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<title>A New XEmacs Release</title>
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<center><img src="./gx/ayers/xemacs.gif" alt="a new XEmacs logo"></center>
<center><h4><a href="mailto:email@example.com">by Larry
<p>The developers of XEmacs, the independently-maintained offshoot of GNU
Emacs, have released a new version of this versatile editor. Version
19.15 is the last of the 19.xx series; in the future developmental
efforts will be focussed on the 20.xx series, which up to the present has been
evolving in parallel with version 19.
<p>Aside from many bug-fixes, a good deal of the changes in this version
involve updates to many of the large extension packages which come bundled
with the editor. Quite a large bundle it is, weighing in at over eighteen
megabytes, tarred and gzipped.
<p>Among the new features are:<br>
<li>Incorporation of the TM package,which gives MIME reading and writing
support to mail and usenet news packages.
<li>Updated versions of Gnus, W3, VM, CC-Mode, Python-mode, and Hyperbole.
<li>Incorporation of the Auctex TeX/LateX editing package.
<li>The Custom utility, which attempts to standardise package customization.
<li>Many documentation updates.
<li>New version of hm--html-menus, which has an Info file now
<li>New fancier version of time.el, which shows the time, system load, and
mail status in the mode-line.
<li>Replacement of Angeftp and dired with EFS, which merges the two.
<li>A new Message mode, used by the various mail and news packages.
<li>Many improvements in configuration and compilation from source.
<li>Updated Viper (vi-emulation) mode.
<li>Enhancements and bugfixes for many other packages and modes.
<p>The members of the XEmacs team have changed with this release; former
maintainer Chuck Thompson has passed the torch to Steve Baur. The other
maintainers are now Martin Buchholz and Kyle Jones (author of the VM mail
package), with Bob Weiner, Chuck Thompson, Ben Wing and Bill Perry helping out
<p>It's interesting to note how the developers of the various extension
packages and of XEmacs itself have attempted to maintain a certain parallelism
with Gnu Emacs development. Most extensions, even those written primarily
with XEmacs in mind, have support for Gnu Emacs built in. The XEmacs team
attempts to incorporate new features and bug fixes from Gnu Emacs
development into their version; I wonder if the opposite is true?
<p> Binary packages for 19.15 are available at
<a href="ftp://ftp.xemacs.org/xemacs">the XEmacs FTP site</a>, but
there are several reasons why compiling your own can be advantageous. XEmacs
uses a configure script to adapt the makefiles to your machine. There are
many possible switches or parameters which can be given to the script
depending on your needs. The editor supports inlined JPEG, GIF, XPM,
and PNG images; support for any of these can be disabled. If you don't plan
on running the W3 browser or using the MIME capabilities of VM or Gnus
(combined with TM) this might be a good idea. Sound support is another frill
which not everyone will want. These optional features aren't a burden if you
have a memory-laden and powerful machine, but they aren't really necessary and
can be dispensed with if the resources to use them are insufficient. The
toolbar (and even X-Windows support) can be disabled by the configure script
if you want a leaner, less memory-hungry executable.
<p>You will need about 80 mb. of disk space to compile from source; luckily
most of that can be reclaimed afterwards.
<p>There's no denying that an XEmacs installation occupies quite a chunk of
disk space. A new shell-script called <i>gzip-el.sh</i> is supplied with
version 19.15 which uses the Gnu <b>find</b> utility to recursively probe the
various LISP subdirectories, gzipping all <i>*.el</i> files which have a
corresponding byte-compiled <i>*.elc</i> file. This alone will save about
<p>If you have no intention of ever modifying or reading those <i>*.el</i>
Lisp files you could just delete them all, but that might be rash. Sometimes
the only documentation for a mode or function is buried in one of those files;
others can be modified to suit your preferences. A better alternative is to
become <b>root</b> and, wielding <i>rm</i>, dispose of some of the Lisp
packages which you don't think you'll ever need. Try to avoid the /lisp/prim
directory, though, as the essential core files live there. I don't know how
many times I've removed the Energize, VMS, and MH-E directories from past
installations; I'm sure I'll be removing them again in the future. A promised
feature of version 20.1 (which will be the next major release) is the
separation of some of these packages from the main distribution. This will
allow the core of XEmacs to be obtained separately, allowing the user to
decide which of the extensions to download, depending upon his or her needs.
<p>Anyone who has used XEmacs for very long, especially for writing code,
likely has had the desire to come up with a set of syntax-highlighting colors
which are both pleasing to the eye and functional. In XEmacs, a "face" is a
combination of font and color specifications for a certain category of text.
There are many of these defined; each mode tends to have several of its own as
well as sharing system-wide faces. It can be quite a time-consuming job
setting these in your <i>~/.emacs</i> file, especially if you use a dark
background, in which case many of the default colors won't have sufficient
contrast. XEmacs 19.14 allowed face modifications by means of the
<i>edit-faces</i> command. This utility works well, appending the changes
to your <i>~/.emacs</i> file. Unfortunately the format they are saved in is
particularly difficult to read if you ever wanted to make a single change
manually; the lines are very long and the syntax is obtuse and thickety.
<p>Per Abrahamsen, maintainer of Auctex (another of the bundled packages), has
written the Custom package in an effort to simplify the customization of
XEmacs and its many extensions. After typing <i>esc-x customize</i> a buffer
appears with menu entries for not only faces but other user-definable
variables. These entries are categorized by package; selecting one causes a
cascading sub-menu to appear. The first category is just "Emacs", which allows
global settings to be made. In order for a package to be included in the
Customize buffer the programmer must include hooks in the LISP code. Most of
the larger packages, such as Gnus, the VM mail-reader, W3, and EFS (the new
successor to AngeFTP) have been adapted in this way.
<p>It is wise to back up any <i>.emacs</i> or <i>.xemacs-options</i> files
which you are fond of before fooling around with any such auto-customizing
utilities. That tempting "Options" menu with all its choices will cheerfully
overwrite your <i>.xemacs-options</i> file if you impulsively select the "Save
Options" item. Remember, you can always cut-and-paste from the generated file
into your real one, then move it back. The <b>Custom</b> package is more
forgiving: it appends its results to the end of your <i>.emacs</i> file. I've
noticed that often when an XEmacs package such as <b>Custom</b> or <b>W3</b>
appends to your init file it will drop down several lines from the bottom
entry before writing its lines. If you are looking at the file, curious as to
what changes have been made, scroll down past the end; it's easy to miss an
addition if it's lurking down amongst the superfluous empty lines which XEmacs
has a penchant for adding to the end of a file.
<p>One technique which is useful for customizing XEmacs, Fvwm2, or any complex
piece of Linux software is to assume a different identity. Just create a new
user (with <i>adduser</i> or equivalent) and log in to the new account. This
way you have a clean slate and can modify, cut and paste with abandon, all the
while knowing you can return to your normal login account if things go
awry. The sample <i>.emacs</i> file which is found in the <i>/etc</i>
subdirectory of the XEmacs distribution can serve as a good starting point,
especially if you are new to Emacs-type editors in general.
<p>To accommodate users who run XEmacs on a grayscale or limited-color
display, the XEmacs team has included toolbar icons which are rather plain. I
suspect that most XEmacs users eventually turn off the toolbar (the keyboard
commands are faster) but if you'd like replacement icons which are
well-designed, color-map-eating and very stylish, the <a
href="ftp://afterstep.foo.net/pub/AfterStep/mods">AfterStep FTP site</a> has a
set of them, in the file <b>NeXT.XEmacs.tar.gz</b>. (A pox on mixed-case
filenames!) These can be dropped right in to the [XEmacs-root]/etc/toolbar
directory, overwriting the old ones. Here's a cropped screenshot:<br> <p> <img
alt="Replacement Toolbar Icons" src="./gx/ayers/baricon.gif"> <p> <hr>
<p>The XEmacs documentation is voluminous, but there are so many obscure modes
and features included that to document them all would add megabytes to the
distribution (plus someone would have to volunteer to do it!). You would be
surprised at what can be found while browsing through the directories of Lisp
files. As an example, the other day I happened upon a file called
<i>xpm-mode.el</i> in the /lisp/modes directory. Curious, I loaded the file
into XEmacs and saw that it is a colorized mode for directly editing xpm
icon-files. This is quite an interesting mode, but I'd never heard of it; it
was contributed to the XEmacs maintainers by Joe Rumsey and Rich Williams in
1995. Here's a sample window:<br>
<p><img alt="Xpm-Mode Window" src="./gx/ayers/xpm_mode.gif">
<p>There are all sorts of obscure modes and packages buried in the <i>lisp</i>
subdirectories; grepping for various keywords will turn up some interesting
<p>I've been following the late stages of this XEmacs beta cycle and I'm
impressed by the amount of work involved in putting together such a large,
complex package. The developers and beta-testers deserve kudos for their
<p>If you would like to try it out, the source is currently available at
<a href="ftp://ftp.xemacs.org/pub/xemacs">the home XEmacs site</a>. This site
will probably be crowded during the first week or two after the release; if
you are unable to log on a list of mirror sites will be displayed. If you
would rather not download the massive archive file, just wait a few weeks and
I'm sure the distribution will show up on various distribution and FTP-archive
<center><H5>Copyright © 1997, Larry Ayers <BR>
Published in Issue 16 of the Linux Gazette, April 1997</H5></center>
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Last modified: Sun 30 Mar 1997
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