Welcome back to the days of… typing…

There was a man who decided once that what people really wanted on computers was not to have to type.

This obsession with not typing went to extremes, but let’s be honest: people who use the computer a lot learn to type, so I am not so sure that this avoidance of typing is actually sensible.

Yes, goodbye to nice easy to edit files, hello to screens and screens of dialog boxes where you have to click precisely at the right spot and then move your hands from the mouse to the keyboard and back again… and again… and again…

Computers have turned from machines that you “speak” to in words, to machines that you communicate with by pointing. “Over there!” you suggest as you swing your arm to move the mouse as it falls off the table.

I believe the mouse was both a blessing and a curse; but when you look at Microsoft’s treatment of it, you have to wonder whether the blessings are worth it. The obsession with not using text files for configuration of your computer for example. Just try configuring your network adapter IP address. No… you can’t just type in 192.168.1.1. You have to put 192 in the first box, then 168 in the second box, and…. and then if you need to copy the IP address, you can’t. You can’t paste it either.

Pointing is all well and good for some tasks, such as moving windows around, resizing them, selecting them and so on… but using them to execute commands, I am not so sure about. Take the start menu for example. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to search for an application, I want the computer to search for me. Macs have a nice search feature: type in a box and it will try to find the thing you are looking for quickly and easily. Microsoft have followed suit. Well done, computer industry! You are moving us back to the command line, only dressed up.

I have recently gone back to using emacs instead of more “modern” editors. It is a wonderful feeling. Because everything is language based, it is really easy to configure and extend functionality and so on. Because everything can be done from the keyboard, I don’t have to keep moving my hands around. Because there are no gigantic dialog boxes, I don’t have to wait for ages for them to appear.

Oh and there’s no more of that visual studio curse, the property dialog box. I dread to think how much of my life I have wasted waiting for that thing to appear. Or wasted trying to reconfigure a complex project, one tab page at a time. That dialog is so complicated that it ruins the disk cache and slows down recompiles. And there is no way to easily copy settings.

OMG, I have this brilliant idea! Why don’t they replace that dialog fiasco with a text based configuration file, where you can see everything at a glance and copy and paste whole configuration sections? Oh right, sorry it exists already… silly me. It’s the ‘make’ utility that existed since forever.

I am experimenting with ditching that whole “GUI based IDE” thing completely. So far, it is going well for me. Now that I don’t have to point, and search and switch between dialog boxes, and wait for them to open, and wait for them to close… now that I can just pull up a configuration file in an editor and search and replace, cut and paste and save backup versions… now that the computer resources are not eaten up by complicated bloated dialogs… now that I can work faster and actually reap the benefits of faster hardware not dragged down through more bloat… ah… heaven.

One Response to “Welcome back to the days of… typing…”

  1. jdinolt Says:

    I’ve been an Emacs user since 1994 (and before that Brief). I have never been able to move away from it, largely due to muscle memory concerns (my fingers just “know” how to do stuff in Emacs, I don’t have to remember). In the last 5 or so years I’ve had to do a lot more cross platform development, which means I’ve had to get to know Visual Studio in order to debug on certain platforms and let me say that it is terrible. One of the major problems with it is an instance of the problem you describe: build configuration settings. You have to open tons of stupid boxes to change them, and if you want to specialize a certain setting slightly between two different configurations (say an include path that has one path appended in a specific config), it’s an even bigger pain. At least the solution and project files are XML, so I can just hack them in Emacs when I need to make a painful change.

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