.D. in informatics, then do cognitive science at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, and on to Penn State, where I graduated some Ph.D. students of my own and eventually got tenure as a (computational) cognitive scientist <https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=YltWPluDRQQJ>. Personally, the American dream. Own your home and fix it up. Drive a Tesla for a while. Fly your own plane. You can see why Aquamacs development slowed down after 2012. Recently, I moved to Google Research where I work on dialog systems and natural language processing. I am driven by understanding how natural language and human cognition work. Modern data-driven models offer amazing opportunities in science and technology. Focusing on this challenge will, I reason, make me most useful to the world. 

Back to Emacs. The way we program code and edit text has changed dramatically since most of us learned to use Emacs. We still use LaTeX in scientific publishing, but editing now is integrated with revisioning, syntax checking, and collaboration. In coding, editors are deeply tied to building, testing, code review, code analysis, and API documentation. Much of my own coding takes place in an IDE that integrates with my employer’s systems. When I work on manuscripts with students, another strength of Emacs, I work in teams that want real-time collaboration and not git-like versioning. Again, a web-based editor <https://www.overleaf.com/> dominates. For any business document, collaboration requires intuitive comment management. Emacs, and indeed the whole GNU system, have not kept up with these socio-technological requirements. Where Emacs can do <http://cedet.sourceforge.net/> semantic analysis <https://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_node/emacs/Semantic.html>, it’s clunky and requires setup. I challenge the next Aquamacs (and Emacs) developers to bring Emacs' unique capabilities of configurability and efficient, keyboard-based editing to today's world of computing.

Aquamacs also requires cleanup and updating. AUCTeX and ESS could be delivered in the form of upgradable Emacs packages. However, more immediately, Aquamacs would do well to move to the latest Emacs codebase and perhaps a new, better Mac port <https://bitbucket.org/mituharu/emacs-mac>.

Aquamacs users have been fantastic: countless theses, papers and grant proposals have been written with this editor. Last time I checked, we still had more than 12,000 different users every week. Thank you for your support. It’s been a pleasure serving you.

David Reitter, 2019-08-19

PS.: The Aquamacs project’s donation collection <http://aquamacs.org/donations.shtml> will end soon, and I hope to transfer the whole site to a future maintainer at some point. 
I will do my best to answer questions about Aquamacs 3.5, but Win leads the development for the 3.6 release. There are no commitments beyond that at this point.
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