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Out of the box vs Do it yourself

Some of you might remember this but the reason I left the Emacs IRC channel (this was a year ago when freenode was still a thing) was because I was talking about a design / default setting, a UX annoyance (backslash handling in paredit), and someone bit my head off with an angry rant about how easy it is to fix for your own personal installation.

But, it’s not like I don’t know how to mod things in Emacs. My paredit is already way souped up (including having fixed that issue). I was talking about it because I cared about the out-of-the-box experience, cared about the design more generally.

In Emacs the attitude is “It’s so easy to fix it to work just the way you want it”; at the expense of good defaults. I love that Emacs is so malleable, that’s awesome, that’s what makes it one of the best apps in the world, but the out of the box experience is also important.

The lesson for me is to be careful about framing my ideas so they don’t come across as helpless complaints and more as, uh, as “design talk”. On the other hand, many hackers hate designers with a passion. I don’t know how to best solve this. Not just for Emacs, but generally.


Milo wrote in:

The thing that strikes me about this model is that it’s so easy to make it how you want once you know how. Good defaults can make that initial hurdle much less of stumbling around in the dark and more of a paint by numbers. I know that in other mediums, like music, handing someone an instrument and say “you can set it up however you want!” can get that person relegated to thinking that a bad set up is normal and maybe they suck

You’re right. In this particular story, the guy did tell me how to fix it, angrily and cussingly but he walked through the whole apropos, describe function, edit, save, eval cycle. “Teach to fish.” It ended up being kind of patronizing since I did happen to know how to do those things; I don’t blame him since it wasn’t clear that I was talking about the design/UX issue more generally, and that was how our wires got crossed. Although I do kind of blame him on some level since I left the community after the exchange.

If I was 1000% sure that the backslash behavior in paredit was a bad UX decision, I would’ve filed a patch. I was kvetching about it since I wanted to do just that: talk about it. To see how others felt about the benefits and limitations of the current default approach.

I view [a music electronics brand was mentioned here] stuff as a good in between. Just enough opinions about how things should be done with approachable default behavior, but not constricting enough to feel creatively claustrophobic

Yes, they are great at this stuff. And, it’s not like Emacs doesn’t put any thought into their defaults, they do, including changing some defaults over time (still getting used to the new bindings in markdown-mode). What I wanna raise here is less “Emacs = bad” and more… “How do we talk about this stuff constructively?”