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bug#631: the M- notation suggestion

From: xah lee
Subject: bug#631: the M- notation suggestion
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2008 00:42:19 -0700

Lennart Borgman (gmail) wrote:
«I think both the menus and the help command should reflect the actual keyboard labeling (for a standard keyboard on the used OS).»

On Jul 31, 2008, at 11:39 PM, Yavor Doganov wrote:

IMHO this is close to impossible, since GNU/Linux runs on a variety (at least 10) architectures, including archaic and modern machines that have vastly different keyboards. So there are many "standard keyboards" for the OS GNU/Linux, also for the various free variants of BSD.

Microsoft Windows and GNU/Linux systems, together has about 95% market share of all computing systems. Their keyboard is typically PC keyboard, which has i estimate 99.9% market share world wide. Apple's computers use their own Keyboard but also has Alt and Ctrl printed on the keys.

So, practically speaking, this wouldn't effect those ~0.1% machines that emacs supports. For these users, typically they are advanced programers and they know what they are doing. (for example, if they want to browse the web, use a particular programing language, game, or software, they will typically find those not supported or under supported on their platform, but it is well expected.)

Yavor wrote:
"M-" existed since about forever; wiping it out will do more harm than good. If a new Emacs user has problems understanding it and finding the right key on her keyboard, she surely will have much more problems with other Emacs features, let alone more complicated concepts and advanced usage.

Also, you should not consider only the Emacs manual. Think of the tens or hundreds of manuals of add-on packages, non-Emacs packages (like Texinfo), and knowledge base like the mailing lists or sites like the Emacs Wiki. Changing something as fundamental as this for no apparent benefit is a bad idea. IMHO.

I think you are right that to do this completely would be near impossible, because that's over-riding some 25 or so years of emacs history. However, i think the benefit still outweight the negatives.

Also, changes that are few order of magnitude happens in commericial world often. A good example is Apple computer's switch from Motorola chip to PPC chip ~1995, and Mac OS to OSX ~2001, and PPC chip to Intel chip ~2006.

Some of these changes maintained some level of compatibility, but in general it wiped out several years of accumulated code, documentations, and world wide user expectations on how these software worked. Same happens in Microsoft's products. These commercial corps do that in order to survive.

Emacs does not have a survival problem, at least not in the sense of commercial software. Emacs also have small number developers, most on a voluntary basis. I htink the effort required in this change is relatively small, the benefit is arguably good because it reduces the number one complaint people have about emacs, namely being difficult to use or learn.

The issue, about the impact of this manual change, on past emacs related documents, esoteric systems, and old emac user's expectations, is neglectable i think, because software systems changes all the time with accumulated baggage. For a OpenSource example, Perl went from perl4 to a incompatible perl5 starting in 1993, and it went on to thrive in the dot com era (~1998).

The proposed change doesn't actually effect elisp code. It is primarly esthetic in nature.

There's a large thread discussing this issue, at:

Newsgroups: gnu.emacs.help
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2008 10:36:02 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: What does 'run' do in cperl-mode?

http://groups.google.com/group/gnu.emacs.help/browse_frm/thread/ 5b81fcfd40d1f4ca/

After the first 5 or so messages, the rest 60 or so is about discussing M- vs Alt+ issue.

The debate is somewhat heated, but i think it hasn't degerated into bad usenet flame feast. Most disagree with the change. If would be great if those of you interested in the issue have a peek there.

∑ http://xahlee.org/

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