Emacs Keybinding Design: 【menu e】 vs 【Tab】 Keys

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

a new chapter in my keybinding excursion. (for keyboard freaks only)

remember there's the concept of repeatable vs non-repeatable command? [see Keybinding Design, Fast-Repeat Commands]

i use about 20 repeatable commands, and i use ergoemacs-mode binding for them. The rest are non-repeatable, and there are about 160 such commands i use, with keys defined in my emacs init file.

quick fact of the day

on average, a programer using emacs, you use about 20 repeatable commands, and about 150 none-repeatable commands, for 99% commands calls you do daily. (this is my estimate)

for non-repeatable commands, they use a key sequence, usually about 2 or 3 keys total. I use Truly Ergonomic Keyboard, and set the left space bar to ▤ Menu key as my starting key for non-repeatable commands.

A subset of non-repeatable are mode-specific keys (such as GNU Emacs's C-c). (Mode specific commands are almost always non-repeatable) I give them this starting key 【▤ Menu e …】 (with Dvorak Layout) Mode-specific command's keys usually have a total of 3 or 4 keys.

Here's my new discovery: i found that am slightly annoyed when using mode-specific keys, because 3 or 4 keys are too many! So, now my mode-specific keys starts with 【Tab】 instead of 【▤ Menu e】. One key reduction.

The 【Tab】 itself is often used, bound to completion. For that, i made it 【Tab Tab】. Overall, i get key reduction.

Note that Tab on the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard is a big easy key pressed by index finger. For normal keyboard, it's pinky, and you probably don't want to do it. You really should get a better keyboard. [see Best Keyboard for Emacs]

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