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Topic: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing? (Read 6618 times)

  • ersi
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What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Here's a list of text editors http://www.tuxarena.com/2011/06/20-text-editors-for-linux-overview-screenshots/

The most professional and advanced thing is of course an office suite for word processing, but my foremost concern here is plain text in e.g. emails and webforms (textareas) and, by extension, coding and programming. My code-editing needs are minimal (naturally on a par with the abilities) and I have usually not much use for e.g. the self-completion kind of bracket-and-tag-matching. However, I often search and replace massively in texts, often in multiple files at the same time, which makes me perhaps intermediate so that I cannot stick exclusively to the simplest editors such as Notepad.




What's the best interface?

It's probably useful to distinguish between GUI and terminal programs. While menus and statusbars are common in both graphical desktop environment and easily possible in terminal (or console), GUI programs can rely more on toolbars with buttons and mouse interaction. Terminal programs can have some mouse interaction, but it's of a whole different quality. Mouse support has no standard in terminal programs, so it's not uniform. Terminal programs rely more on keybinds.

Mouse interaction and buttoned toolbars make GUI interface stand out. Apple and Google interface engineers (and others infected by them, such as Gnome and MS devs recently) think toolbars plus a viewing/editing area is all a user should ever want. They tend to provide menus as another button on the toolbar and they deliberately hide or kill the menubar.

So, in addition to mouse interaction (point&click, scroll, drag&drop) and buttoned toolbars, which are more GUI things, not for terminal programs, some other elements in editor interface are:

  • Menubar and context menus

  • Titlebar and statusbar (with info about e.g. file name, clock, file size, cursor position, etc.)

  • Keyboard shortcuts

  • Theming (font sizes and colours)







What's the functionality you cannot live without?


  • Search, find, select, copy, replace

  • Undo, redo

  • Highlighting

  • Spellcheck

  • Self-completion (of common text, as in Open/LibreOffice)

  • Tag-and-bracket matching (of code and programming languages, as in Geany)

  • Macros (sequencing available actions or creating custom commands) and formatting

  • Buffer management

  • File tree

  • Sessions

  • Formatted preview

  • Plugins and extensions



Given your combined needs of editing, what's your choice of editors? What kind of editors have you been looking at and what did you find?

As for myself, I often tend to use the simplest editors for quick file-changes in GUI, such as Leafpad and Mousepad which are basically equivalent to Notepad. For more concentrated use I open up Medit for its sessions (to continue where I left off), for its file-tree, highlighting, theming, and macros. Sometimes I miss tag-and-bracket matching which is not there in Medit, but not too badly.

In terminal, the necessary theming is done by configuring the terminal rather than the program in it. I tend to use the terminal a lot because all programs in it display uniformly in the fonts and colours I set. My preferred editor in terminal is nano which is much simpler than vi or emacs. Linux distros tend to include nano out of the box, even though vi tends to be the system default, so I have to configure vi away every time and make nano the system default.

Same as the likes of Notepad, nano is a very good option for quick file-changes, but I have ended up writing long text in it (such as this forum post). I have configured it to display highlighting and learned its shortcuts to find, copy, cut, replace, undo and redo stuff and to move around in files. Among other features nano provides automatic justification of text (due to the justification feature, it serves well as email composer for mutt), navigate the file system, some mouse support and management of buffers.

On the list linked above, joe with its multiple frames/windows looks interesting. This is something that nano doesn't do.




Web interface, forms and textareas

Webpages have holes where to type stuff. These are called forms and textareas. Sometimes, such as in these forums, they provide some formatting options, smileys and such. These are things I don't care about. I often browse the web with images off. I don't care in what way the textareas are styled. When I don't use them, I want them small, but when I use them, I want them big, i.e. I want them to be configurable. This means either user CSS or an external editor as a plugin or extension to the browser.

A good example of inbuilt configurability in webpage textares is at Github. It offers a modest textarea for comments along with a full-screen button, i.e. the textarea can fill the browser frame, the font turns big and it's much comfier to type. The Github design would be in my opinion the best kind of design for textareas all around the web, but still the problem is that it's not adequate for everyone and everything. The same way as browsers provide a way to configure an external source viewer, downloader, emailer, etc. it would be obvious to provide a way to configure an external textarea editor too.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #25
Heh, your second example can only come from a writer who never read an actual novel first :)

Anyway, if you write for profession, you might need a proper monitor for it too.

(Note that this reviewer finds no glitches with the monitor. Other reviewers find a bunch.)

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #26
Heh, your second example can only come from a writer who never read an actual novel first  :)

I have to agree I'm not sure what special writing tools have to do with anything in that example. I thought they were mostly about ordering the scenes, keeping your facts straight, and such. Adding the sample improvements seems more like a matter of multiple passes (i.e. editing) and/or experience.

Anyway, if you write for profession, you might need a proper monitor for it too.

That sounds fantastic, although as far as sharpness goes my netbook screen (1024x600@~13") is outdated to say the least. And if you're going to spend up to $500 on a monitor, I'd almost certainly recommend a UHD@~24" monitor like mine instead. As much as backlight annoys, the increased sharpness in all likelihood does more to improve the experience.
  • Last Edit: 2016-03-26, 15:44:54 by Frenzie

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #27
Speaking about efficient writing in quantitative terms, here's an interesting article http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/james-patterson-is-going-to-produce-4-new-books-a-month

I wonder what kind of tools they use. Do you live close enough to Patterson to ask him, Raccoon?

  • Belfrager
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #28
The biggest writers in history never needed any "tools" but pen and paper.
A matter of attitude.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #29

The biggest writers in history never needed any "tools" but pen and paper.

Despite him allegedly regularly producing NYT top books, I don't remember having heard the name of James Patterson before. And I certainly haven't read him. And never will. I only have geeky technical interest.

Steady output requires discipline and organisation. The greatest Finnish writer for example was also the most productive. His discipline was to write ten pages a day. Ten pages filled, he would stop half a sentence and continue next day where he had left off. His ideas (and received orders, yes there were those) were of course organised too.

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #30

The biggest writers in history never needed any "tools" but pen and paper.

Who's talking about needing? :)

I don't remember having heard the name of James Patterson before.

I have, but I've never read any of his books (and probably never will).

  • Belfrager
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #31
Steady output requires discipline and organisation. The greatest Finnish writer for example was also the most productive. His discipline was to write ten pages a day. Ten pages filled, he would stop half a sentence and continue next day where he had left off. His ideas (and received orders, yes there were those) were of course organised too.

I don't believe that Art can be generated from such a method. I heard many great authors to refer to writing as a painful and chaotic process, not an organized and clean writing assembly line.
Who's talking about needing?  :)

Course it's needed. Most writers these days simply apply stereotyped formulas book after book. Readers accepts everything the moment they saw it at some top ten sales chart.
A matter of attitude.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #32

I don't believe that Art can be generated from such a method.

Neither do I. No method guarantees production of Art. It's just that method guarantees production. What gets produced depends on the user of the method.


I heard many great authors to refer to writing as a painful and chaotic process, not an organized and clean writing assembly line.

For poets, very likely. To produce an epic novel you have to be more organised than that.

Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #33
Neither do I. No method guarantees production of Art. It's just that method guarantees production. What gets produced depends on the user of the method.

Exactly. None of this automatically means assembly line art. If the user chooses to do that, it would be every easy to reuse plots while changing details and crank out a completed book quickly and sell the ebook on Amazon for ninety-nine cents. However, you can use this method to lovingly craft a literary novel and spends weeks contemplating rich and unique characters, settings, etc.
"What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter."
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

  • Belfrager
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #34
The user chooses nothing but his own mediocrity. That's what Writing 2.0 is done for, to explore the wanna be writers.
The more computer help it's expanded the less real people will be writers, perfection for the domination of weak souls.

Literature to be dominated by the empty low-medium classes colaborationists... with a little help from my computer...

All the great writers I admire never saw a computer.
  • Last Edit: 2016-03-29, 22:59:15 by Belfrager
A matter of attitude.

Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #35
That seems to be good resource, and I'm listening to this episode now. It seems to agree with me so far, though. It discusses milestones and project plans and what will make you focused and motivated. I personally use milestones to work.
Literature to be dominated by the empty low-medium classes colaborationists... with a little help from my computer...

But when as it not been? We remember the greats, but mediocrity has  dominated the market since the time of Greek plays.

More the difficulty comes in editing. You get to know your own work so well that errors become easy to overlook. That's related to the phenomenon that the human will often see a completed circle when if a chunk has been taken out. In other words, the human eye and mind "edit" content so it seems correct even if it isn't.
"What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter."
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #36
I'd just like to point out that if we disagree on these points, it doesn't mean one person is right and the other is wrong. It's just what works best for each person and what he's trying to do :)
"What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter."
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #37
Finally I have understood that Geany is actually the best editor for my purposes. There were two important reasons why I did not understand it earlier:

1. Ugly icon
2. Lots of tinkering needed to get rid of its interface distractions

The first reason is important in that, when I start serious work, there should preferably be some serious-looking icon to click on to get into work mood. Geany's icon is not that.

Out of the box, Geany has some ugly line running vertically across its editing space. I guess the line is important when you are typing an email in there. Once I found that it's possible to get rid of it (took a few years), it turned out that Geany is the closest thing to Notepad++ on Linux. And Notepad++ is of course the best thing ever.

Medit is not worse at all function-wise, but there was one disturbing thing: When you select a line in Medit (by a single click) and the line is wrapped over in the editor, the line gets highlighted only until the wrapping point. When you select a line in Geany and the line is wrapped over, the entire line gets highlighted.

Medit's another problem is that it's slow to start up. Geany is fast.

Mousepad is even faster to start up, but I have not found a way to fix a more serious wrapped-line problem there. When you multi-click on a wrapped line, it selects only a wrapped part of the line, not the entire wrapped line.

Then there's one more function that I often need, but that tends to be a hit-and-miss in editors: Drag&drop. Particularly, I like to drag a URL from the editor and drop it in a browser to open it. Works in Medit and Mousepad with Mozillaites. Does not work in Geany. So even Geany is not perfect.

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #38
it turned out that Geany is the closest thing to Notepad++ on Linux. And Notepad++ is of course the best thing ever.
SciTE, Notepad++ and Geany all share the main editing component. There's much more software based on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scintilla_(software)#Software_based_on_Scintilla

What exactly do you mean by ugly line? Over by the line numbering? The line numbering itself?

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #39
What exactly do you mean by ugly line? Over by the line numbering? The line numbering itself?
The ugly line vertically across the editing space, the right-hand half.



It seriously put me off of familiarising myself with Geany for years. Until I found that there's a buried tickbox to make it disappear https://superuser.com/questions/692666/how-to-get-rid-of-this-vertical-line-in-geany

The app icon is ugly too, but I can tolerate that.

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #40
Oh, the 80 (?) char line length indicator thingy. Yeah, I forgot that was on by default.

Geany's been my default text editor for several years now. Other than perhaps Sublime Text I'm not aware of anything I'd seriously consider switching to.

I can't stand some of those supposedly decent editors like Atom and Visual Studio Code. They're too slow and unresponsive.

Back in the early 2000s I also liked the demo of EditPlus. Since this was around the same time that I became enamored with SciTE I imagine I'd probably still like it. I think it still fits on a floppy disk, which speaks volumes in favor of it compared to bloated slow editors like Visual Studio Code.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #41
Somehow I managed to upgrade my text editor usage somewhat so that I can now do stuff in vim almost as well as in nano.[1] The best tutorial is vimtutor.

Next I am ready to try Emacs evil mode (i.e. vim keybindset in Emacs). Wait, Emacs can browse the web? And by such an obvious keybind as 'Alt+x eww'? This find is long overdue! Yet another webbrowser to play with...
Still writing this in nano though.

  • Frenzie
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #42
Vim isn't too hard, at least in the basics,[1] and you've got a lot of nice controls under colon.[2]

But mainly I just find it too much effort to remember what mode you're in and all that. My main purpose for it is in case there's nothing else available for some reason often there is Vi(m) and not Nano.
j, k and stuff like that
:q and :wq are the most important I'd say

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #43
:q and :wq are the most important I'd say
The annoying thing is that :q simply throws up an error if you have (unintentionally) edited something but not saved it. Therefore :q! is more important.

I also have it difficult to remember the different modes. When the syntax highlighting is the same in different modes, it gets impossible to be aware of the modes. This is why I actually use vim just as a fun practice, not as a tool for serious writing and editing.

The purpose of the fun practice is to learn less better. That's the tool for viewing text files, searching in them, opening and navigating multiple buffers. I do not have syntax highlighting in less so I distinctly remember that I am in less, just viewing. But when I enter edit mode (by pressing v in less, which takes me to nano - must set the editor environment variable for this, otherwise it takes you to vi), the syntax highlighting turns on in nano and I can clearly see that now I am editing.

Not sure if there can be any educational purpose to Emacs. Well, browsing the web with it will be fun for a while.

  • ersi
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Re: What's the best kind of interface for writing and typing?
Reply #44
It took a while, but I (think I) finally understood that all text editors are for coders, and coders are not writers, so text editors will never be quite suitable for writing. Even Emacs with all its modes and extensions is for coders only, and has some way to go to become a word processor useful for writers.

There are a few crucial differences between writing code and writing human-language text. For coders, the repetitive (and therefore ideally automated) tasks are code-snippets in the beginning or in the end or around words and paragraphs. Instead of spellcheck, coders can make a good use of autosuggest, because their word-base is limited and repetitive.

Writers of techy and journalistic texts need more fixing for whitespace than for actual words. Or perhaps for words and phrases a most welcome feature would be suggestions from a dictionary of synonyms, particularly for writers of novels. And instead of code-snippets, writers need some actual typesetting (formatting) features, but not too much, because typesetting is a distinct task and everybody should be aware of it.

Writers in multiple languages (applies to any complicated novel, and much more so to scientific articles) need a convenient spellcheck for multiple languages in one document (multi-spellcheck). Unfortunately text editors can spellcheck just one language, and they tend to assume that a single document is a single language. (At worst they even assume that the only spellcheck language you need is the computer's default language.) An ideal spellcheck in a word processor would allow the user to:
1. select a chunk of text in the document
2. tell what language the chunk is
3. spellcheck the chunk for that language

And of course make exclusions for names, acronyms, and special signs when writing a technical text or in a markup language.

Another nice feature for human writers would be multi-selection: Make a selection of regions of text in different places in the document and swap the regions. Not cut first in one place, move it to the other place, then cut from the other place and move it to the first place, but select here, select there, and swap - much more convenient. Not going to happen in this world, I guess.

Anyway, I eventually found an actual word processor for the terminal: Wordgrinder. For starters, just look at the options to move around in the document. By the way, all keybinds are reassignable on the fly, no restart of the program needed.