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I am familiarizing myself with ses and I find that it's not very welcoming towards a new user. I am preparing to submit some sort of bug report or improvement suggestion, but I'm not really sure what would improve it.

So far, things that I find unobvious, or confusing, or disturbing;

  • M-x apropos spreadsheet returns nothing at all.
    • I knew I had seen something about a built-in spreadsheet in Emacs somewhere recently. But what was it called again?
    • Of course, most people have Google everywhere now, which is a good workaround. But what if you're trapped on a sinking submarine and all you have is Debian stable and no network?
    • I'm not a heavy user of finder-by-keyword but I couldn't find it there either. It's not in "data" nor in "files". In desperation, I also looked in "tools" and "wp" but it's also not there.
  • Running M-x ses in an existing buffer returns a disappointing error message.
    • Not very surprising, but it would be nice if it could offer to create a new buffer?
  • The link to ses-example.ses is not very helpful for finding out how to use it.
    • This is the only "documentation" in the mode help! I expected the file to contain a simple tutorial, or at least a few lines of text explaining how to get started.
    • Also, the fact that the file is in a read-only location makes it open in a mode where you can't edit it, thus cannot see how formulas etc. are done (without resaving in /tmp or something).
  • It wasn't obvious at first how to enter text into a cell.
    • (My sloppy brief check in the) Mode help indirectly suggested using the minus key to open up the cell's value for editing.
    • Just typing something there results in ####### though.
    • Copy/paste from a piece of text I had in the clipboard did the same thing.
    • For the record, " opens up the cell for text entry.
    • Now that I know the answer, I see that in the mode help, I see that it's bound to ses-read-cell just like the minus and digit keys. But that's hardly very obvious!
  • It wasn't obvious how to enter a formula into a cell.
    • Now that I know the answer, I'm not entirely surprised ... but also not totally miffed.
      • It would be nice if it knew that =sum( is something a naïve user might try?
    • (apply #'+ (ses-range A2 G2)) also resulted in #######
      • ... because I had some empty cells in the range. Putting zeros there fixed it.

To my mild surprise, I find that some spreadsheet conventions are firmly entrenched in my muscle memory, after actively doing everything in my power to avoid spreadsheets in general and Excel in particular since approcimately 1998. Still, my fingers expect RET to move to the next cell and F2 to edit. But strictly speaking, I guess that's outside the scope of this discussion.

I am on emacs23 at the moment, so I will check whether any of this has improved in Emacs 24 before actually submitting anything anywhere.

My strike plan so far:

  • Revise the mode help documentation to add a few lines of basic instructions.
  • Maybe also revise ses-example.ses to include some beginner notes?
  • Propose an alias spreadsheet-mode to ses-mode in order to fix apropos.
  • See if it's feasible to make empty cells count as zero?
  • Maybe see if it wouldn't be too hard to put it somewhere reasonable in finder-by-keyword.
  • Maybe try to live with the fact that ses-mode in an existing buffer works the way it does.

Dear U.SE, thanks for being my rubber duck, and looking forward to any improvement suggestions from you. I hope this slightly fringe use of this site is tolerable.

share|improve this question
    
Turns out (from reading the source!) that there is a function ses+ which sums across empty cells correctly. (apply #'ses+ (ses-range A2 G2)) –  tripleee Jun 29 '13 at 6:14
    
This is hideously ugly, but would have helped me a bit already: pastebin.com/8DgWCq2H –  tripleee Jun 29 '13 at 6:43
    
My humble first attempt is debbugs.gnu.org/cgi/bugreport.cgi?bug=14748 ... maybe that's sufficient. –  tripleee Jun 29 '13 at 8:16
1  
I thought I'd been using Emacs long enough that nothing could surprise me, but man, this is cool. I agree that the UI and docs could both be tremendously improved. If you have any Emacs Lisp programming experience at all, I suggest forking the code and creating your own version of the mode! (As a matter of fact I might just do that myself—I feel your pain as a fellow Emacs user and Excel escapee.) –  dodgethesteamroller Jun 29 '13 at 19:19
    
You've already done a lot of work, in searching for information, trying things, and noting problems. If you do go further and improve the code as others suggested, then that too adds to the list of what you can offer others. How? By reporting it (all or in pieces) to the authors of the original code. If that code is part of a GNU Emacs distribution then report your feedback via M-x report-emacs-bug. That's for enhancements requests too, not just for bugs. –  Drew Sep 6 '13 at 2:38
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