The Emperor's New Clothes
...or, How difficult is it to learn the WordStar Keyboard Commands?


Below follows a slightly edited message posted by Dan Strychalski to the WordStar maillist. It answers the question "How difficult is it to learn the WordStar keyboard commands?" — It's child's play, but I'll let Dan do the explaining...


Some people believe that once function keys, arrow keys, and pointing devices became ubiquitous, the alphabetic Ctrl keystrokes [as used by WordStar] lost their importance (this justifies disabling them completely?); that holding down Ctrl and pressing a letter key is too much trouble (heard any complaints about Shift keys?); and that such keystrokes are too hard for most people to learn (function keys are so much more mnemonic, right?). At least two people have asked me, in effect, "How do you expect kids to use computers if they have to learn those keystrokes?" — as though giving those keystrokes the functions some of us want them to have would automatically disable other control mechanisms; as though professionals must be denied the use of anything a child can't use.

Well, I have a nine-year-old daughter, now just out of fourth grade and enrolled in a summer program. She loves to draw, so her machine at home is a Mac 512Ke (hey, mine ain't much newer). At school she has used only W9x systems. She is aware, in a general way, of my feelings about Microsoft, Windows, and the Mac, but I've never explained my views to her in detail or tried to teach her my way of working (which is impossible on the 512Ke anyway). Given how hostile some people are to that way of working, I've been half afraid that if I so much as suggested to her that she hold down Ctrl and press a letter key to delete a character or move the cursor, I would have to keep it a secret or risk being charged with child abuse.

The other day an opportunity presented itself, and I threw caution to the winds. Circumstances made it necessary for her to type up a homework assignment on a machine of mine. I fired up WordStar 4.0, set the on-screen help to the highest level, and called her over. She came away from her toys with only a slight pout, sat down, and started pecking away with one finger as usual. (A text-mode display is a familiar sight to her, I'll admit that.) I watched carefully and noticed that she seemed to know the positions of the high-frequency letters fairly well. She also caught most typos right away and used the Backspace key to correct them. When she was about three quarters of the way through the first line, she made a typo, and I made my move.

"Let me show you something. Look up here.... Oops. Uh, it doesn't tell you this on the screen, but when you make a mistake, instead of reaching up here for the Backspace key you can hold this key down — it's called Control — and press the H key. Want to try it?" (The Control key on that machine is labeled 'Caps Lock', and the label is covered up.)

She tried it and turned to me with one of those smiles that make it all worthwhile.

"Wow! That's COOL!"

She continued, correcting a couple of typos with the Backspace key out of habit and then consistently using Ctrl-H. Soon she missed a typo and kept going. She would have to move the cursor back a few characters to make the correction. I stepped in again.

"Let me show you something else. Right now you need to move the cursor to the left. Up here it says `left' and shows an S with a pointy thing next to it. The pointy thing is called a circumflex, and here it stands for the Control key. That means you can move the cursor left by holding down Control and pressing the S key."

"Huh? Why S?"

"Good question. Look here on the screen: up, down, left, right — E, X, S, D. Now look at the keyboard. E, X, S, D. See how they're all together in a sort of diamond? E is on top, so that's for `up'; X is on the bottom, so that's for `down'; S and D are in the middle, with S on the left and D on the right, so..."

"Hey! That's NEAT!"

Another one of those smiles. She described the whole suite to me in her own words to show she'd gotten it. She played with the keystrokes a bit and then resumed typing, using the diamond and Ctrl-H for corrections.

I stopped paying close attention, but at one point noticed that she seemed to be pressing Ctrl and a letter key sequentially instead of together. I didn't say a word. She discovered her mistake, corrected it, and reported it to me with some amusement.

Finally I saw that she needed to fix a typo a few words back. There was a lot more to type, and it was getting late, so I decided to chance just one more keystroke.

"See here, where it says 'word left'? If you want to, you can jump back a whole word by pressing Ctrl-A." I demonstrated this for her.

"Wow! That's because S is 'left', and A is further left than S. And F is further right than D, so F is 'word right'! COOL! Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"I—er—uh—thought that if I showed you too much, it might be hard to remember...." Never mind that if she forgot anything other than Ctrl-H she could refresh her memory from the screen. I've been conditioned....

Shortly after that she looked at me knowingly, as though we shared some fabulous secret, and said, "You can't do this in Windows, can you?"

Not like ya'd wanna....

It was so cool she told her teacher about it in computer class the next day. His response was that he didn't know much about "old computers."

Of course we're all glad our children are now spared all the horrors of "old computers"....