Problems of Emacs's Manual; Examples

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This page gives some examples of outdated text in Emacs Manual.

I ran into a Chinese blog article on emacs today. GNU Emacs on Windows , by 葉難 (Yeh Nan). @ yehnan.blogspot.com.

It's written in a “Question & Answer” format in a humorous way. Very well done. There's a interesting section about emacs documentation. Here's my translation.

Emacs Manual Seems Odd?

Q: These docs [emacs's manual] seem odd?

A: I think Emacs's official docs are all odd and wordy, because:

① The writer presumes all users are beginners, with no experience in using a editor, even no experience in using a computer. Look at this sentence:

Files are named units of text which are stored by the operating system for you to retrieve later by name.

O please, do i need to be told what's a file?

② The author seems to have stopped in the 1980s, lots of tech terms have gone obsolete. Look at this:

We use the term frame to mean the entire terminal screen or graphical window used by Emacs.

The main area of the frame, below the tool bar (if one exists) and above the echo area, is called the window.

Wow, your “frame” is my “window”, then what the heck is your “window”?

③ Author is nostalgic of the past era; some advanced features of the past are no longer advanced. Example:

You are reading about GNU Emacs, the GNU incarnation of the advanced, self-documenting, customizable, extensible editor Emacs.

Huh? “self-documenting”? What editor doesn't have documentation? “extensible, customizable”? Nowadays many editors all can be extended or customized to various degrees.

④ Some features are too powerful, so explanation would be cumbersome:

You can yank text from the kill ring into any position in a buffer, including a position in a different buffer; the kill ring is shared by all buffers.

The “yank & kill” here is like “cut & paste”, then what's “kill ring”? Perhaps that means when you cut many times, it won't leave just the last cut text, previous cuts are all still in “kill ring”.

⑤ Because Emacs uses keyboard as its primary input, although these days we have mouse, but the core design philosophy still requires all functionalities be operable with a keyboard. For example, “selecting a text” can be easily done with a mouse, but the manual must use lots words to explain how this is done with keyboard. Example:

Setting the mark at a position in the text also activates it. When the mark is active, Emacs indicates the extent of the region by highlighting the text within it, using the region face. After certain non-motion commands, including any command that changes the text in the buffer, Emacs automatically deactivates the mark; this turns off the highlighting.

What the hell? A Click and a drag, and it's done.

Emacs Manual Seems Odd? (original Chinese)

Here's the original.

問:這些文件怎麼看起來怪怪的?

答:我覺得Emacs官方寫的文件都很奇怪很囉嗦,因為:

第一,寫的人把用的人都當做初學者,沒有使用編輯器的經驗、甚至沒有使用電腦的經驗。看看這段話: "Files are named units of text which are stored by the operating system for you to retrieve later by name.",拜託,我還需要你教我“檔案”是什麼東西嗎?

第二,寫文件的人似乎停留在1980年代,裡面很多術語都很老舊了,看看這個: ” We use the term frame to mean the entire terminal screen or graphical window used by Emacs.”、“The main area of the frame, below the tool bar (if one exists) and above the echo area, is called the window.”,哇哩咧,你的frame是我的window,你的window又是什麼鬼?

第三,寫文件的人還在緬懷以前的時光,有些在以前算特殊的功能,已經不再特殊了,例如: “You are reading about GNU Emacs, the GNU incarnation of the advanced, self- documenting, customizable, extensible editor Emacs.”,啥?self-documenting?哪個編輯器沒有說明文件啊?extensible, customizable?現在很多編輯器多多少少都可以客製化了。

第四,有些功能太過強大,所以解釋起來很麻煩: “You can yank text from the kill ring into any position in a buffer, including a position in a different buffer; the kill ring is shared by all buffers.”,yank&kill在這裡等於cut&paste,而kill ring呢?大概是指你cut好幾次後,不會只剩下最後一次cut的東西,之前的都還在kill ring裡面。

第五,因為Emacs以鍵盤為主,雖然現在有滑鼠可以用了,可是其中心思想還是要求所有的功能動作都要能用鍵盤達到,以至於像“把一段文字圈選”這種以滑鼠可以輕易達到的功能,手冊要用好多篇幅講解鍵盤的指令。譬如說: “Setting the mark at a position in the text also activates it. When the mark is active, Emacs indicates the extent of the region by highlighting the text within it, using the region face. After certain non-motion commands, including any command that changes the text in the buffer, Emacs automatically deactivates the mark; this turns off the highlighting.” ,什麼鬼啊,滑鼠點一點拉一拉就好了啦。

For a overall discussion of Emacs Manual problems, see: Problems of Emacs's Manual.

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