1. A crash course in sc

    Photo by Katerina Bartosova

    I previously mentioned the spreadsheet tool sc in my text-mode overview, noting that it deserved a separate post. It is one of the oldest spreadsheet programs around, maybe even the oldest still in use today. (The date examples in the documentation are all from the 1970s, for what it’s worth.)

    sc was originally written by James Gosling, who later went on to create the programming language Java. Like any sufficiently old piece of software, development is spread across a handful of forks. There’s at least three direct forks that I can find, as well as derivative versions like sc-im. There also exists a graphical frontend for X11/Athena called Xspread, but I can no longer find anything resembling a home page for it, and distros seem to have dropped the package. (It didn’t offer much that sc didn’t, anyway.)

    sc has a rather steep learning curve, especially for those not already passingly familiar with vi-style editing. If you’re expecting a terminal equivalent of Excel (or OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, or whatever its name is this year), you will likely be disappointed. Moreover, while it adopts many of vis principles, only the most basic keystrokes work similarly; it is quite a different animal. That is, Excel is a dog, vi is a cat, and sc is a fox. Hope that’s clear.

    For heavy command-line users, it’s worth the effort to learn, and fortunately it also comes with plenty of resources to help, including a well-written manual page, a detailed tutorial, and an interactive quick-reference help system. This might be surprising to those used to modern software, but back in The Day, programs generally came with good documentation.

  2. Nibbles


    I have very fond memories of QBasic Nibbles. I spent lots of time playing that game, modifying it until it was unrecognizable, and accidentally learning how to program along the way.

  3. How to Live Well on the Linux Console

    You can get a lot done in text mode.

    I do much of my programming on a laptop without a graphical environment installed, and rarely ever type startx on my desktop system. My console setup is quite nice, and while it’s not for everyone, if you often find yourself opening xterm windows to do most of your work, you might be interested in dropping all that excess baggage and slimming down your system. There’s plenty you can do in a terminal, so saddle up and get ready to give a big screw-you to the overweight GPU-sucking graphical environments of the 21st century and take a trip slightly back in time to back when things were text.

    Many people, myself included, misuse the word terminal (and sometimes also console) to refer to terminal emulators rather than a straight-up text mode. This confusion of terms is usually not that big a deal, but to clarify, I’m expressly discussing how to get along with a system where X11 isn’t installed at all — and how to make yourself comfortable in such an environment.