Raskin Center

Archy FAQ

From Raskin Center


What kind of program is Archy?

Archy doesn't quite fit into the traditional mold of either an application or an operating system. It is an application in that it runs on top of your current operating system, but it is designed to replace all applications. It also like an operating system in that it provides a framework for issuing commands.

Additionally, Archy is only the first piece of the computing system we are working on. The second part is the graphical portion, a zooming environment. One day, when all the pieces are in place, you may even be able to turn on your computer and have our humane computing environment ready and waiting for your next command - in exactly the same state that you left it when you turned your machine off. We are currently working on another product that makes part of Archy universal across current OSes.

Is the zooming stuff already part of Archy?

No, the zooming environment will first be used to build some less ambitious products before we integrate it with Archy. Archy is the text-manipulating and command-issuing part of our system and it is currently separate from the zooming environment. We have not yet built the zooming environment.

Where does the name "Archy" come from?

"Archy" is both a play on the Raskin Center's acronym (R-CHI) and an allusion to Don Marquis' "Archy and Mehitabel" poetry, which is now in the public domain (it was some of Jef's favorite poetry). Yes, we named our software after a bug.

What if I get stuck while using Archy?

Tell us about the problem you are having by posting a message on the Get Technical Support section of our forums. Be as specific as possible and include the version and build number shown by the SYSTEM INFO command. If you are uncomfortable posting on a public forum, you are also welcome to send an e-mail to help@raskincenter.org. However, we encourage you to post on our message board so that others can benefit from the correspondence.

What if I discover a bug in Archy?

Please post a message about the bug on our the "Report a Bug" forum. Be as specific as possible and include the version and build number shown by the SYSTEM INFO command. We will enter the problem into our Issues database, and let you know what the Issue number is so you can check back whenever you like to see what progress has been made. When the bug is fixed, we will send you an email to tell you which build and which release has the fix. If you are uncomfortable posting the bug report on a public forum, you are also welcome to send an e-mail to bugs@raskincenter.org. However, we encourage you to post on our message board so that others can benefit from the correspondence.

What if I think of something to improve Archy or the Raskin Center?

Post your thoughts on the "Suggestions" forum, or send your idea to us and we will try to acknowledge your idea. We appreciate your desire to help, but of course we might not actually decide to use your idea. Don't let such a result keep you from either revising your idea or sending us another one. If you are uncomfortable posting your idea on a public forum, you are also welcome to send an e-mail to suggestions@raskincenter.org. However, we encourage you to post on our message board so that others can benefit from the correspondence.

What if I want to see what problems are still not resolved?

Check our Issues database. The Issues database is handled by the tracking software called Round Up, which will be happy to show you everything we know about all the problems resolved in the last few months and all those still open.

Is Archy open source?

No, it is not open source, under the accepted definition of "open source". It is, however "source available". Archy is distributed using the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 License. This means you can use the code for any non-commercial purpose, provided that you give credit to the Raskin Center for use of the code and that you distribute your code using the same license.

What if I use Archy code, but I don't want to distribute my product using the Creative Commons Non-commercial Attribution Share-alike license?

We may still be able to work something out. Send an e-mail to inquiries@raskincenter.org to get that process started.

What if I want to use Archy code in my commercial product?

That's great! We'll have to work out a business arrangement, so please email inquiries@raskincenter.org to get in touch with us.

Is Archy designed with vision-imparied people in mind?

Yes, disabled, blind, and mouse challenged people have been considered in Archy's design. For example, our design avoids things like modal dialog boxes, and eliminates any need to use the mouse in text editing. As soon as Archy can speak, it will be vision-imparied-person usable.

What platforms does Archy run on?

The Alpha release of Archy is currently primarily supported on Microsoft Windows, but Mac OS X and Linux releases are on their way. In fact, the OS X and Linux versions of Archy work fine, for the most part. The main source of complexity in porting Archy to new platforms lies in accessing keyboard information. This includes issues such as detecting keypresses of the caps lock key, properly distinguishing between left and right shift/alt/ctrl keys, and so forth. If you think you can help us with this, you're more than welcome to contribute!

Can I use Archy on Mac OS?

Archy runs on the Mac, but there's one important problem: many Mac keyboards don't distinguish between left and right command keys, which is what we should be using for Leap™ keys. Also, Macintosh reports keyboard status differently than Windows or Linux, and our backend (SDL) does not currently get correct CAPS LOCK events. If you know of or can think of a solution to these problems, please send it to us. If you would like to try out Archy on your Mac, you can download the source code. A script is included to make a native Mac OS X application. If you think you can help us with this, please e-mail suggestions@raskincenter.org.

What's the status of the Linux version of Archy?

The Linux version of Archy works fine, with the exception of the way presses of the CAPS LOCK key are interpreted. We have a tentative solution for this in place involving the use of the X-windows utility xmodmap, but it's currently not very reliable and may not work on some systems. Feel free to download Archy's source code and read the README.txt file for more information on getting Archy to run on your system.

Can Archy be used by multiple users on the same (Windows) machine?

Unfortunately, the current alpha version of Archy only supports use by a single user, and they need to have administrative access. Future versions of Archy, however, are planned to support multiple users with non-administrative access on the same machine. What this means is that in the future, each user on the same machine can have their own humane document that is entirely separate and confidential from all the other users on that machine.

Why are you using Python, [insert programming language] is WAY better!

Well, we like Python. Also, since Python can accept extensions in C and thereby in other languages, there seems little reason for us to change our basic framework. We would, of course, welcome any extendable plug-in mechanism that others might devise. That would make Archy more open.

Archy sounds a lot like GNU's Emacs. How is Archy different?

Indeed, Archy does share a number of similarities with GNU Emacs. Like Emacs, it was designed to allow the user to accomplish a disparate variety of tasks quickly, without leaving the program. Like Emacs, it uses commands to manipulate content. Like Emacs, it provides a mechanism to navigate a document that is far faster than standard GUI methods.

But Archy is also very different from Emacs in some important ways.

For one thing, in Emacs you have to load and save files by name. Instead, Archy lets you leap to your content.

Emacs is rife with modes. In general, a system is in a mode when a given gesture is interpreted in a different way than it is when the system is in a different state. For instance, when you press C-x in Emacs, you put it into a mode whereby the next character you enter is the next key in a hotkey sequence, rather than a letter inserted into your document. Even seasoned Emacs users encounter problems with modes on a daily basis; Archy was designed with a philosophy that eschews modality, because we believe, based on principles of cognitive science, that it is a significant source of errors and confusion in user interfaces. As such, Archy has no modes, resulting in an extremely positive user experience.

Part of the reason Emacs is only really used by computer "experts" is that it's so difficult to learn and habituate to: often a user must learn a huge number of hard-to-remember hotkey combinations to do everyday tasks. Archy has no such hotkey combinations, yet it remains easy to learn and efficient to use because of its reliance on a small set of commands with simple, easy-to-remember names to perform operations.

Similarly, Archy achieves remarkable simplicity by providing a small set of fundamental operations that allow you to accomplish a wide range of tasks with ease. For example, Emacs provides a number of hard-to-remember hotkey combinations that allow the user to move the cursor one character, word, sentence, or paragraph at a time. Archy conflates all of these actions into a single, unified mechanism called Leap, which is similar to Emacs' incremental search, only easier to use and more powerful. To move to the next paragraph, for instance, simply Leap to a carriage return character; there's no need to remember a separate hotkey combination.

There are many other ways in which Archy is fundamentally different from Emacs, but we hope this is enough to whet your appetite. While Emacs and Archy are similar in some ways, they are built on entirely different philosophies, which results in very different user interfaces. We believe that Archy offers at least as much productivity as Emacs, while being far easier and less frustrating to use; we encourage you to test our theory and provide feedback if you are so inclined.