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Re: Making Emacs more newbie friendly


From: Peter K . Lee
Subject: Re: Making Emacs more newbie friendly
Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 11:23:36 -0800
User-agent: Gnus/5.1006 (Gnus v5.10.6) Emacs/21.2 (gnu/linux)

PT <address@hidden> writes:

> I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with this idea, but I think it
> really would help if emacs had a newbie-mode which made it easier for
> newbies to get acquainted with it.
>
> I don't even recommend emacs anymore when someone asks me for a good
> editor, because they always complain about emacs being too foreign,
> non-standard, etc.
>
> This newbie mode would be a simple command which when activated would
> change default emacs settings, keybindings to as similar to a more
> usual  editor as possible.
>
> This would include for example keybindings which are familiar for new
> users:
>
>       F1 for help, F2 for save file, F3 for load file, etc.
>
> Menus should be activated with Alt+<key>, e.g. Alt-F for File menu. I
> know  that Alt-F (Meta-F) is forward word, but I don't think a newbie
> would miss  it too much. pc-selection-mode should be the default, so
> that he can move  around with arrows + ctrl, shift, etc.
>
> I know there could be a problem with these bindings if emacs is run in
> a  terminal, but newbies rarely do that, a graphical environment is
> more  common nowadays.
>
> Useful general settings should be turned on by default. column
> numbers,  global font lock, etc.
>
> So I'd like a single command which I could put into a newbies .emacs file:
>
>       (newbie-mode)

I think this is a great idea.  But if the real goal is to present a
"alternate-editor-compatibility" mode for ease of
introduction/transition, I think the (newbie-mode) should have few
further additions than simple binding/interface changes.

For one, if they are in (newbie-mode), every time they issue
(non-standard/non-emacs-like/whatever) key binding, they get a chunk
of their mini-buffer grab their window real-estate and EXPLAIN to them
what the REAL key binding should be, and why it makes sense.  Also, if
the key binding under use is in *place* of another, let them know what
it USED to be.

Actually, I don't think it's a bad idea to have this take place EVERY
TIME they put in a key sequence that maps to a command.  Just so they
know what they did every time they issue a key stroke.

I realize there's C-h xxx family of tools for this, but it's rather
annoying to type in C-h blah every time you want to find out what a
particular key sequence maps to.

And this will only take place if they have (newbie-mode) in their
.emacs (or interactively do M-x newbie-mode) so nothing is being
dumbed down for 'veteran users' as some in previous threads seem to
suggest.

i.e. if they press the left arrow key, the mini-buffer would let them
know they can do the exact same thing pressing C-b.  Not only that,
let them know you can go back a word by pressing M-b.  If you wanted
to go back to the beginning of the line, press C-a.  If you wanted to
go back to the beginning of the buffer, press C-x [.

I'm sure you can think of plenty of commands related to what most
editor users think of the four directional arrows.  Just 4 keys and
what emacs empowers users beyond simple cursor movement would be a
fine introduction to the "superior emacs way of doing things".

I think the advantage we have here is that most editors don't have a
whole lot of key bindings (well, at least based on the emacs
standard...).  So, it really shouldn't be too hard to put something
like this together.

I personally find hunting down 'how to use' information frustrating.
We should be able to use preexisting knowledge of users to
preemptively provide information they are looking for, and retrain
them on the correct way of using an editor. :)

> and this would set everything, so that a new user can perform any
> simple  editing operation using only the knowledge he brought from
> other  systems/editors. And when he sees that emacs is not the editor
> from hell  then he might be more interested to learn more about it.

Seriously, I also thought emacs was an editor from hell when I first
fired it up, and couldn't figure out how to exit the damn thing.

Only through sheer will power and years of sub standard emacs usage
has made this journey worthwhile at the end.

I have no desire to debate whether the above is in essence a
prerequisite to proper emacs appreciation/usage. ;)

So how about it?

------------
Peter K. Lee


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