Man pages and info pages

Tim Harig usernet at
Thu Nov 4 22:38:54 CET 2010

On 2010-11-04, Mark Wooding <mdw at> wrote:
> Tim Harig <usernet at> writes:
>> When the GNU folk decided to clone *nix they decided that they knew
>> better and simply decided to create their own interfaces.
> This isn't the case.  Actually Info has a long history prior to GNU: it
> was the way that the documentation was presented at the MIT AI lab.  In
> fact, Info was used rather like a modern wiki.  The operating system
> they used, called ITS, didn't have a concept of file permissions, and
> users were encouraged to improve documentation (and programs).  The
> original Info viewer was implemented in Emacs (which also originated in
> ITS, years before GNU).

I was aware of Emacs history.  I was not aware that info actually dated
all the way back to ITS.  In retrospect, Stallman might have done better
cloning ITS as that seems to have been what he wanted to do anyway.  I
suppose that Emacs is basically just an ITS lookalike shell for making *nix
systems look like ITS.

Coming from a *nix background and not being an Emacs users, I prefer the
traditional *nix methods.

> documenting large software systems like Emacs and GCC, it doesn't seem
> unreasonable to provide manuals which are somewhat more discursive and
> leisurely than traditional Unix manpages.  I have a printed copy of the
> GNU Emacs 18 manual (from 1987): it's almost 300 pages long.  The modern
> manual for Emacs 23 is several /times/ larger than this.  Man pages
> don't scale that well.

Actually, they are capable of the same scalability.  I would suggest that
you read the ncurses man pages as they are displayed by pinfo.  The man
page links to other man pages that are organized by functionality in the
same kind of tree organization that is used for (text)info pages.

>> Actually, the left arrow key does not work at all intuitively.  One
>> would expect that it should go back to the previous page as it would
>> in lynx, etc.  It does not.
> It moves the cursor so you can hit links.  The l key takes you back
> through your recent viewing history -- and has done for thirty years.

As I said, that is probably intuitive for Emacs users; but, not all *nix
users are Emacs users.  To those of us that are not, the info interface
seems quite alien.

>> By tradition 'n' and 'p' are broken for scrolling in a page.  'b' is
>> often used in place of p but that seems to take one back to the top of
>> the page.
> Space and backspace are an older tradition.

Right, and in info with the default key bindings, backspace takes me to the
command help.  I would have expected it to either scroll up the page or
take me to the previously visited node.

>> The s key for a search is another example that has already been
>> discussed.
> I find C-s more useful in Info, because it searches interactively.  I
> frequently get muddled when I try to search in `modern' programs like
> web browsers, because they've gratuitously made C-s try to save the page
> (something one hardly ever wants to do) rather than search.  (Finding is
> different: finding is what happens at the end of a /successful/ search.
> So C-f is poorly chosen.)

/ is even more intiuitive yet, it works in more, it works in less, it works
in vi, and it even works in firefox.

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