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[Slashdot] - Emacs Developers (Including Richard Stallman) Discuss How to Build a More 'Modern' Emacs

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LWN.net re-visits the emacs-devel mailing list, where the Emacs 28 development cycle has revived discussions about how to make the text editor more "modern" and attractive to new users: A default dark theme may not be in the future, leading one to think that there may yet be hope for the world in general. But there does seem to be general agreement that Emacs could benefit from a better, more centralized approach to color themes, rather than having color names hard-coded throughout various Elisp packages. From that, a proper theme engine could be supported, making dark themes and such easily available to those who want them... Another area where Emacs is insufficiently "modern", it seems, has to do with keyboard and mouse bindings. On the keyboard side, users have come to expect certain actions from certain keystrokes; ^X to cut a selection, ^V to paste it, etc. These bindings are easily had by turning on the Cua mode, but new users tend not to know about this mode or how to enable it. Many participants in the discussion said that this mode should be on by default. That, of course, would break the finger memory of large numbers of existing Emacs users, who would be unlikely to appreciate the disruption. Or, as Richard Stallman put it: It is not an option to change these basic key bindings to imitate other, newer editors. It would create a different editor that we Emacs users would never switch to. It is unfortunate that the people who implemented the newer editors chose incompatibility with Emacs.... The situation with mouse behavior is similar; as several participants in the discussion pointed out, users of graphical interfaces have come to expect that a right-button click will produce a menu of available actions. In Emacs, instead, that button marks a region ("selection"), with a second click in the same spot yanking ("cutting") the selected text. Many experienced Emacs users have come to like this behavior, but it is surprising to newcomers. The right mouse button with the control key held down does produce a menu defined by the current major mode, but that is evidently not what is being requested here; that menu, some say, should present global actions rather mode-specific ones. Stallman suggested offering a "reshuffled mode" that would bring the context menu to an unadorned right-button click, and which would add some of the expected basic editing commands there as well. This would be relatively easy to do, he said, since mouse bindings are separate from everything else. Besides, as he noted, the current mouse behavior was derived from "what was the standard in X Windows around 1990"; while one wouldn't want to act in haste, it might just be about time for an update. Other proposed changes involved "discoverability," including the default enabling of various modes, although to incorporate them into GNU Emacs "would often require the author to sign copyrights over to the Free Software Foundation, which is not something all authors are willing to do..."

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