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FSF Announces Version 21 of the GNU Emacs Editing Environment

Oct 22, 2001, 19:53 (21 Talkback[s])

Media Contact: Free Software Foundation

               Bradley M. Kuhn <>
               Phone: +1-617-542-5942


Boston, Massachusetts, USA - Monday, October 22, 2001 - The Free Software Foundation announced today the 21.1 release of GNU Emacs. Emacs is a Free Software multilingual text editor, licensed under the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL).

Richard Stallman said, "Emacs 21 is a big step forward in our long-term plan to take Emacs from a programmable text editor to a programmable word processor."

Emacs 21.1 includes support for proportional fonts: characters in a line can be of variable width and lines can have variable heights. It also supports including images in text. Emacs 21.1 adds a number of new user-interface features: it has tool bars for executing frequently used commands, it supports native scroll bars, it displays tool tips, and it has a mouse-sensitive mode line. Even on text-only terminals, Emacs 21.1 supports colors and other display attributes.

With the release of version 21.1, the Emacs development sources are accessible via anonymous CVS from The anonymous CVS services are provided by Savannah, GNU's SourceForge-like system for project collaboration.

GNU Emacs 21.1 can be downloaded from the FTP directory at However, users are encouraged to use mirror sites for downloads, to decrease the load on GNU and FSF servers. A list of mirrors can be found at

GNU Emacs 21.1 has already been packaged for Debian. Users of Debian GNU/Linux's unstable branch can install GNU Emacs 21 via the native Debian APT system.

About GNU Emacs:

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

If this seems to be a bit of a mouthful, an easier explanation is Emacs is a text editor and more. At its core is an interpreter for Emacs Lisp, a dialect of the Lisp programming language with extensions to support text editing.

Some of the features of GNU Emacs include:

  • Content-sensitive major modes for a wide variety of file types, from plain text to source code to HTML files.
  • Complete online documentation, including a tutorial for new users.
  • Highly extensible through the Emacs Lisp language.
  • Support for many languages and their scripts, including all the European "Latin" scripts, Russian, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, Ethiopian, and some Indian scripts.
  • Many extensions for jobs such as reading and sending mail, reading net news, calendar, and diary. More Emacs extensions are distributed separately--even a web browser.

History of Emacs:

Richard Stallman developed the original Emacs text editor in 1975 while working at MIT. Emacs, first developed in 1975, is an extensible text editor that allows the user to program editing commands. The original Emacs used TECO as the user programming language. GNU Emacs, which uses Lisp as the user programming language, was started in September 1984 as part of developing the GNU operating system.

Emacs has undergone continuous development since that time, and has been approved based on user bug reports and contributions from the Free Software community. Emacs 19 added support for multiple frames using the X Windowing System. Emacs 20 added multi-lingual support.

About GNU:

GNU is a Free Software Unix-like operating system. Development of GNU began in 1984. gives more information about GNU and its history.

GNU/Linux is the integrated combination of the GNU operating system with the kernel, Linux, written by Linus Torvalds in 1991. The various versions of GNU/Linux have an estimated 20 million users.

Some people call the GNU/Linux system "Linux", but this misnomer leads to confusion (people cannot tell whether you mean the whole system or the kernel, one part), and spreads an inaccurate picture of how, when and where the system was developed. Making a consistent distinction between GNU/Linux, the whole operating system, and Linux, the kernel, is the best way to clear up the confusion. See for more explanation.