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Per default, linux/unix shells are configured with a width of 80 characters.
If you like to edit a phrase or string on a line with more than 80 characters it might take long to go there (for example a line with 1000 characters and you like to edit the 98th word which is character 598-603).
Maybe you might wish to use 78 characters, because if you forward the text via mail and the text will be quoted (2 extra characters at the beginning to the line "> "), you use 80 characters, otherwise 82, which are lame.
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