So far my favourite thing about emacs is that the “GNU and Freedom” help entry is followed immediately by the all caps notice disclaiming any warranty or responsibility for the software at all.

The “GNU and freedom” link doesn’t work. The disclaimer link sure does though.

I am presently not understanding the commitment to the idea that a ‘meta’ key is something that has existed in the wild since 1980.


The starting screen of emacs offers me a dedicated pair of keystrokes that will permit me to order paper copies of the emacs manual. C-h RET returns “Info file emacs does not exist”.

Again, I am going to try to push through this, but the first impressions I’m getting here is that emacs is abandonware. Tier-1 menus that don’t work. Documentation that’s totally untested, inconsistent and full of dead links and weirdly dated terminology (“visit new file”?) This software has not cared at all about new users’ first impressions in a really, really long time, if ever.

Me: “Activate menubar”, that looks like it should help, let’s try that.


@mhoye The thing that really stuck for me ~12 years ago was just the dozen or so core movement and editing keybinds, everything else around it has always been weird clunky dross. But I haven't yet found another editor that does those core binds the same way, so I've dragged my minimally customized dotfile across innumerable new setups.


When I catch Emacs behaving like a conventional app (e.g. entering text replaces the selected text), I often treat it like a roach in the kitchen and edit my .emacs/init.el to squash that shit dead.

I.e., Emacs is its own wierd thing and it invented this stuff before it became common.

I view this with the kind of affection one has for an eccentric that one has learned to deal with (e.g. a sysadmin 🥁) but acknowledge it's not necessarily healthy.


Emacs falls into the category of tools that require some up-front time investment to learn before it becomes useful.

(I have some half-formed thoughts on how the field of UX tends to conflate "easy to use" with "easy to learn to use" or "easy to use without upfront effort" and that a lot of the most powerful software tools available are considered hard only because you need to learn to use it up front, but that's tangential.)

@suetanvil I have some sympathy for that position in general, but this is Stockholm Syndrome. There’s a difference between “this is challenging to learn because it is a big, complicated tool” and “this is challenging to learn because the documentation is missing, outdated or wrong”.


Less Stockholm and more sunk cost fallacy. I've made the investment and am reaping the benefit; it's possible that better design would have reduced that cost but it's too late for me now.

Also, apologies if I come across as an Emacs partisan. I have lots of complaints about it but it also works pretty well for me.

(FWIW, I've had no problem getting docs, so I'm wondering if it's a packaging issue on your end. Of course, I also just Google it most of the time so it may just be that.)

@suetanvil @scruss has pointed out that I’m hitting an ideological schism between the FSF and Debian that dates back to 2006.

@mhoye I admire your patience. I don't think abandonware is the right word. When I first tried Emacs back in 1990-s, it was just as bad as it is now. I tried for a few days (naive young fool that I was), but eventually I gave up and never looked back. It wasn't abandoned, absence of empathy to its users has been the defining quality of its UX design throughout its history.

@angdraug @mhoye

It's not just Emacs

It's the whole GNU project

It's a deeply entrenched cultural problem

@abbienormal @angdraug @mhoye totally agree with this statement. Emacs looks awful at first glance, but yet it provides a great base for extending for your concrete use cases. Emacs is the best in providing user freedom.

@jplebreton @abbienormal @angdraug @mhoye from restrictions made by devs. Basic example is it is free software, so you can mess with your code however you want, but its not only about code availability. Compared to vim Emacs has greater ways to extend itself, its not "limited" to vimscript and what devs let you "script", almost everything is changeable.

@w96k @jplebreton @abbienormal @angdraug “let me do whatever I want” is the most narrow, selfish kind of freedom imaginable, though, and doesn’t admit the existence of things that turn out to matter a lot. Like “other people” and “society”, to name two.

@abbienormal @angdraug @mhoye

Definite 80s-high-school-computer-club vibe to it. I also used to say things like "if it was hard to write, it should be hard to understand." But then I reached my mid-twenties.

@suetanvil @abbienormal @angdraug it’s an accessibility problem. There is a fundamental difference between “this is difficult because what we are trying to do here is inherently difficult” and “this is difficult because we have not put the effort in to making it easy.”

@mhoye I can confirm that after using emacs for a decade I have completely lost all comprehension of how normal people expect programs to work, except for a vague idea that it involves using the mouse for everything and the "view/edit source for this command" feature has been removed

@mhoye if you want an answer for "why do people continue to put up with this shit for so long?" it is 100% because "where else can you find an OS with a view/edit source for this command function that actually works?"

(without going back in time and using smalltalk, I mean)

@technomancy @mhoye my theory for why the tutorial&info documentation is broken is the same as for gnome/kde ui efforts: built by experts for their mental model of a non-expert.

Full-time emacs users don’t need or use the tutorial, and anyone who isn’t one yet but needs one, self-selects out.

@antifuchs @technomancy that’s not “self-selecting out”, that’s being structurally marginalized.

@technomancy @mhoye or that. At any rate, it’s not observed by the people building the introduction UX.

@mhoye the only part of emacs that I use in my daily life is remapping capslock to ctrl.

@mhoye personally when I sat down one day last year to try and learn emacs, it wasn't a good time. learning vim (through neovim but I think it's the same tutorial) was much easier

@mhoye I’ve been pretty happy with Spacemacs. It’s been the opposite experience, and vi shortcuts!

did you build and install it yourself? my guess you're using packages that messed up with, or intentionally excluded the documentation you're missing

@lxo I’ve been informed that this is because of a disagreement between the FSF and Debian about the GFDL and what constitutes “free”, and that I can fix it with some non-free Debian packages.

@mhoye oh, that's because of a freedom snit dating back 15 years or more: Why the GNU Free Documentation License is not suitable for Debian main —

You'll probably need the 'emacs-common-non-dfsg' package

@mhoye and if you're really unlucky, emacs will want to install the entire texinfo documentation system that includes 4-6 GB of the TeX Live system.

I have issues with this, tempered by decades of TeX use *and* counting the late Sebastian Rahtz (original developer of TeX Live) as a friend

@mhoye sums it up well.

I honestly don't know why I use emacs. I had a job nearly 20 years ago where I needed to debug huge files (like 2GB+) and it was the best tool for that under Solaris

Good luck adding a "Recently opened" menu item. I had one, but it fell off during an upgrade. I could taste the freedom to no longer have it, though

@scruss @mhoye yeah, I reach for emacs only by virtue of having chosen it when I first started mucking around with Linux ~21 years ago, and that was only because vim fills me with the rage of 1000 burning suns every time I open it

@mayor yup.

Everything I've ever needed to know about vi fits on one side of an index card. The hard part is remembering how to search and replace

@scruss 100% of my aversion to vim is the fact that, unlike every other interaction I've had with a computer since I was 8 years old, I can't just editing text without first switching modes. It's a petty grudge at this point but I've never been able to overcome a lifetime of "move the cursor, start typing/deleting" muscle memory

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