Sometimes too much of a good thing in free software can create bad impressions. For instance, some of the free stuff so easily available in Linux distro package managers is so archaic that newcomers to the OS might understandably shriek in horror.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely am a big fan of FOSS applications. Why else do I write this weekly column? I am always on the lookout for simple, no-nonsense text editors. That is why I was excited in finding an app called AEE, for Advanced Easy Editor. Alas, my excitement quickly deserted me when I opened AEE for the first time.
The AEE text editor twins are intended to be easy-to-use text-writing tools. Both are designed to be so intuitive that little or no user instruction is needed. Combined, the twin apps provide both a terminal (curses-based) interface and native X-Windows interface (the XAE version).
Either way, aside from entering words in a writing box, both of these apps are reminiscent of sitting at a terminal running Unix or very early Linux. If you ever typed in a DOS (Disk Operating System) text editor on a PC that pre-dated Microsoft Windows, you have a feel for the horror.
Tales of Woe
Actually, AEE becomes XAE (for X-Window Advanced Editor), depending on what distro you run. In my case, only AEE is listed in the Linux Mint 12 package manager. Only, it did not run. Its folder installs into /usr/bin. But it does not show up anywhere in the menu. Nor does it run when clicking on its icon or issuing its file name from within a terminal window.
When I searched for it in the Mint search window, AEE failed to be listed. But XAE appeared in the found list, giving me the alternative to run that version of the editor app. Mind you, XAE does not appear in the Mint package manager.
A similar situation befell me with using these text editor twins in Ubuntu 11.10. AXE is not available in the Ubuntu package manager system. But AEE is. Only, it is no prettier there.
Look but Don’t Touch
Let’s start with the look and feel. Careful, though. It lacks much of anything that resembles a graphical user interface (GUI).
The color of the app window depends on the system settings. For example, on the Linux Mint computer the background color was a muted brown with white trim and lettering. On the Ubuntu computer the background color was a putrid purple with white trim and lettering.
The writing area is a totally blank panel. This gives you a clean slate with no distractions. Above a bold white divider bar along the top edge of the app window is a five-row list of keyboard shortcuts.
AEE/XAE is promoted by its developer as an easy-to-use text editor. Given that there is nothing else to do but bang out content by typing, that description is accurate. Whether or not the overly simplistic interface will enhance your work flow remains to be seen.
Features, for lack of a better term, include a pop-up menu, journaling to recover from a system crash or loss of connection, cut-and-paste and multiple buffers.
Forget mouse actions. Everything you do is literally hands-on-the-keyboard. All editing functions are done with Control key + letter combinations. Remember, the “shortcut” list is staring at you across the top of the app window.
Perhaps the most sophisticated aspect of this text editing duo is the menu system. Pressing the ESC key pops up the main menu. It plants the menu box dead center in the app window covering whatever content was visible. The menu is not movable. It is contained in a white bordered box. You have five basic functions.
The choices are very basic and extremely limited. They are: leave editor, help edit, file operations, redraw wcreem. settings, search/replace and miscellaneous.
Selecting any of these options opens a submenu offering several additional refinements. The most detailed of these is the settings option. It is here that you turn limited page formatting on/off and set margins. About a dozen other options are available. Get it the way you like it. Then save the editor configuration with the last choice, q).
Pressing the ESC key closes any menu. If you are in a sub menu, you return to the writing window. So to return to any menu box, you must press the ESC key again and then the letter.
If all you create is code or short, plain text memos, AEE/AXE might be all that you need. But inputing your content is anything but comforting.
It is fast, though, once you learn the Ctrl-Letter combinations without having to look at the always displayed list. There is a spell check module, but did not work on either computer despite the fact that I have both libraries it uses already installed.
Also, no help file is included with the installation package despite the menu option for it. However, you do not need one. No actions are available beyond what you see in the menu and the displayed keyboard shortcuts.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of text wrap. All you can do is rely on the enter key to break a line other than wait to reach the right margin. But if you resize the app window, the line breaks go out the window, so to speak.
AEE/XAE is not a text editing tool for the masses. Still, it could be useful if you write and edit basic code or need a text editor with virtually no bells or whistles.
Its biggest asset could be a a quick and simple tool for fast text editing rather than high-volume writing. Most who try it will no doubt be turned off by its archaic, stark appearance.