The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Friday, June 18, 2004

The Wonders of VI 

What does it say about a program when the only command you remember is the one that exits? We got into an interesting discussion in my work area today about different programs, which eventually lead to a discussion about vi. For those who don't know, vi is a small, compact text editing program very popular with Unix people. It is also incredibly difficult to use. You have to know dozens of keyboard shortcuts, so many in fact, that it really is like learning another language. But once you've learned the commands, and have a mastery of them, you can edit a file very quickly. People who have learned vi will tout its wonderfulness until they're blue in the face, and mock you for not learning it.

Here is my problem with vi. The learning curve is just too great. You cannot sit down, run the program and edit a file without help. Period. I'm not talking about doing advanced cutting and pasting, file searching, or anything else. I'm talking about editing a file. You need to know special keyboard shortcuts just to do that. In the end, the only command I ever came away remembering (to this day) is Shift + Z Twice. Exit.

I dare not say that vi is not powerful, because it is incredibly powerful given its compact size, which is somewhere around 60K. Maybe I've just been using Windows for too long. But if a program is incredibly powerful, but so hard to use that people never get around to the powerful features... is the program really powerful? I'm reminded of people who try to auction off different items thinking they're worth thousands of dollars. Well, they might be worth that much money. But if you can't find someone willing to pay it, then its not actually worth anything now is it?

I guess I've really become a user interface enthusiast. I really think its possible to design software in such a way that you can sit someone down without a manual, and they can use it. Does that mean shortcuts are bad? That you can't add need ways of doing things in a faster way if you're an advanced user? Of course not. I love them. But I like to learn them at a gradual pace as I become more familiar with the program. I don't want to have to know them immediately just to use the program in the first place.

Give me Active Visual NotePad.Net + Enterprise any day. I mean notepad.


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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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