Let's Help Org Mode Escape From Emacs

Avi Press | January 15, 2024

I love org mode. This very post was written in, and generated from org mode. From note taking, to task management, to blogging, to organizing my cooking recipes, I use org mode for a lot, and I do it from Spacemacs.

These days, my work running a startup offers virtually no time to write code, but I still find myself in Spacemacs a lot for my own notes and task tracking.

For the little code I do write, I find having AI assistance (via CoPilot or Cody) to be tremendously helpful. So helpful, in fact, that I now tend to jump into VSCode for actual coding, and then back into Spacemacs for anything I need do in org mode. Getting these tools to work correctly in Spacemacs proved to be a huge pain and I don't have time for config tinkering any more.

I wish I could either:

  • Use Spacemacs for everything I can do in VSCode. However, the relative pace of progress in the Emacs world vs VSCode and its plugin ecosystem are increasingly making this wish a pipe dream. VSCode is winning the editor war.
  • Use VSCode for everything. For me, this requires a full-featured org mode implementation. I currently feel stuck in Emacs just because of how great org mode is.

Sadly, the only complete org mode implementation is Emacs. You should be able to use org mode in any text editor.

There are many examples of people trying to jailbreak org mode out of Emacs, but to date, they have failed.

From my perspective, they have failed to grow into a full org implementation for a few reasons. Projects try to get bug-for-bug compatibility with Emacs org mode. This is both very difficult and not a good goal. Some of the projects picked programming languages that severely limit the base of potential contributors (eg, org-rs and Pandoc).

I am interested in kicking off a new effort to create a stand-alone implementation of org mode. Its primary goal would be to ensure that a comprehensive org mode experience could be achieved outside of Emacs.

A few design choices I believe would be correct for this goal:

  • Establishing a more formal yet sane standard for org-mode behavior.
    • Letting go of bug-for-bug compatibility with Emacs as a goal. Let's let the quirky behavior die off and move forward with a more cohesive program, even if it looks a little bit different.
  • Implemented in a popular programming language. Rewriting org mode is a large undertaking, and its success will rely on a community of contributors. This effort will fail if 50% of the people who would contribute end up not doing so because they don't have time to learn Rust or Haskell.
  • Portable. It should not be difficult to get this integrated into any editor.
  • Ensuring some of org mode's best features are on the starting roadmap, not an afterthought:
    • Agenda view
    • Publishing
    • Plugins like org-roam, org-crypt

If working on this would be of interest, please get in touch! I'm interested in getting a small group together to get this side project off the ground.