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The Enso Project is the open-source release of Enso, an extensible,
cross-platform, graphical command-line interface written in Python.
Enso's goal is to provide a way of accessing whatever piece of
functionality you need--be it calculating an expression, calling up
a map, or performing a Google search--with a few, semantically
meaningful keystrokes.
Enso was originally commercial software created and sold by
`Humanized, Inc`_. In early 2008, a new BSD-licensed open-source
repository was created for Enso, and much of its code was inherited
from the commercial version.
Commercial Enso vs. Open-Source Enso
The version of Enso that can be downloaded from The Humanized Website
is known as the "commercial" version of Enso; it is sometimes also
called the "frozen" version of Enso.
Commercial Enso is a binary-only distribution, based on a closed-source
code-line kept on a private SVN server. Development on it has ceased
and will not be resumed. Development-wise, it is a dead end; but it
will continue to be the version that users download and install, and
Humanized will continue to distribute and support it, until such time
as development on the open source Enso code-line creates a suitable
Commercial Enso runs on Windows 2000, XP, and Vista only.
Open-Source Enso consists of the code tree located at `The Enso
Project`_ and was started "from scratch" in early 2008. Modules and
chunks of code were rapidly brought over from the old code and
integrated; this process could be thought of as a combination of code
migration and massive refactoring to remove all the cruft that Enso no
longer needed, and to make Enso more flexible towards certain things
that it needs to support better, such as internationalization and
cross-platform support.
Another way to view the difference is that Commercial Enso `embeds`
Python, whereas Open-Source Enso attempts to `extend` Python. The
difference between the two, and their implications, is nicely
summarized in Glyph Lefkowitz's article `Extending vs. Embedding:
There is Only One Correct Decision`_.
Once Open-Source Enso matures to the point that it's at least as
functional and stable as Commercial Enso, we'll also package and
distribute a pre-compiled binary in whatever way is most humane for
non-technical end users.
.. _`The Enso Project`:
.. _`Extending vs. Embedding: There is Only One Correct Decision`:
More Information
For more information about the use of and philosophy behind Enso, you
may want to visit the following resources:
* `The Enso Product Page`_ on
* `The Graphical Keyboard User Interface`_ by Alex Faaborg
* `The Linguistic Command Line`_ by Aza Raskin
.. _`Humanized, Inc`:
.. _`The Enso Product Page`:
.. _`The Graphical Keyboard User Interface`:
.. _`The Linguistic Command Line`:
Getting Enso
At present, the primary way to obtain Enso is by `retrieving the
code`_ via Subversion. Once that is done, please read the ``README``
file contained in the root directory to build the software.
In the future, pre-built binaries of Enso will be available on
relevant platforms so that those who are developing commands for Enso
(as opposed those who are developing Enso itself) will be able to use
it without needing a C compiler.
The remainder of this documentation assumes that you have Enso up and
running, and can use it to execute commands.
.. _`retrieving the code`:
Extending Enso
Creating Enso Commands
Creating, running, and modifying Enso commands is intended to be as
easy as possible. To create a command, simply create an
``.ensocommands`` file in your home directory if it doesn't already
exist (if you're on Windows, this directory is pointed to by the
``HOME`` environment variable). This file is just a Python script
containing classes and functions representing available commands.
Hello World: Displaying Transparent Messages
A simple command called "hello world" can be created by entering the
following into your .ensocommands file::
def cmd_hello_world(ensoapi):
ensoapi.display_message("Hello World!")
As soon as the ``.ensocommands`` file is saved, the Enso quasimode can
be entered and the command used: Enso scans this file and its
dependencies whenever the quasimode is entered, and if the contents
have changed, Enso reloads them, so there is never a need to restart
Enso itself when developing commands.
.. TODO: Insert image/video here.
From the source code of the command, a number of things can be
* A command is a function that starts with the prefix ``cmd_``.
* The name of a command is everything following the prefix,
with underscores converted to spaces.
* A command takes an ``ensoapi`` object as a parameter, which can
be used to access Enso-specific functionality. [#]_
You may want to take the time to play around with the "hello world"
example; try raising an exception in the function body; try adding a
syntax error in the file and see what happens. It should be apparent
that such human errors have been accounted for and are handled in a
way that is considerate of one's frailties, allowing the programmer to
write and test code with minimal interruptions to their train of
.. [#] One may wonder why the ``ensoapi`` object has to be explicitly
passed-in rather than being imported. The reasons for this are
manifold: firstly, importing a specific module, e.g. ``enso.api``,
would tie the command to a particular implementation of the Enso
API. Yet it should be possible for the command to run in different
kinds of contexts--for instance, one where Enso itself is in a
separate process or even on a separate computer, and ``ensoapi`` is
just a proxy object. Secondly, explicitly passing in the object
makes the unit testing of commands easier.
Adding Help Text
When using the "hello world" command, you may notice that the help
text displayed above the command entry display isn't very helpful.
You can set it to something nicer by adding a docstring to your
command function, like so::
def cmd_hello_world(ensoapi):
"Displays a friendly greeting."
ensoapi.display_message("Hello World!")
If you add anything past a first line in the docstring, it will be
rendered as HTML in the documentation for the command when the user
runs the "help" command::
def cmd_hello_world(ensoapi):
Displays a friendly greeting.
This command can be used in any application, at any time,
providing you with a hearty salutation at a moment's notice.
ensoapi.display_message("Hello World!")
Interacting with The Current Selection
To obtain the current selection, use ``ensoapi.get_selection()``.
This method returns a *selection dictionary*, or seldict for short. A
seldict is simply a dictionary that maps a data format identifier to
selection data in that format.
Some valid data formats in a seldict are:
* ``text``: Plain unicode text of the current selection.
* ``files``: A list of filenames representing the current selection.
.. TODO: Provide a link to the reference for all data types
Setting the current selection works similarly: just pass
``ensoapi.set_selection()`` a seldict containing the selection data to
The following is an implementation of an "upper case" command that
converts the user's current selection to upper case::
def cmd_upper_case(ensoapi):
text = ensoapi.get_selection().get("text")
if text:
ensoapi.set_selection({"text" : text.upper()})
ensoapi.display_message("No selection!")
Command Arguments
It's possible for a command to take arbitrary arguments; an example of
this is the "google" command, which allows you to optionally specify a
search term following the command name. To create a command like
this, just add a parameter to the command function::
def cmd_boogle(ensoapi, query):
ensoapi.display_message("You said: %s" % query)
Unless you specify a default for your argument, however, a friendly
error message will be displayed when the user runs the command without
specifying one. If you don't want this to be the case, just add a
default argument to the command function::
def cmd_boogle(ensoapi, query="pants"):
ensoapi.display_message("You said: %s" % query)
If you want the argument to be bounded to a particular set of options,
you can specify them by attaching a ``valid_args`` property to your
command function. For instance::
def cmd_vote_for(ensoapi, candidate):
ensoapi.display_message("You voted for: %s" % candidate)
cmd_vote_for.valid_args = ["barack obama", "john mccain"]
Prolonged Execution
It's expected that some commands, such as ones that need to fetch
resources from the internet, may take some time to execute. If this
is the case, a command function may use Python's ``yield`` statement
to return control back to Enso when it needs to wait for something to
finish. For example::
def cmd_rest_awhile(ensoapi):
import time, threading
def do_something():
t = threading.Thread(target = do_something)
ensoapi.display_message("Please wait...")
while t.isAlive():
Returning control back to Enso is highly encouraged--without it, your
command will monopolize Enso's resources and you won't be able to use
Enso until your command has finished executing!
Class-based Commands
More complex commands can be encapsulated into classes and
instantiated as objects; in fact, all Enso really looks for when
importing commands are callables that start with ``cmd_``. This means
that the following works::
class VoteCommand(object):
def __init__(self, candidates):
self.valid_args = candidates
def __call__(self, ensoapi, candidate):
ensoapi.display_message("You voted for: %s" % candidate)
cmd_vote_for = VoteCommand(["barack obama", "john mccain"])
Command Updating
Some commands may need to do processing while not being executed; for
instance, an ``open`` command that allows the user to open an
application installed on their computer may want to update its
``valid_args`` property whenever a new application is installed or
If a command object has an ``on_quasimode_start()`` function attached
to it, it will be called whenever the command quasimode is entered.
This allows the command to do any processing it may need to do. As
with the command execution call itself, ``on_quasimode_start()`` may
use ``yield`` to relegate control back to Enso when it knows that some
operation will take a while to finish.
Including Other Files
The ``.ensocommands`` file may include other files containing command
definitions by using Python's ``execfile()`` built-in method. Enso
automatically keeps track of what files command objects come from; if
any of those files change, it reloads ``.ensocommands``, which should
in turn reload those files.
Python's standard ``import`` statement can also be used from command
scripts, of course, but the disadvantage of doing this with evolving
code is that--at present, at least--imported modules won't be reloaded
if their contents change. [#]_
.. [#] This feature in particular is something that can, and probably
will change a lot in the future, as code reuse via ``execfile()``
isn't particularly Pythonic. Other options, among others, include
having commands live in their own process, their own tinypy-based
virtual machine, and autodetecting changes in modules and
re-importing them like Django's development server does.
Enso Plugins and The ``.ensorc`` File
One way to extend and customize Enso is through the use of
**plugins**. A plugin is just a Python module or package with a
single function in it, ``load()``, which takes no parameters, and is
called when the Enso quasimode is about to start itself.
The easiest way to add a plugin is through an ``.ensorc`` file, which
can be created in your home directory (if you're on Windows, this
directory is pointed to by the ``HOME`` environment variable). This
file is actually just a Python script that's executed before any other
code when Enso starts up.
The following ``.ensorc`` tells Enso to load a plugin contained at
import enso.config