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RE: Emacs learning curve

From: Drew Adams
Subject: RE: Emacs learning curve
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 2010 18:16:42 -0700

> > (2) the idea that the Emacs default key bindings need to
> > be those that a newbie is already used to in other apps.
> I didn't propose (2) as a must-have.

Great.  CUA bindings are already available optionally.  I thought you were
arguing that the default bindings needed to be changed.  Glad to see that's not
the case.

> I think that dismissing the proposal arguing that
> "newbies keep coming" and "there is no proof of
> people giving up on Emacs because the keybindings"
> is hand-waving.

Newbies have always kept coming.  And _some_ people have always given up on
Emacs because of its default key bindings.  Nothing new.  Complaining about
Emacs key bindings is as old as Emacs.  Just like complaints about Lisp's
plethora of silly parentheses are as old as Lisp.

There were (are?) people who argued that if Lisp would just change its default
syntax to get rid of all those parens it would attract more users - newbies who
just aren't used to such weirdness - and it might thus become "mainstream".  And
there have been (still are) alternative Lisp syntaxes without the parenthomania.

Throughout its history, some Emacs tourists have decided to stay - some of them
appreciating the bindings and some of them customizing the bindings.  (I'm in
both camps, BTW.)  Others have stayed for a while (short or long) and then left.

> With the keybindings issue, either you change them or you 
> make an effort and adapt the documentation so the newbie
> gets the message: "yes, we know this is different from what
> you know and may be a pain at first, but hang on, it will
> pay back."

I and others have made an effort to pass that message, both in the Emacs docs
and menus and on EmacsWiki.  Concrete suggestions welcome, I'm sure.

It is an important message to get across - you and I apparently agree on that.
But you can only bring an ass to the cool, clear water; you cannot make it
drink.  The message is apparently not getting across to some people - even here.

If everyone here were convinced that the Emacs key bindings "will pay you back",
then we wouldn't be having at least a part of this discussion.  Look through
this very thread for arguments as to why the current bindings are bad - and not
just because they are in conflict with wider usage.

Repeatedly, people have had to explain here the logic behind the set of bindings
- the reasons, beyond historical accident, for the keys chosen.  And after that
is pointed out some readers have indeed seen the light - there is some sense to
it.  But others still don't get it.

Emacs default key bindings will indeed "pay you back", by and large.  And I
agree that that is not obvious to a newbie.

And it is precisely the newbie whom we need to reach with that message.  It is
not the seasoned Emacs veteran who for whatever reason prefers to use CUA and

Because the default bindings will pay you back, it does not necessarily help a
newbie not to teach that from the get-go but instead to provide, as the default
behavior, an emulation of what s?he's used to.

The message is that yes, there is a hurdle of learning something new, but that
effort will pay you back.

You don't teach someone to swim by keeping them in a rowboat.  No one is saying
to just throw newbies overboard with a hearty "Sink or swim!".  Doc, menus, and
such can help people learn.  But at some point they have to get wet or they will
just emulate forever.  Nothing wrong with that, but swimming is better than
pretending to swim.

> Oh, this is funny. I hope that you are connected enough with 
> reality to admit that the percentage of programmers using
> Emacs is dwindling.

Admit?  Truthfully, I have no idea whether that percentage is dwindling,
constant, or increasing.  You seem to be sure, but you also admit that you have
nothing to back up that belief. (?)

I'm not concerned with the percentage - that's the point.  Even if dwindling I
wouldn't be concerned.  I wish more people took advantage of Emacs like I wish
more people had better health care and fewer people were superstitious.  But I'm
not worried about Emacs being #1 in the usage hit parade.

Nobody is wishing unpopularity on Emacs.  The point is that it is not a
popularity _contest_.  Like the redwood tree, which does some things exceedingly
well in its own niche, Emacs has its place.  And it is unimportant whether that
place is #1 in the usage stats.

> I claim something stronger: the absolute number of people
> using Emacs is decreasing too.  No, no proof other than my
> personal, anecdotical experience. 
> Nor you have proof about the contrary.

Correct.  But I don't make the contrary claim!
This is not equal, parallel.

I make no claim about either the relative or the absolute numbers of Emacs
users.  You've made strong claims for both.

You claim that there are 42 orange and electric-blue galaxies the size of
Tinkerbelle swarming around the Pope's nose right now!  And you admit that you
have no basis for claiming that.

And then you say that I have no proof to the contrary.  But - Newsflash! - I
never claimed that there were no such galaxies circling the Pontiff's nose.  I
don't know or care whether there are.  It is only you who are worried about that
particular papal, nasal crisis.

> Now, you assume that Emacs will be alive and kicking forever
> (like the PDP-10 OS?) and act consequently (or rather, don't
> act.)  I assume that Emacs' future is not promising, and try
> to improve it. What attitude is best for Emacs?

Oh please.  Save it.  We are all trying to improve Emacs.  Just because someone
doesn't buy your cry that the sky is falling does not mean that you have a
monopoly on action or commitment or that the nonbeliever is complacent and lazy.

And BTW, thinking that the future is promising is not necessarily a hindrance to
effort or progress.

> (This reminds me so much of the climate change issue.)

Sigh.  Next you'll be calling me a nazi.
Yes, and I kill baby seals too, when I can find them.

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