Get Started With Acme

Now that I’ve blabbed about how cool I think Acme is, I hope this post will help guide anyone else who is interested in trying this unique editor.

Installing Acme


Use Homebrew to install the Plan 9 tools like so: brew install plan9port


Honestly I found it really easy to build from source following these instructions.
I did need to install the recommended xorg-dev package which was also painless.

Running Acme

All of these command line utilities are nicely tucked under the 9 command. This is to avoid problems with the fact that Plan 9 has it’s own ls and so forth. So to run Acme with the default settings, just give your Terminal 9 acme. An Acme window should pop up, it could be blank or it could be loaded. Go ahead and make Acme full screen or its own desktop, I like to do the latter.

The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

Acme will have a window open, showing all the files and directories that exist in the location it was opened. Ahhh… soak in the rays of that beautiful, yellow and blue background goodness. Bask in the glorious shock of proportional fonts in a text editor. Yeah, you know you like it. Now it’s time to watch the intro video, A Tour of the Acme Editor.

It’s impressive how the intro video is actually able to cover every movement in Acme. Now you should be able to start messing around in Acme and when you forget something, go back to the video. I’ve watched it countless times because I would forget something I saw in the video before I actually had an opportunity to apply it. If you still think Acme could be your editor after this video, I’ve got some next steps for you.


Read the whole series that Brian Zwahr wrote on his trial of Acme. It actually ends with him deciding not to choose Acme, which I think will be good for you to read. Reading his journey actually made it easier for me to decide that I really wanted to try Acme because I got to see his points and figure out for myself if those were deal breakers for me, too. It also told me what to look out for in Acme, which I will cover after you’ve read the series. Now go!

Ok, so a few things about that series. The first being his struggles with mouse chording on a trackpad. I don’t know if his version of Acme didn’t have this or not, but I can Cut, Copy, and Paste with the typical keyboard commands we Mac users have all come to love.

That leaves one mouse chord that isn’t possible, the 2-1 chord. This is the chord that executes whatever you have middle clicked and sends whatever you last highlighted as the argument. I currently have found only one typical need of this in my day to day and that’s git commit -m "message" where "message" needs to be an argument in order to work, for me at least. So if I’m on my laptop and writing code, which is seldom nowadays, I swap to a terminal for this one command and go about my work. I also made sure to buy an awesome bluetooth mouse so this situation rarely shows up for me.

Now Brian is definitely right about Acme using the Plan 9 versions of all the command line tools. If you tell Acme to execute ls, it’s using Plan 9’s ls, but type something like which vim and you’ll see the one originally on your mac. This is easy to see by having Acme run something like which ls and seeing the path direct you to the directory where Plan 9 from Userspace is installed.

This is concerning for us peeps who don’t know Plan 9 tools. I’m assuming there has to be a way to point Acme to the tools we’re more familiar with, but I haven’t found it yet. Honestly, it hasn’t bothered me enough. If I really need to exercise some shell-foo, I open up a Mac terminal and take full advantage of what Fish gives me there. But this is a concern and you have been warned.

One Mouse to Rule Them ALL

You’ve gotten this far and would still like to continue using Acme as your editor of choice, huh? Well, it’s time to get a three button mouse. I used an old Sun Microsystems mouse for a while, but I couldn’t function in a modern OS without a scroll wheel.

A lot of Acme users seem to use an Evoluent Mouse, but I decided to try the Logitech MX Master mouse. While it doesn’t actually have three buttons, the magnificent scroll wheel is huge and flat so I can click it with ease. I also set the scroll to “ratchet mode” and turn off smooth scrolling so that the scroll wheel doesn’t scroll the window without quite a distinct motion.

Look, I know it sounds weird, but the other selling points for this mouse were too good. It can remember three different connections, has a horizontal scroll wheel, and a thumb button for moving between Mac workspaces. So I’ve learned some middle clicking foo. They do say the best relationships take effort.

Carry On My Wayward Son

There it is. My current knowledge on getting started with Acme. I still intend on making at least a couple more posts, as I need to talk a lot more about some of the intermediate features of Acme and outstanding issues I have. But you should now have a great start until then. So carry on.

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