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May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)

Contents Bulletin Scripting in shell and Perl Network troubleshooting History Humor

Orthodox Editors as a Special Class of Advanced Editors

News Introduction Recommended Links

Recommended Articles

Eastern Orthodox editors Western Orthodox Editors (VIM)

Beautifiers and Pretty Printers

Folding Slicing Outlining Ctags Regex PC-style light weight Unix/Linux Light-weight win32 Editors
GUI-based programmable Programmable Word processors HTML programmable Html editors History Humor Etc

The introductory paper Orthodox Editors introduced some ideas on which this page was build. Here is the abstract of the paper:

This paper tried to introduce a new concept: orthodox editors as a special category of editors and their relation (in Eastern Orthodox family represented by such editors as Xedit, Kedit, THE) to the concept of folding.

First we define special class of editors, that we call  "orthodox editors" as having three distinct features:

This article is a modest attempt to create an intellectual context for studying this important class of editors.

Read more

Another interesting for me issue is the value of editors of different sizes (lightweight, mid-weight and heavyweight). My thought on this issue are reflected in another paper  A Note on Size-based Classification of Text Editors  Here is the abstract:

The article presents an attempt to understand correlation between features of text editors and editor size based of tasks each weight category performs better and1 propose size based classification of editors

The concept of "editor weight" is useful for explaining why most programmers use several editors (usually three: standalone lightweight editor like Notepad, midweight editor like Vim, Kedit or SlickEdit and heavyweight editor like Microsoft Visual Studio .Net, Emacs, etc).

That suggests that there are tasks for which one editor of a certain size suit best and perfoming of which with the editor of a different category is less efficient despite the additional power it might provide. This paradox that most programmers use several editors while leading one would be more efficient can be explained by the hypothesis that editors can be classified into three distinct categories and that each category of editors has its own unique set of features In this case one size does not fit all. We will distinguish 

The main idea here that there are tasks that are better, quicker performed by lightweight editors and they're are tasks that are better performed by midweight/heavyweight editors, so those categories of editors develop in different directions.

Read more

Most programmers spend  a lot of time editing the code (may as much as 40%). If that's the case, finding the best tool available and, if necessary, spending a few extra dollars for it definitely is a good investment.
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Old News ;-)

2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 and earlier
 

ConText Editor  Very interesting Windows editor. Flexible customizable syntax highlighting. Well organized features

This syntax highlighting editor supports numerous programming languages including C/C++, Delphi, Pascal, Java, JavaScript, Visual Basic, Perl, HTML, SQL, FoxPro, 80x86 assembler, Python, PHP, Tcl/Tk, etc (you can customize the syntax highlighting). Other features include code templates, customizable help files for each file type, export to HTML/RTF, file conversion (DOS, Unix, MAC), bookmarks, commenting, uncommenting code, capturing the output from console applications, etc. It's a Windows editor.

CUTE User-friendly Text Editor

CUTE is a text editor that is extensible using Python. It supports projects, syntax highlighting of various programming languages (C, C++, C#, Java, Python, JavaScript) as well as HTML (etc), multiple documents (tabbed or child frame), ctags, auto-completion, search and replace with regular expressions, bookmarks, undo/redo, has an integrated file browser, themes, key macros, etc. Binaries (executables) are available for Linux. The source code is released under the GPL and can be compiled for Windows

Linux.com Some Linux apps are small wonders  13K in size for the editor that's something from DOS era :-).  It is  written in NASM assemblerThat's a great achivement and it refreshing to see that not all useful software is bloatware !!!

e3 text editor

The e3 console text editor takes minimalism to the max - the binary is a minuscule 13KB in size! So why use this instead of [insert the name of your favorite editor here]? If you're anything like me, you'll find a lot of your editing tasks are very short -- little more than tweaks. e3 starts instantly and has all the basic features you could want, including find/replace, block cut/copy/paste, and undo. For complex tasks I use a more feature-packed program, but for a quick change to /etc/fstab or something similar, this little editor wins every time.

e3 also does its best to be ubiquitous. It works on a whole host of operating systems, and perhaps best of all, it supports keyboard mappings that emulate WordStar, Pico, emacs, vi, and Nedit. You can hardly fail to feel at home with it.

Exuberant Ctags Version 5.5.2 [17 September 2003]

[Sept 12, 2003] The Right Size for an Editor Eric Raymonds view on the subject. IMHO he did not understand the real tradeoffs that make vi a great editor for so many years, but he at least is able to site right people ;-). With all due respect to RMS, Emacs is definitely anti-Unix type of editor :-).

Is Emacs an Argument against the Unix Tradition?

The traditional Unix view of the world, however, is so attached to minimalism that it isn't very good at distinguishing between the adhocity-trap problems of vi and the optional complexity of Emacs.

  The reason that vi and emacs never caught on among old-school Unix programmers is that they are ugly. This complaint may be “old Unix” speaking, but had it not been for the singular taste of old Unix, “new Unix” would not exist.  
-- Doug McIlroy  

Attacks on Emacs by vi users — along with attacks on vi by the hard-core old-school types still attached to ed — are episodes in a larger argument, a contest between the exuberance of wealth and the virtues of austerity. This argument correlates with the tension between the old-school and new-school styles of Unix.

The “singular taste of old Unix” was partly a consequence of poverty in exactly the same way that Japanese minimalism was — one learns to do more with less most effectively when having more is not an option. But Emacs (and new-school Unix, reinvented on powerful PCs and fast networks) is a child of wealth.

  As, in a different way, was old-school Unix. Bell Labs had enough resources so that Ken was not confined by demands to have a product yesterday. Recall Pascal's apology for writing a long letter because he didn't have enough time to write a short one.  
-- Doug McIlroy  

Ever since, Unix programmers have maintained a tradition that exalts the elegant over the excessive.

The vastness of Emacs, on the other hand, did not originate under Unix, but was invented by Richard M. Stallman within a very different culture that flourished at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab in the 1970s. The MIT AI lab was one of the wealthiest corners of computer-science academia; people learned to treat computing resources as cheap, anticipating an attitude that would not be viable elsewhere until fifteen years later. Stallman was unconcerned with minimalism; he sought the maximum power and scope for his code.

The central tension in the Unix tradition has always been between doing more with less and doing more with more. It recurs in a lot of different contexts, often as a struggle between designs that have the quality of clean minimalism and others that choose expressive range and power even at the cost of high complexity. For both sides, the arguments for or against Emacs have exemplified this tension since it was first ported to Unix in the early 1980s.

Programs that are both as useful and as large as Emacs make Unix programmers uncomfortable precisely because they force us to face the tension. They suggest that old-school Unix minimalism is valuable as a discipline, but that we may have fallen into the error of dogmatism.

There are two ways Unix programmers can address this problem. One is to deny that large is actually large. The other is to develop a way of thinking about complexity that is not a dogma.

Our thought experiment with replacing Lisp and the extension libraries gives us a new perspective on the oft-heard charge that Emacs is bloated because its extension library is so large. Perhaps this is as unfair as charging that /bin/sh is bloated because the collection of all shellscripts on a system is large. Emacs could be considered a virtual machine or framework around a collection of small, sharp tools (the modes) that happen to be written in Lisp.

On this view, the main difference between the shell and Emacs is that Unix distributors don't ship all the world's shellscripts along with the shell. Objecting to Emacs because having a general-purpose language in it feels like bloat is approximately as silly as refusing to use shellscripts because shell has conditionals and for loops. Just as one doesn't have to learn shell to use shellscripts, one doesn't have to learn Lisp to use Emacs. If Emacs has a design problem, it's not so much the Lisp interpreter (the framework part) as the fact that the mode library is an untidy heap of historical accretions — but that's a source of complexity users can ignore, because they won't be affected by what they don't use.

This mode of argument is very comforting. It can be applied to other tool-integration frameworks, such as the (uncomfortably large) GNOME and KDE desktop projects. There is some force to it. And yet, we should be suspicious of any ‘perspective’ that offers to resolve all our doubts so neatly; it might be a rationalization, not a rationale.

Therefore, let's avoid the possibility of falling into denial and accept that Emacs is both useful and large — that it is an argument against Unix minimalism. What does our analysis of the kinds of complexity in it, and the motives for it, suggest beyond that? And is there reason to believe that those lessons generalize?

 

Recommended Links

Softpanorama Top Visited

Softpanorama Recommended

New

Moolenaar.net - Vim Seven habits of effective text editing

See also

Top

Design issues:

 


Articles

The Craft of Text Editing by Craig A. Finseth -- free e-book

Preface
Introduction: What Is Text Editing All About?
Chapter 1: Users
Chapter 2: User Interface Hardware
Chapter 3: Implementation Languages
Chapter 4: Editing Models
Chapter 5: File Formats
Chapter 6: The Internal Sub-Editor
Chapter 7: Redisplay
Chapter 8: User-Oriented Commands: The Command Loop
Chapter 9: Command Set Design
Chapter 10: Emacs-Type Editors
Epilogue
Appendix A: A Five-Minute Introduction to C
Appendix B: Emacs Implementations
Appendix C: The Emacs Command Set
Appendix D: The TECO Command Set
Appendix E: ASCII Chart
Bibliography
Book Index


Folding

See also: Eastern Orthodox Editors (Xedit/Kedit/THE) are probably the oldest (Xedit seems to be around on VM/CMS from early 70th) and the most widely used folding editors. Although it's hard to teach old dog now tricks vim 6.0 will support folding.  I consider folding (actually there are several types of folding -- one is slicing (and in orthodox editors command All, the other is outlining as implemented in Ms Word and other word processors and some HTML-editors) an extremely useful feature. Once you have got used to the folding paradigm, you will not want to use a flat editor again! That's why I consider EOE family of editors so important.  Franz J. Kurfess -- Master's Project Topics at NJIT   include folding

comp.programming.literate FAQ

9.5. Fold2Web

Developer: Bernhard Lang <lang@tu-harburg.d400.de>
Version: V0.8
Hardware: MSDOS
Languages: All (must allow comment lines)
Formatter: LaTeX
Availability: Anonymous ftp from:
kirk.ti1.tu-harburg.de (134.28.41.50)
/pub/fold2web/readme
/pub/fold2web/fold2web.zip
Readme: In distribution

Description:

The idea behind the Fold2Web tool is the following: A programmer can write his program source with a folding editor and later map the folded source files automatically to WEB-files. The generated WEB-files can then be modified by inserting required documentations.

The advantage by starting program developement with original sources is to get short design cycles during the compile/debug steps. By using a folding editor the global structuring information can be already captured in folds during this developement phase. Fold information is typically stored in comment lines and thus will not affect the
efficiency of the compile/debug design cycle.

Some folding editors and a folding mode for the emacs are available (e.g. see our FUE folding editor for MSDOS machines which is a modified micro emacs. Pick it at kirk in directory /pub/fold2web).

After reaching a stable version of a program source its time to convert the source file to a WEB-file and do the program documentation. Fold2Web is written to convert folded source text of any programming language to nuweb files. The folded structure is kept by mapping folds to scraps. Fold markers which differ between languages due to different ways of specifying comments can be configured for each language.

Good results can also achived when given but poor documented program sources have to be modified. Such sources can be folded using a folding editor to extract the global structures. This offers a global view tothe program structures and help to understand its functionality. Furthermore the program code is not affected, only comment lines are
inserted. Once folded the program source can be automatically translated to a WEB document using the above tool.

Illustrative Browsing A New Method of Browsing in Long On-line Texts

Fe User Guide

A few words on the design of fe

After working with Origami for many years, both as user and developer, I have decided to implement a new folding editor: fe. There are a few basic design decisions which make it different from Origami:

Origami is partially written in its extension language. While being more of a hack in the beginning, it has changed to a full programming language. As such, it takes time to be learnt. Code written in it is not well usable by most people who don't know it. The conclusion for fe is not to support any extension language, neither a homebrew one or a standardised language, like scheme. Instead, fe is implemented as a library of basic editor primitives. Its is easy to write your own editor by using that library. fe can be modified easy without having to learn a new programming language. The editor also stays small and elegant this way, while Origami has to offer zillions hooks for extension functions.

Origami implements folds as double-linked n-trees, with nodes being single lines or folds. This allows quick manipulation of folds or lines. But region oriented functions become hard to implement and are mostly not too quick any more. fe uses a gap buffer to store text, folds are represented as meta-characters in the flat buffer. This means basic fold primitives are slower than in Origami, but more complex and region oriented functions are faster. During development of the first prototype of fe, I found many functions in Origami not to be as canonical as they should be after I implemented them in fe. From my past experience, the performance of typical personal computers to have increased by a factor of 10 every 5 years in the last decade, so the circumstances for editor design have clearly changed over time.

Folding has its merits, because it adds a structure to flat files. But, it also means that by bad structure design and badly commented folds the file will get harder to understand, not easier. This can happen up to the point where you want all folds to be gone to see what the file contains. If you need to keep many folds open during development to see their contents, you are probably preparing that situation at least for others. Although in general I don't like programs forcing me to do something, fe makes an exception here for two reasons: If the structure is obvious, you want the editor to close folds for you automatically. If it is not, you want to recognize that before it is too late. For that reason, fe closes all folds when you leave them. If you want to transport code from one fold to another, just split the current display and edit the file at two places. If both places are sufficient far away from each other, that's what you even had to do if you could leave folds open. \"}}}

Richard King Home Page

Published Papers

A user interface for a multi-user folding editor

Animation techniques for folding editors

Masters Thesis

What is a folding editor -- not very correct, but still interesting discussion

Most folding capabilities in editors such as GNU Emacs and most folding editors such as Origami and fe, are inspired by the Inmos Transputer Development System. After several years, folding/outlining capabilities in text editors are not as exotic as they used to be, but they are still far from being well known. This document explains what "folding" is all about.

A folding editor extends the principle of tree structured directories to editing text files. This allows the simultaneous display of large amounts of text by folding sections of text away behind a descriptive heading. This results in a tree structure very similar to a subdirectory structure of, for example, UNIX. By suitable structuring of a text it should be possible, in most circumstances, to ensure that no display exceeds a single screen at any time. To access text that is folded away, you open the fold, in which case the contents are displayed in context of the surrounding text. The advantage of this system is that it eliminates the need for seemingly endless paging through long files to find the section of interest, allowing you to move down the tree structure, following the (hopefully) descriptive headers to locate the text you require.

Internet Parallel Computing Archive Tools Editors Folding-editors -- links to several implementations

Hybris -- a very interesting implementation of scrollable nesting -- it's actually more looks like outlining, but probably can be used for folding. anyway this is something new and no other editor seems to be able to do the same trick.

GRASP Graphical Representations of Algorithms Structures and Processes -- the idea of syntax diagrams

JED -- the latest version has folding

Internet Parallel Computing Archive Tools Editors Folding-editors -- I believe that folding is a must for any editor. Here we have slightly outdated and incomplete collection of relevant links.

Fe User Guide   -- A Folding Editor, which aims to be fast and small.

After working with Origami for many years, both as user and developer, I have decided to implement a new folding editor: fe. There are a few basic design decisions which make it different from Origami:

Origami is partially written in its extension language. While being more of a hack in the beginning, it has changed to a full programming language. As such, it takes time to be learnt. Code written in it is not well usable by most people who don't know it. The conclusion for fe is not to support any extension language, neither a homebrew one or a standardised language, like scheme. Instead, fe is implemented as a library of basic editor primitives. Its is easy to write your own editor by using that library. fe can be modified easy without having to learn a new programming language. The editor also stays small and elegant this way, while Origami has to offer zillions hooks for extension functions.

Origami implements folds as double-linked n-trees, with nodes being single lines or folds. This allows quick manipulation of folds or lines. But region oriented functions become hard to implement and are mostly not too quick any more. fe uses a gap buffer to store text, folds are represented as meta-characters in the flat buffer. This means basic fold primitives are slower than in Origami, but more complex and region oriented functions are faster. During development of the first prototype of fe, I found many functions in Origami not to be as canonical as they should be after I implemented them in fe. From my past experience, the performance of typical personal computers to have increased by a factor of 10 every 5 years in the last decade, so the circumstances for editor design have clearly changed over time.

Folding has its merits, because it adds a structure to flat files. But, it also means that by bad structure design and badly commented folds the file will get harder to understand, not easier. This can happen up to the point where you want all folds to be gone to see what the file contains. If you need to keep many folds open during development to see their contents, you are probably preparing that situation at least for others. Although in general I don't like programs forcing me to do something, fe makes an exception here for two reasons: If the structure is obvious, you want the editor to close folds for you automatically. If it is not, you want to recognize that before it is too late. For that reason, fe closes all folds when you leave them. If you want to transport code from one fold to another, just split the current display and edit the file at two places. If both places are sufficient far away from each other, that's what you even had to do if you could leave folds open.

Andys Source Code Folding Editor -- a language configurable folding source code editor


PC-style super lightweight editors

mcedit and Cooledit Jedit
(Java-based and not that super light)
FTE LE Jed Joe

Dead Editors Society ;-)

FED Zed Other

In computer science, a good simple convenient text editor is a must. And most of them have Windows heritage ;-) To this end, we've included a multitude of Windows-style lightweight editors available today.

GUI-based environments have some pretty decent PC-style editors link KDE_KEdit and Nedit. For command line situation is not so good, but still there are some decent implementations...

mcedit

MC also comes with what appears to be a much better editor known as mcedit. this is a command line version of CoolEdit, but the development stalled long ago. 

This editor has interesting non standard for Windows cut and paste scheme. First F3 marks start of selection, second F3 marks the end of selection and highlight the selection. Then you can move your cursor. If you press F5, selected area will be moved to the cursor location. If you press F6, selected area will be copied and inserted to the cursor location. F2 will save file.F10 will get you out. Most other cursor keys works intuitively for Windows users

This editor can be directly started like:

     $ mc -e filename_to_edit
     $ mcedit filename_to_edit

This is not a multi-window editor but one can use multiple Linux console to achieve same effect. To copy between windows, ALT-Fn-keys to switch virtual consoles and use "File->Insert file" or "File->Copy to file" to move portion of file to other files.

In Midnight Commander this internal editor can be replaced with any external editor of choice.

Also many programs use environment variables EDITOR or VISUAL to decide which editor to use. If you are uncomfortable with vim, set these to "mcedit" by in ~/.bashrc:

     ...
     export EDITOR=mcedit
     export VISUAL=mcedit
     ...

I do recommend to set these to vim if possible. Getting used to vi(m) commands are right thing to do since they are always there in the Linux/Unix world.

There is a very primitive man page (man mcedit). Here is one possible link Manpage of mcedit; here is slightly different mcedit man page for DOS port.   In many Linux distributions mcedit comes with completely brain-dead color scheme, but this can be easily fixed by defining the following env. variable in your profile:

MC_COLOR_TABLE="$MC_COLOR_TABLE:editnormal=lightgray,black:editbold=yellow,black:editmarked=black,cyan"
 

jEdit

jEdit - Open Source programmer's text editor -- if you use Java (1.4.2 or later, then it might be an optimal choice, otherwise it might be too much staff to install ;-)

jEdit is a mature and well-designed programmer's text editor that has been in development for over 5 years.

While jEdit beats many expensive development tools for features and ease of use, it is released as free software with full source code, provided under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

The core of jEdit is primarily developed by Slava Pestov, and jEdit plugins are being written by a large and diverse team of programmers from around the world.

Some of jEdit's features include:

LE - le editor 1.9 by Alexander V. Lukyanov - February 25th 2000, 12:37 EST. See also ftp://ftp.yars.free.net/pub/software/unix/util/texteditors/

LE 1.9 supports Perl and has many block operations with stream and rectangular blocks, can edit both unix and dos style files (LF/CRLF), is binary clean, has hex mode, can edit files and mmap'pable devices in mmap shared mode (only replace), has tunable syntax highlighting, tunable color scheme (can use default colors), tunable key map. It is slightly similar to Norton Editor, but has more features.

JED

The JED Programmer's Editor  -- a free text editor for Unix, VMS, MSDOS, OS/2, and MS Windows based on S-Lang scripting language.  Default set of commands close to WordStar(or Borland IDE, if you wish ;-).  Actively developed and has active mailing list.

It is relatively small (less than 200K), loads fast, does not take much disk space or memory.   Included on most Linux distributions.  For a long tyme it is used as a standard editor on Slackware. On RH is it configured to emulated Emacs mode (actually it's doing it pretty well and is noticeably faster). To change to WordStar mode one needs to edit file /usr/lib/jed/lib/jed.rc and

Developed by John E. Davis, who also developed S-Lang language. Embeddable implementation of S-lang is often called S-lang library is pretty popular and used in Midnight Commander and Lynx, MOST, and SLRN.

 and participated in the development of Color Lynx, rxvt. slsc.

The color highlighting is a big plus. The latest version is B0.99-7 which may be obtained via ftp from space.mit.edu which is also mirrored in Europe at ftp://ftp.uni-stuttgart.de/pub/unix/misc/slang. Among features:

There is also a useful add-on jedstate. Using jedstate together with jed's startup_hook() and exit_hook() as glue, jed remembers the cursor position of all visited files and will automatically jump to that position again when the files are revisited. The database, which is gdbm based, is purgeable on a "time since last view" criterion. Jedstate comes with two sample hooks for easy integration with jed.

Additional sources of information:


FTE

FTE Text Editor (KFTE -- KDE version) --  first written by Marco Macek, a Slovenian computer-science student, who had been developing this powerful and configurable editor for up to 1996 and then abandoned this project. It was practically dead project from 1998 until Nov 2000, but then resurrected on Sorceforge. The latest versions are a nice PC-style text editor with folding, undo, three types of blocks, syntax highlighting (HTML, Perl, C, etc.). People interested in folding can join the project.

By: Tanktalus ( Darin )
 RE: Is this really alive? [ reply ] 
2000-Oct-13 15:10

I've tried to contact the developer a few times. When he was back in school, I got responses fairly quickly. Nowadays, however, nothing.

I've made a number of changes which make parts of it more usable - even fixed a problem specific to AIX (where I use FTE alot!). I spent yesterday creating the bmp's and icon so I could recompile it on OS/2. A few additions/fixes to some of the configs ... all this stuff that could be used by others. Plus OS/2 binaries with all changes...

<sigh>

By: Tanktalus ( Darin )
 RE: Is this really alive? [ reply ] 
2000-Oct-16 19:20

Well, it seems that CaptMark has given me developer access - you may (or may not) have noticed that I've started adding things - mostly bug fixes - into the code. New features ... come later. Bugs are easy to fix. Just find the offending code and change it. Features require a deeper understanding of the code. Maybe CaptMark will join in the fun later - or at least let us know what he's up to.

(He gave me access without actually sending me email or anything.)

FTE- A Folding Editor From the OS-2 World. FTE is a multi-platform editor, available for Linux, OS/2, DOS, and Windows; support Exuberant ctags. See a short review of an earlier version in issue 7 of LG.

Marco Macek, a Slovenian computer-science student, had been developing this powerful and configurable editor for up to 1996 and then abandoned this project.

Main features:

There is also GUI-based implementation --  KFTE --  a KDE port of FTE text editor. This version aims only at providing a KDE GUI, and the core of the editor is unchanged.

Latest source snapshot

Release 0.46b5

Joe

Joe editor -- The Joe editor has a set of command close to the WordStar, so it can be convenient to DOS old-timers who know this ancient command set.  It was developed by Joseph H. Allen with assistance of  Larry Foard and Gary Gray. It is a full featured UNIX screen-editor. Included in RH. Also available from ftp.std.com, file: src/editors/joe*.tar.Z. (ftp://nic.funet.fi/pub/unix/editors/joe2.8.tar.Z). It is also able emulate PICO ('jpico' version), but who cares ;-). 

Joe is lightweight (160K), text mode text editor and is not bad, but it's definitely not my favorite -- I do not like Wordstar command set.

Key features:

joe is also quite configurable through its 'joerc' file.  One can change almost every aspect of joe through this file including: status bar, keybindings, default behavior, help screen text and more. There are for example WordStar and Emacs 'rc' files included with distribution of joe (see the /usr/lib/joe directory).

To make it a default editor one needs to include in /etc/profile the line
 "export EDITOR=joe"

Additional information: 


FED

[Nov 14, 2000] FED - a folding text editor  FED is a dead folding text editor for MS-DOS and Linux, with source code freely available under the GPL. It features:


DOS: fed.zip (262k)


Linux: fed.tar.gz (200k)


ZED

ZED -- practically dead and should probably be removed. Was developed by Sandro Serafini; has decent DOS port. Default command set is WordStar like, but can easily be changed. Current version seems to be  1.03 (as of July 1999).  Does not make much sense in view of existence of Jed.


Other GUI-based with ad-hos created macro languages


Rather Strange Unix-based Super-Lightweight Editors


History

Salon 21st The Xy files BY AMY VIRSHUP |

FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD, XYWRITE IS HISTORY --
BUT TO ITS DEVOTEES, THE ANTIQUATED WORD PROCESSOR STILL RULES.

 Not long ago, a writer friend and I were talking software (there's a sentence I never thought I'd write) -- specifically whether we were Luddites for resisting a Windows 98 upgrade. Well, she said, she hardly felt out-of-date, since most of her publishing-world friends were still using XyWrite. I was stunned. I hadn't even heard the name in years, and suddenly I'd learned that, in a world in which six months is a generation, there lingered a dedicated cadre of loyalists to a program that hasn't been upgraded since 1993, that still runs best in DOS, that isn't compatible with most printers, and that has all but vanished as a commercial product. It was like finding out that a cargo cult was operating down the hall from my apartment.

For those of you unfamiliar with XyWrite -- the "GOD of word processors," as one poster to alt.folklore.computers recently put it -- the program was an offshoot of ATEX, which in the '80s was the standard in newspaper and magazine editorial hardware and software. It was created in 1982 by an ATEX programmer named David Erickson, who'd bought a PC and was unhappy with the word processor that came with it. So Erickson decided to write his own, and not long after he and another employee left ATEX to set up shop as XyQuest.

XyWrite was fast, it could do things no other word processor at the time could (like open two windows simultaneously), and because of the nature of the underlying programming language, XPL, it could be endlessly customized. The screen was a blank page with a command line at the top (hitting F5 would take you there), and when you wanted XyWrite to do something, you simply typed in an English-language command (such as "print" to print a file) or used one of your own custom keystrokes to carry out the task. It was defiantly not a "what you see is what you get" program, but it was extremely transparent, with all the formatting information easily viewable. And it was an instant hit among professional writers and editors, many of whom, um, borrowed their copies from their employers on a single 5 1/4-inch floppy -- mine, I confess, came from New York magazine, circa 1984.

Nancy Friedman was editorial director at Banana Republic when the clothing retailer started using XyWrite (version 2). "I loved it," says Friedman. "All of a sudden I was using this program that thought the way a writer thinks. All other word processing programs were created for secretaries -- they're all about creating standard one page documents. This one really expected that I was doing sophisticated editing and writing."

High-profile devotees included television's Brit Hume, John Judis of the New Republic and high-tech guru Esther Dyson. Critics called it the "Porsche 911 Carrera" or the "velociraptor" of word processors. And as much as they admired the software, users also loved the scrappy, down-home nature of the company: Erickson would sometimes answer tech support calls himself, and XyQuest was headquarted in decidedly unglamorous Billerica, Mass. "I was always so happy driving through Billerica knowing they were working to update XyWrite," remembers one writer who had occasion to pass through town in XyWrite's heyday. "It sounds so dopey, but that's how it was."

But XyQuest's marketing was never as good as its software, and it lacked the resources to compete with the big boys -- like WordPerfect, which the XyWrite faithful held in contempt. Then, in early 1990, IBM stepped in. The computer giant announced it was hooking up with XyQuest to create a new product, called Signature, based on the XyWrite model, and it looked like XyWrite was about to join the commercial mainstream. Instead, IBM delayed the product for a year and a half -- then, with boxes printed and diskettes ready to go, decided it was getting out of the software business altogether. A reconstituted XyQuest tried to sell the program on its own (renamed XyWrite 4), simply slapping stickers over the IBM logos on the boxes, says Tim Baehr, then a XyQuest programmer. But "sales just got lower and lower. We were bleeding money."




Etc

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The Last but not Least


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Last modified: July 07, 2013