Tabs -vs- Spaces: Tabs should have won.

Thomas 'PointedEars' Lahn PointedEars at
Sun Jul 17 15:44:06 EDT 2011

Anders J. Munch wrote:

> Steven D'Aprano wrote:
>> I can't fathom why 8 position tabs were *ever* the default, let alone
>> why they are still the default.
> That's because they were not invented as a means for programmers to vary
> indentation.
> Originally, tabs were a navigation device: When you press the tab key, you
> skip ahead to the next tab column.

No, when you pressed the Tab key on a typewriter (BTDT), you advanced to the 
next tab _stop_.  This made it easier to write tables ("tab" from 
"tabulate") on a typewriter (the alternative was time-consuming and error-
prone use of the space and backspace keys).  With the evolution of the 
(personal) computer, its use in offices and at home, and peripheral devices 
like the dot matrix printer, typewriters fell out of common use, but the 
terms associated with them were incorporated into information technology 
language (cf. "TTY", originally "teletypewriter", e. g.).

> The reason the tab stop is a full 8 positions: for faster navigation.

No, the reason is that table columns should be as far enough away from each 
other to be distinguishable.

> If it were 3 positions, it would take forever to skip from the start of
> line to column 60.  You'd appreciate that, if you were e.g. writing a
> fiduciary report with some text to the left and two number columns to the
> right, back in the day before spreadsheets and word processor tables. 
> Skip a column or two too far?

I am getting the idea here that you mean the right thing, but that you 
explain it wrong.


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