Re: Alt and Meta (Was: Nautilus bugs and design choices)

Gregory Merchan wrote:

So what are the troubles that people are having? What is causing them?
Is it particular apps? Some distribution? X? Bad hardware?

I think the problem is *not* that one can't set up a keyboard to have separate alt and meta keys, but that most applications are designed for a single <LEFT_OF_SPACEBAR> key, and don't care whether it's alt or meta.

The issue, I think, is just that traditional unix keyboards labeled the <LEFT_OF_SPACEBAR> key "meta", and PC's label the <LEFT_OF_SPACEBAR> key "alt". When the PC started running unix, this inconsistency had to be dealt with, and so most distributions and applications made the alt key behave as meta.

Then, PC keyboards started coming out with windows keys. A few people (a minority of the unix distributors) looked at this situation and decided that the <LEFT_OF_SPACEBAR> keycap says "alt", and so it should trigger the modifier called "alt" in X, and that the key no longer has to emulate the "meta" modifier because the windows key can emulate "meta" instead.

But there's a problem with this. Unix terminals often have another key to the left of the meta key labeled "alt". This is where the windows key goes on PC keyboards. By making the <LEFT_OF_SPACEBAR> key "alt", and the windows key "meta" for PC's, you make the buttons have opposite effects of the keys in the same positions on unix keyboards.

In the end, the only key that unix applications generally care about is meta -- and they intend meta to be the <LEFT_OF_SPACEBAR> key, which is much easier to hit than the windows key is. Thus, the key labeled "alt" on PC keyboards really *should* behave as meta. Furthermore, this duality has caused a lot of unix users to just think of "alt" and "meta" as synonims. Many applications (like emacs), will pretend that alt is meta, if there is no separate meta key apart from alt.

So the right thing to do, IMHO, is to make the "alt" key meta on PC's, and the windows key "hyper" or something new. Making the windows key meta or alt just confuses everything. It's a lot easier when alt and meta are two names for the same thing.

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