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Re: What a modern collaboration toolkit looks like

From: Alan Mackenzie
Subject: Re: What a modern collaboration toolkit looks like
Date: Tue, 1 Jan 2008 21:46:21 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.9i

Hi, Eric!

On Tue, Jan 01, 2008 at 02:37:32PM -0500, Eric S. Raymond wrote:
> Alan Mackenzie <address@hidden>:
> > A few suggestions:

[ .... ]

> > o - Emacs is already so good that it's difficult to see room for new
> > features.  

> I had to rewrite VC-mode recently because it couldn't drive modern
> VCSes.  When I did so I discovered that several key functions had been
> hacked into a state of severe mal-design.  No, "Emacs is too good"
> won't work either.

I'm trying to look at things from the point of view of an outsider.  Yes,
there's LOTS of laborious maintenance to be done, but the newbie doesn't
see this (due to the immense amount of testing in the immensely long
release cycle).  Emacs DOES need new features (refactoring, better
browsing, etc.), but those are rarely obvious to the new people we need.

[ .... ]

> > o - Emacs is a victim of its own success - as its new features make it
> >   steadily easier to use, it becomes steadily more intricate and thus
> >   harder to learn.  A non-user of Emacs cannot become an Emacs hacker.

> And to this.  Though why it's a problem that non-Emacs-users can't hack Emacs
> when we have so many users, I don't see.

It's more of a long term problem, in that the number of Emacs users might
be gradually declining.  I'm only guessing here though, I don't know.

> But while your last two problems contribute to the mess we're in, they're
> not sufficient to explain it.

Er, I never meant them to be.  I was throwing around some ideas for

> > I'd think it's worth emphasising that CVS is _NOT_ a poor tool; it's
> > an exceptionally flexible, solid and reliable one, free from feature
> > bloat, and I'm grateful indeed to the hackers who've maintained it
> > over the decades.

> Clearly you've never used a decently-designed VCS.  Do you have any
> idea of the kind of horrible shite CVS can land you in if you try
> something as basic as renaming a file?  


> I'm gathering not, and you should perhaps be grateful for your
> ignorance.  It's not just that the operation isn't supported, it's
> that the crocky workarounds recommended in the CVS manual are highly
> likely to corrupt your repo.

HEY, THAT'S NOT FAIR!!!!  You've distorted my post by selective deletion.
When I said CVS was good, I qualified clearly what I meant by reference
to hammers, nails and screws.  The steam engine was a wonderful invention
too, but no modern railway system would now deploy one as prime choice of

And no, I don't think I ever have used a good VCS, and you and one or two
others have just made me aware that I'm missing something worthwhile.
Cut me some slack, please.

[ .... ]

> > o - They must support "batch mode" working, for RMS and others who
> >   concentrate fiercely on a single activity at a time.

> This problem doesn't have any technical solution.  What you appear to
> be thinking of as "batch mode" (disappear into a cave for months at a
> time) is not compatible with the communications practices we need to
> move to in order to make the Emacs project agile and responsive again.
> In particular, it's incompatible with engaging our users in real-time
> via IRC and other messaging channels.

> There's still a role for people with a "batch mode" working style, but 
> it's more in the background working on large semi-detached projects.
> Project leads have to face the world.

OK, here's where you need to persuade me (?us).  There have been lots of
bugs in CC Mode where I've had to dig myself in without distractions for
hours at a time, sometimes days, to resolve; bits of Emacs are like that
- some hackers are like this.  I've been able to emerge and engage in the
mailing list.  I don't think I could do this with a rapid-fire IRC
instead of email.  Richard has said he couldn't spare the time for this
style of hacking.  I believe him.

It seems that there will be losses as well as gains from moving to IIRC.
How convinced are you that the gains will outweigh the losses?  Is there
perhaps a third way which combines the good bits and minimises the bad
bits of the other two?

> > o - They must, like Emacs, be fully usable on a text console without a
> >   mouse as well as in X.  There are at least 3 hackers here who prefer
> >   such a setup.

> This *does* have a technical solution: lynx.  Or links.  Text-mode
> browsers aren't what I'd call pleasant compared to graphical ones, but
> they are usable.

A web browser is for browsing the web, and is pretty cruddy for anything
else.  For email you'd use mutt, for documentation C-h i, for usenet tin
or slrn, and so on.  Surely there's a purpose built tty client for IRC.

>               <a href="http://www.catb.org/~esr/";>Eric S. Raymond</a>

Alan Mackenzie (Nuremberg, Germany).

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