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RE: Key bindings proposal

From: Uday S Reddy
Subject: RE: Key bindings proposal
Date: Tue, 3 Aug 2010 12:56:39 +0100

Drew Adams writes:
> > Do you still want to claim that Emacs is better than most apps for
> > access?
> Yep.  And I said "discovery and access", and most of what I wrote
> had to do with _discovery_.  Why?  Because discovery is the strong
> point of menus, IMHO.

Access is also a strong point of menus.  And, access is what this
thread is about.  So, I hope you won't mind if I ignore the issues of
discovery, though I think they are interesting.

> However, I have a feeling (but again, I'm ignorant and unpracticed
> here) that using menus via accelerators on a regular basis is not
> the way to go.
> Menus are about organizing commands.  They are helpful for discovery
> (and rediscovery of infrequently used commands).  Regularly using
> menus (e.g. via accelerators) to access frequently used commands
> sounds like a bad habit - to me.  But again, I do not really know
> what I'm talking about here. ;-)

Menu navigation by keys is actually the best form of interaction for
me, having been an RSI sufferer, because both control keys and the
mouse tax my fingers.  somebody pointed out that the world out there
uses menus a lot more than key bindings.

But you jump the gun a bit here.  Not everything is a "frequently used
command".  Menu access is useful for such operations that might be
used occasionally.  This is not about discovery.  You might know there
is a command and you remember where it is on the menus.  But you don't
know or care to remember its key binding.  For such cases, menus are
your friend.

But I am glad that you are at least open to people that choose
different modes of interaction from you.  Many others here are rather
closed minded, quite disappointingly.

> That statement (claim) is all the talking you did about it, AFAICT.
> I think you did not give any argument or examples to support the
> claim of an "over-reliance" on key bindings.  You did not even
> explain what you mean by that.

What I mean is that Emacs hasn't explored and developed other modes of
interaction enough because of its belief that key bindings are enough.
A long function name such as dired-do-search doesn't bother Emacs
developers because they expect it to be used via its key binding.  The
fact that the menus don't have keyboard accelerators (which is 10-year
old technology in Windows and Java - don't know about Linux) doesn't
bother them because only idiots that can't remember key bindings will
be using the menus anyway.  So on.

So, while Emacs used to be a leader in user interaction when it
started, now it is a reluctant laggard that comes in kicking and
screaming only after the whole world has already moved on with
innovations.  No wonder that the Emacs user base has been shrinking.
(By the way, we in the Universities have known for a quite a while
that Emacs has been losing ground.  We don't need Google to tell us
that.  Some time around 2002 or 2003, we stopped recommend Emacs to
students because we appeared to be total nut cases to them.  Even if
we recommended it, it didn't serve any purpose.  They went home and
used JDeveloper.)

When new users come to using a tool like Emacs, their first mode of
interaction is via the menubar, used with the mouse.  The second might
be to use keyboard accelerators.  Only after they have settled down to
using the tool would they begin to learn some of its key bindings.
And, they will learn them selectively based on the frequency of use
and what they care about.  They almost definitely won't start by
reading the manual.  Whatever we might think about it, that is not the
way the world works any more.  They will look up the manual when they
are stuck on something or want to learn about some particular feature.
If the manual dwells on the fundamentals too much, it will get in the

New users use Emacs in totally different ways to us.  For instance,
they almost never use the keyboard for find-file and save-file.  They
go to the menu.  And, they use the mouse and cut-and-paste the way
they are used to doing in other tools.  If and when they decide to use
the keyboard, they will try C-o and C-s (Windows key bindings), find
that they don't work, and give up.  As long as Emacs was the only game
in town, we could do things which ever way we pleased.  But now there
is a larger world out there.  And, Emacs has to fit in.

The way to fit in is to make Emacs flexible and customizable so that
the new users with completely different needs from us can do things
their own way.  If people like Xah Lee or Lennart have to fork Emacs
in order to make it suitable to groups of users, then Emacs hasn't
lived up to its challenge.  Ideally, they should be able to publish a
customization file, something along the lines of a .Xdefaults file,
which the users can customize and load.

I am hoping that this thread can move us in that direction.


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