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RE: [External] : Re: Proposal for an improved `help-for-help'

From: Drew Adams
Subject: RE: [External] : Re: Proposal for an improved `help-for-help'
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 2021 16:26:51 +0000

> > > I don't see any good way around this.  This is basic Emacs
> > > terminology, for which we did everything we could to document and
> > > clearly explain what we mean.
> >
> > The way I see around it is to change that terminology.
> So that everyone who used Emacs until now will have to re-learn?
> When I see DEL mentioned in the Emacs documentation, I immediately
> know what key that alludes to.  How would you propose to change the
> documentation while letting veteran users still understand it quickly
> and unequivocally?
> > > You can't, because not every keyboard has that key.
> > > And because users still can confuse that with the BS
> > > (a.k.a. "C-h") key.
> >
> > I note that any keyboard I have ever seen or used has had a backspace
> > key.  It is of course not interesting to me what exact control codes
> > that key has been sending on various machines over the years.  When
> > pressed, it has erased text backwards.
> But it doesn't always erase backward, it sometimes _moves_ backward.
> Besides, what exactly is your proposal?  Backspace vs DEL is not the
> only such issue: we have RET vs Enter (how many keyboards did you see
> with a key labeled "RET"?).  And on my keyboard (and most probably on
> yours as well) I have a key labeled "Delete" and another one labeled
> "Del" -- how do we make sure users will not be confused by that?
> There's also Tab the function key vs TAB the ASCII control character
> -- are we going to make that distinction explicit as well?
> This deceptively "simple" issue is full of difficulties and underwater
> rocks.  At the time, it took several non-trivial iterations to get the
> text in the manual about that as clear and descriptive as it is.  If
> you are serious with your suggestion, please propose how to treat this
> complex issue in its entirety; it isn't enough to say let's replace
> DEL with Backspace.
> > Most other software seems to handle such keys gracefully and
> > transparently.  Why can't we?
> I think we already do.

I agree with Eli on this.

However, it's true that many new users nowadays have no clue
about ASCII control characters, nor do they necessarily get
the relation, in Emacs, between characters and keys.

The "solution" is _not_ to change Emacs terminology or its
representation of such chars and keys.

To address that ignorance, we might consider adding a node
to the Emacs manual that addresses it explicitly, head-on.

Emacs users can benefit from learning about ASCII control
chars, including NUL, DEL, TAB, CR (RET), LF, FF, BS, BEL,
and ESC.

Also useful: knowing corresponding names C-@ (C-SPC, C-?),
C-i, C-m, C-j, C-l, C-h, C-g, and C-[.

Whether users learn all such names is not so important.
But knowing the names DEL, TAB, and RET is useful.
Likewise, C-i, C-m, and C-j.

And especially, being generally aware of Emacs's use of
control chars, and that multiple representations/names
are used, and that there is a wider legacy around this -
all of that is helpful.

Obtaining some awareness of this can even be an "Aha!"
moment, clarifying some of what might otherwise seem
arcane - much like learning about key-binding mnemonics
(<modifier>-[fbnposraedk]) can help provide perspective.

A node dedicated to this might clear up or prevent some
confusion, as well as make Emacs help/doc more helpful.

Likewise, relations between chars and keys that have
similar names, which sometimes might have similar
behavior (TAB, <tab>) but sometimes can instead be
faux amis (DEL, <delete> <backspace>).  Such confusion
can perhaps be addressed in the same place (node).

IMO, this (from SK) is misguided and really misses the
point, but it points out the disconnect we're having:

 "Other software I use don't have any problem with any
  of this: backspace is backspace, delete is delete,
  return is return, etc.

  I do appreciate that there are historical reasons, the
  question of different keyboards, terminals, features
  that no one else has, and what have you.  But to me,
  as an end-user, it looks like a very complicated
  tapestry for a couple of keys that no one else seems
  to be struggling with."

History is not what it's about, though history can also
provide some useful perspective.  These are not just
legacy artifacts.  They're living, useful correspondences.
Think about that the next time you use `C-q C-j' or `C-i'.


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