Thursday night's epic paintball tournament was easily one of Linux Expo's most eagerly anticipated and talked-about events. The theme was “Emacs versus vi and may the best editor win!” At the appointed time, the would-be warriors trooped off to a patch of woods south of Durham and donned team T-shirts donated by O'Reilly & Associates. By happy coincidence, the 61 fighters split as exactly as possible down the middle, 30 on the Emacs team and 31 on vi's. Ominously, however, all three of the experienced paintballers in the crowd elected to fight for vi.

As we waited for mysterious rituals to complete in the paintball shed, there was much humorous analogizing—vi fans claiming that Emacs's guns ought to take forever to load, countered by Emacs partisans opining that vi fighters should be unable to move and fire at the same time. “You shall feel the power of the Lisp side of the Force!” declaimed one black-masked Emacs fan a la Darth Vader, met by hoots of derision and yells of “vi rules!”

Additional humor was provided by the boss paintball referee, who understood neither our theological disputes nor the lemur and gnu emblems on our team shirts. He gave up early and started referring to the teams as “monkeys” and “cows”, much to the amusement of both sides.

Eventually, not too long after the official start time, we listened to a safety lecture, picked up our guns, face masks and glycerin-capsule ammunition and marched into the woods. Each team got a fortified fire base; the game was elimination, with the last man standing winning for his team.

Telling friend from foe turned out to be a bit of a problem, as both teams were wearing white T-shirts with black emblems and the colored arm bands we'd been issued were not really conspicuous—some truly valiant hackers were hit by friendly fire. There were heroic charges and stealthy ambushes, sniping duels and stand-up fights. The paintballs flew thick and fast, and the woods resounded with cries of “Out! Out!” as pigment-splotched casualties exited the field, guns held over their heads.

The teams' combat styles were allegorically perfect. The vi guys were fast, aggressive and sloppy; the Emacs team was slow, tried to think things out and play tactically. Result? The vi guys waxed the Emacs team, winning three out of four games. Evidently (as many on both sides later agreed, amid much laughter) paintball rewards different virtues than programming.

The event was a success, and general kudos went to Mike Maher of Red Hat from whose brilliant and obviously twisted mind the concept originally sprang. Next year perhaps we'll tackle Perl vs. Python or Red Hat vs. Every Other Distribution or some other chronic flame war—and, hopefully, get different-colored shirts so we can tell each other apart!

Eric S. Raymond is a semi-regular LJ contributor. You can find more of his writings, including his paper “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, at Eric can be reached at