The Modernization of Emacs: terminology buffer and keybinding

Bjorn Borud borud-news at
Wed Jun 20 14:52:30 CEST 2007

[Giorgos Keramidas <keramida at>]
| Educating the user to avoid confusion in this and other cases of made
| up, 'user-friendly' descriptions is not a good enough answer.

there are two types of "user friendly".  there's "user friendly" and
then there is "beginner friendly" which is often mislabeled.  the
latter is more important for applications which are to be used
casually.  like utilities you only use once or twice per year -- those
need to be "beginner friendly".

for applications you are likely to use for prolonged periods of time
(like programming, video editing, music production etc), it does not
make sense to optimize for "beginner friendly".  at least not at the
cost of making the application less "user friendly".

applications you spend a lot of time using are worth an investment in
learning how to use them.  what creates friction in an application you
know reasonably well is when common tasks are fiddly.  for instance,
while menus are often good for casual use and lower the initial
threshold for absolute beginners, depending heavily on menu navigation
becomes too fiddly if you are performing a certain task 2-3 times per
minute.  it is not _user_ friendly.

Emacs is rather "user friendly", but not very "beginner friendly".
when I was first confronted with it, the sort of text editors I was
used to were Wordstar and derivatives of it.  I was rather annoyed
that it didn't do what I expected, so I just used a different editor.

a few years later I bemoaned the fact that Emacs was so hard to use
during a conversation with a friend.  he asked me if I had actually
made an effort to learn Emacs, which of course I hadn't.  so I figured
I might as well give it a shot.

following the tutorial that comes with Emacs (and which is referred to
in the startup message) I spent a couple of hours one afternoon
learning the basics.  already the next day I started using Emacs for
programming.  the week after I had progressed to using it as my
newsreader (which I still do to this day) and eventually I started
reading my email in Emacs.  perhaps two months after I had sat down to
learn Emacs I wrote my first Emacs extensions in Emacs Lisp.  mostly
simple stuff to make common programming tasks easier.

I found Emacs to be user friendly, but in a different sense than the,
IMHO faulty definition, "beginner friendly".  Emacs let me, as a user,
do more with less effort and provides a lot less friction than many
other developer tools I've used.  at work I use it extensively, and we
have lots of neat extensions that really save a lot of time.


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