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Re: Emacs learning curve

From: Barry Fishman
Subject: Re: Emacs learning curve
Date: Thu, 05 Aug 2010 13:39:47 -0400
User-agent: Gnus/5.110011 (No Gnus v0.11) Emacs/24.0.50 (gnu/linux)

Walter Alejandro Iglesias <address@hidden> writes:
> What windows, mac os and some "graphical desktop gnu/linux" users don't
> know is that Emacs is coherent with the wonderful gnu base system (core
> utils and family), a good, moderate, evolution of unix tools.  And I am
> seriously suspecting, reading this mailing list, some advanced emacs
> users-developers suffer the same ignorance.  That's why, I think, Emacs
> leaning curve is developing in a black hole (using gnus to read mail is
> an example).

Since I started using Emacs I have seen many window systems come and
go.  What people call "Modern" window interfaces are just that, the
currently popular window system behavior soon to be replaced by
something else.

I learned Emacs in spite of any initial difficulties because it provided
me with a better and more flexible and productive environment in which
to work.  It was not overly difficult to learn, even in an environment
where none of my colleagues were using it, but it did take some effort.
Why is learning something different a bad thing?

One of the benefits of Emacs was that on the occasions I needed to move
from my usual Unix-like systems to Windows, I was able to install and
run Emacs and get my mail, editing, and printing setups working.  This
gave me a beachhead on the platform and time to learn to work with the
new computer environment.  I found that even the best Window's tools of
the time had gaps that were filled by continuing to use Emacs.  If it is
only a short term task under the new OS, much of that (mis-)learning can
be avoided.

Emacs, by using control sequences to do common things, becomes ingrained
in your thought processes and automatic.  If you ask me how to do a
particular operation, I will probably not be able to tell you what the
key sequence is.  It is just something my fingers do when I think about
doing the operation.

Changing long term Emacs bindings to match the current (transient)
window system flavor of the day fills me with some dread.  One could
make Emacs easier to pick up by people who have already spent time
learning the (often badly designed) window environment on which it is
being run.  However, these people are less likely to explore the aspects
of Emacs that make it a productive environment, developed over decades
of effort.  The easy adaption to Emacs's dummy editor functionality does
not expose them to the initial learning process which also opens up the
greater functionality of Emacs.  The cost is that people who spend the
time to learn Emacs now must work around platform specific changes and
gratuitous changes between different Emacs versions.  This is
particularly difficult since many of these operations are performed
automatically by your fingers and not thought about in a way you can
apply remembered rules about what was popular on each particular Emacs
version or on each particular window system.

My .emacs file contains a section called "Forward into the past", which
I use to undo changes made to placate new users at the expense of people
that already use Emacs.  Unsurprisingly, this section is not continually
growing.  The bindings generally bounce around while developers sort out
all that was lost by the change, and then usually settle in on a
consistent setup, at which point I can often take out my patches and
relearn the final, now stable bindings (while working with non-sensitive

The question ultimately is whether the purpose of developing free
software is to spend ones time copying the evolving and gratuitous
behavior of proprietary software, or looking long term into that would
make computers a more productive and user /empowering/ environment in
which to work.  We know this is not the goal of Microsoft, Apple, or
whoever succeeds them.  Their goal as corporations has to be to make
money for themselves.  They do that or they get bought out by someone
with that goal.  Unfortunately, there is more money in getting people to
pay you to think for them, than in teaching people how to solve problems

People are not naturally stupid.  They only become stupid when the
opportunities to learn are closed or hidden from them.  Shouldn't the
free software efforts be focused on making computers a more worthwhile
and enriching environment than in making proprietary environments

Barry Fishman

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