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# Emacs Users Need To Stop Holding Back Unix

So for those who don't know, I've been using Ubuntu the last week or so. I've been keeping notes and I may write about it later, but I had to rant about this now.

It is late in the year 2007. The last time I used a unix-like desktop was in 2003, and I had the same problem then: A useless right alt key.

Why is the right alt key useless? Because for some reason it's been assigned the function "Super" instead of "Meta". Why was it assigned Super? What is Super? Why hasn't anyone fixed this minor detail that has existed for the 10 years linux has been a plausible threat to MS?

Super is just another modifier key, like shift or control. Old sun keyboards all have dedicated super keys. Back in the 80s it was used quite a bit, I've been told. These keyboards also had a single alt, a single control, and another modifier key called compose.

Meanwhile, in the real world, IBM came along and make two alt keys standard for the vast majority of computer users. They also put in two control keys and (one of their few bad moves on the keyboard) put capslock next to A, where control had historically been. This has since become the standard keyboard for everyone, even sun and apple.

So why is it that on a standard linux installation, no matter which distro you choose, the right hand alt key has been assigned Super? Emacs.

You see, Emacs is this software that does everything. It handles your email, it will monitor logs, you can play games in it, talk to a virtual psychiatrist, and even edit text files. If you need to perform a command in emacs there is probably a command for the exact situation you're in, assuming you can find it.

Learning emacs requires a harness and a rope, plus good ice shoes and a pickaxe. You will need this equipment to scale the steep and slippery learning curve. It is the only software still used that uses super. It will also use compose, snoz and snorglebutt modifier keys if you happen to have them assigned to your keyboard.

Emacs users are a small but vocal minority in the open source world (much like the religious right.) They command an unusually large amount of mindshare in the open source world (much like the religious right.) The rest of us could really do without emacs users, but they contribute a lot of code back to the community, so we put up with them (s/code/money, and again, much like the religious right.)

<colbert> EMACS USERS! I'm putting you, "On Notice!"</colbert>

Before a distribution like Ubuntu will be popular with the masses (and it's so very close) this default will have to be changed. It is unreasonable to suggest that the majority of users change their configuration or be stuck with a useless key so that the minority of emacs users don't have to change anything. You can do it now or do it later, but sooner or later it will have to be done.

If it's not, someone like my grandmother will never use Ubuntu (at 75 she, on her own, went out and bought a computer, learned what she needed to about it, and called me up and asked me to bring her Firefox and Thunderbird because it was taking too long to download over her dialup.)

posted at: 2007 Sep 24 15:13 UTC | category: tech | (story link)

Copyright © 2006-2008 Zach White