problems of emacs's man command

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Problems Of Emacs's “man” Command

Xah Lee, 2009-03-11

Emacs has a “man” command, that let users to display unix documentation called “man page”. However, it does not do syntax coloring. Emacs has a elisp version called “woman”, that does syntax coloring. However, there are some major usability problems for it to replace emacs's “man” command.

• I had aliased “man” to “woman”, but noticed that sometimes when i type “M-x man” it still calls emacs's “man” man despite this. (haven't looked into what causes this or how this happens)

• When calling “woman”, it takes some 3 secs to start up. (probably only happen when called first time in a session) In contrast, “man” starts right away without this delay. (The mini buffer message is: “Building list of manual directory expansions...”, “Building completion list of all manual topics...”)

• Often “woman” will prompt me to make a choice among man pages of the same name found in different man paths. Very annoying. From my experiences in unix using in the past 10 years, maybe only once a year that “man” didn't make the right choice.

• Another flaw, perhaps reasonable, is that “woman” does not work for some “man” pages. For example, type “Alt+x woman Enter killall”, on OS X 10.4.x, and the display returned start with:

“.Dd June 25, 1995
.Nm killall


Emacs should fix the above problems. And, perhaps alias “man” to “woman” by default. The goal is that emacs simply provides a command to read unix manual pages, without user having to know the tech details about “man” and “woman”. When “woman” detects a man page in a format it cannot read, automatically launch “man” instead.

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