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RE: Getting more info on a variable in Customize buffers

From: Drew Adams
Subject: RE: Getting more info on a variable in Customize buffers
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 2005 11:05:38 -0800

    > Therefore I believe every piece of
    > information we get about how different persons react to this
    > interface is important.

    Unfortunately, expert users are much more likely to provide feedback
    then casual users.

Unfortunately in some ways, but fortunately in others. I agree with your
statement (http://www.dina.kvl.dk/~abraham/rants/documentation-goals.html)
that "if your goal is to get qualified feedback, preferably in the form of
patches or at least useful bug reports, ordinary users aren't going to be
what you are after."

    Therefore, free software user interfaces tend to
    be "expert friendly", rather then "beginner friendly".  An in
    particular, cram way to much information and functionality into the
    UI, scaring off beginners and casual users.

Power users in the area of UIs give valuable feedback criticizing poor UIs.
The average free-software expert user might not be an expert on UIs, but
some no doubt are. People who are interested in UIs, whether expert users of
the particular UI or not, tend to take a UI-user point of view, just as
people interested in doc take a reader point of view. That's helpful.

I agree with your point, however, that feedback from users who are not
familiar with the application and its UI is 1) important and 2) hard to
obtain. In the current case, I am not a novice wrt Emacs, but I am a novice
wrt Customize. (We are all novices in some context.) Feedback from Emacs
users who are novices to Customize is useful (and apparently hasn't been
that hard to obtain :-)). Even if their ultimate use of Customize will not
be that of the primary target audience (non-Lispers), their feedback can
serve. (See below on the Customize audience.)

    Which is fine in general, expert friendly software is very important.
    But Emacs has always been expert friendly.  Expert users already have
    an excellent interface for customizing Emacs, namely Lisp.  Customize
    was supposed to add an *additional* interface in order to make
    customization easier for casual users.  Drew Adams feedback seems to
    build on the mistaken belief that Customize is the preferred way to
    customize Emacs.  Which is far from the truth.

Chalk it up to a mistaken impression on my part. And there are no priests to
out :-).

Beyond that mistaken impression, I also made the point that a Lisp user of
Emacs needs now to have some understanding of Customize (both the UI and the
customize functions) - if for no other reason than that reading the Lisp
source code now requires it. And writing library code requires it (per
priests). If you write code for users of a UI, you need some familiarity
with that UI (as a user and as a developer).

However, my main point was that dividing Emacs users into two mutually
exclusive sets - those who use Lisp and those who use Customize - is a
mistake. Customize should be aimed primarily at non-Lisp users, in the sense
that one should not _need_ to use or understand Lisp to be able to use
Customize. But that does not mean (to me) that Customize should not _also_
be useful for Lisp users of Emacs.

I mentioned the benefit of a good options browser to Lisp users as well as
beginners. I also pointed out that there are already many parts of the UI
that concern Lisp sexps and are obviously _not_ for beginners. There is
nothing wrong with that, as long as the UI does not place such stuff in the
way of non-Lisp users - it should not distract them; ideally, they would not
even see it. I agree with Bob Chassell that "Advanced Customization" is a
good (and typical) way to separate the sheep from the goats and still let
each stray to the other, apparently greener side if/when they wish.

In sum: Customize is for everybody, even if its primary raison d'etre is to
help non-Lisp Emacs users customize Emacs.

My other main point is that for Emacs aficionados, and _even more so for
Emacs novices_ (just a guess), the Customize UI has problems. Problems in
orientation, navigation, presentation, clutter, and semantic clarity. And
the same UI improvements will help both groups of user.

    I do not believe there are any "preferred way" to customize Emacs.
    There are a number of different mechanisms (Lisp, X resources, the
    customize group interface, the customize browse interface, the
    customize menu interface, The Options menu, edit-options,
    set-variable, and customize-set-variable).  None of these are
    obsolete.  Well, maybe "edit-options" is.  They are useful in
    different situations, to different users.  And they mostly play along

I agree with all of that. The last sentence is key here, however - I would
disagree with it if "mostly" weren't guarding it so well.

This thread has been about some ways in which Customize does _not_ play too
well with the rest (as well as about some general pbs with Customize). It
has included remarks from people for whom it is not clear how to do
customize-like or customize-compatible changes from Lisp (so that Lisp and
Customize will play well together). It has also included remarks from people
like me who feel that Customize should at least provide everything that `C-h
v' provides - for both Lisp users and novices (so that Lisp and Customize
will play well together).

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