Three nifty alternatives to the M-TAB key in Emacs, and a replacement.

The M-<TAB> key in Emacs provides a useful completion function (`completion-at-point’), which tries to complete the current symbol at point to something useful, usually based on other symbols in the buffer which have the current partial symbol as a prefix.

However, using this key is a pain in most OS GUI systems, since it is usually mapped to the Task Switching function as well. Note that the <Alt> key doubles as <Meta> on most keyboards.

Emacs provides two documented alternatives, <Esc>-<TAB> – which requires a trip away from the home rows to the <Esc> key, and “C-M-i”, which is far easier to type.

In fact, there is a third way of inputting an equivalent key sequence: “C-[ C-i”, which is “<Control>-[“ followed by “<Control>-i”.

This works because “<Control>-[“ (that is the left square bracket) is equivalent to the <Esc> key, and also works as a <Meta> key.


The Alternative to <Meta>

In fact, “C-[“ can be used anywhere a <Meta> is required. E.g.,

M-x” can be replaced with “C-[ x

<Esc> <Esc> <Esc> (to invoke `keyboard-command-quit’) can be replaced with “C-[ C-[ C-[“.

Using “C-[“ instead of <Esc> or <Meta> has the advantage that the key sequences can be invoked from the home screen, reduces hand movement (at least on a QWERTY keyboard), and also helps avoid the finger contortions that are otherwise often needed to access the <Meta> key.

Note that sequences which involve both <Meta> and <Control> keys can also be invoked, as long as the “C-[“ is entered first. E.g.,

C-M-x” (to invoke `eval-defun’ in an Emacs lisp buffer) can be replaced with “C-[ C-x”.  Sweet.