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Re: Making Emacs more newbie friendly

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: Making Emacs more newbie friendly
Date: Sat, 19 Mar 2005 18:16:24 +0100
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/22.0.50 (gnu/linux)

PT <address@hidden> writes:

> On Sat, 19 Mar 2005 17:22:49 +0100, David Kastrup <address@hidden> wrote:
>>> The question is: is more people using Emacs a good thing at all?
>>> Or is it only an additional burden (more clueless people on the
>>> help forums, etc.)?
>> You are trying to frame loaded questions.
> No, it was a sincere question. And if the answer is no, it's not a
> good thing then I'm okay with it.
>> What is "a good thing"?
>> More people using Emacs is not a worthwhile objective per se.  If it
>> were, we should replace Emacs by toiletpaper, and its user base would
>> explode.  A worthwhile objective for a developer is to have Emacs
>> become a more productive tool for his work.  This is not unrelated to
>> the size of its user base, since developers usually tend to start out
>> as users.
> Exactly. I don't know what resources are at the emacs developers'
> disposal (do they work on it on their free time? is some of them
> paid to work on Emacs?),

Most work on Emacs in their free time.  There have been times in the
past where a main developer got employed by the FSF for completing a
particular essential task or feature.

> but if companies see more value in emacs then they might even
> sponsor developing some new features for them.

Emacs has a rather strict copyright assignment policy to the FSF, and
it has a rather strict "if RMS does not think it a good idea right
now, it does not get in" policy.  While there have been corporate or
at least institutional contributions (in particular MULE comes to
mind), this is by no means easy to do.

In fact, one of the most important such corporate contributions was
not to be reconciled with Emacs development and management, and thus
split off to become XEmacs.  The XEmacs project thus has a much more
open stance towards corporate contributions and distributed
copyrights, and this has served them reasonably well for some time.  I
think there are still some commercial applications based on XEmacs as
a platform around.

But it has shown that the ability to accept corporate contributions is
no substitute for a sustained base of dedicated hackers for a project
of the peculiarity of Emacs.

I am not saying that Emacs could not easily make use of 10 times the
number of current developers, if they were well-organized, since much
of the functionality is separate from other functionality.  But while
the number of Emacs developers are fewer than desirable, XEmacs has
seen more of a decline in that area, in spite of being much more
accommodating to external contributions.

> At companies when it comes to choosing a developer tool the
> recommendation of the employees and their existing experience with
> those tools can be an important factor at the decision.  So if Emacs
> is more newbie friendly that can mean more potential users, more
> value as a tool for employers and possibly more resources for future
> development.

Emacs has not shown itself to accommodate systematic corporate
involvement well.  It will as far as I can see always be dependent on
dedicated individuals instead of corporate support, simply because you
can't make a business plan involving Emacs development and timelines.

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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