The Command Line Lives On


Michael Cain

Michael is a systems analyst, with a taste for obscure applied math. He's interested in energy supplies, the urban/rural divide, regional political differences in the US, and map-like things. Bicycling, and fencing (with swords, that is) act as stress relief.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    I expect that the command line will outlast me.

    Me to. It’ll just become more and more difficult to access it.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    GUIs are for casual users.
    Command line interfaces (typing and keystrokes in general) are faster, generally, in the hands of a skilled user.
    They’re a hell of a lot easier to write, too.

    Inform is still around, and games are about the place where you want shiny graphics the most.Report

  3. Avatar Autolukos says:

    You can have my CLI when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.Report

  4. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    You have read Neal Stephenson’s In the Beginning Was the Command Line I hope?

    There’s a link at the Wikipedia page that will eventually let you download the whole text.

    It’s well worth it, even if a bit out of date.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Yes, the first time back when Stephenson initially wrote it.Report

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        It’s a classic. In fact, I’m pretty sure I cribbed my statements below from it, the stuff about language and semantics.

        There is a subtext to the whole thing, the “manly men use REAL TOOLZ GRRRR” stuff. Like his analogy with the big honking power drill, and how it compares to the wimpy Home Depot type drills. Also there was a thing about driving tanks versus sedans or something.

        It’s almost like, don’t we already get enough gender anxiety from male nerds?


        Which whatever. I have a drill somewhere in my apartment, which no doubt I bought at Home Depot. Likewise I do most of my computing these days on an Android tablet, cuz it does what I need. If I need a keyboard, I have a Macbook Air thingy. Anyway, blah blah blah.

        I have this big ol’ workstation at work with two giant monitors. I run Emacs. I write Lisp. Like, that’s my job.

        From time to time, when using a computer, I’ll end up with some dull, repetitive task. Like, back when I was writing short fiction, every story site to which I posted had it’s own dumb formatting system. So I have to munge my files “just so” to post them to each site. I would often edit shit, which would update the master copy. Then I’d have to reformat for all the sites. This was tedious.

        Perl to the rescue!

        Perl is awful in many ways, but it made reformatting my stories for each website a breeze.

        It is to your advantage to learn some command line stuff, even some programming stuff. Computers are good at automating repetitive tasks. They are good at responding in fixed ways to events. You can program them to do these things, instead of only using what others provided for you. Simple GUIs can only provide what the designers guessed that you want. Do you want to be thus limited?

        This is more about programmability and less about GUI-vs-command line. But at it’s root it is about language.

        It is all of it about language.Report

  5. Avatar veronica d says:

    The command line is about semantics, the communication of meaning. Certainly image is a lovely way to present information to a user, but there is a reason that human-to-human communication is largely verbal. Verbal expression is linear, logical, digital-esque rather than analog-esque, and it allows nested syntax. In other words, it is a good way to package structured meaning.

    The command line is an obvious extension of this, just as the written word is our best non-face-to-face analog for spoken communication. We don’t use written language for every task. For example, when browsing a dating site, you wanna see pictures, not just words. Likewise a good diagram can make a math theorem significantly easier to follow. But all the same, words remain foundational.

    If I want to say something to software, a mouse lets me “point and grunt.” I can only click on what I can see, thus we have nested menus and “right click” popup menus and more nested menus and “dialogs” and “wizards” and on and on. These are not simple interfaces. They are complex to create, and very hard to “get right.” Just trying to find that one screen with that one dialog with that one radio button that you can vaguely recall — and maybe that was the last version of the software! Do they still have that feature? WHERE?

    GUI type interfaces are clearly better in the “learn by exploring” model, but for very complex software, they become unwieldy.

    Learning to “computer well” still involves learning to “command line well,” just as to get along in the world you must learn to speak.Report

    • GUI type interfaces are clearly better in the “learn by exploring” model,

      If there’s a good “Help” facility, CLIs are easier to explore thoroughly.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Guis make better mneumonics.Report

        • No, they don’t. Veronica’s description of “How do you get to that button and is it still in this version?” was perfect.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain says:

            Microsoft’s shift to the “ribbon” interface for Office was entertaining. Within a few days, someone had a website up that contained a reproduction of the old nested-menus interface. You pulled down menus to find what you wanted to do in the old interface, and got back an image of where the same function was in the ribbon. It wasn’t a Microsoft website, but it was very popular.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Actually, they do (particularly for less used commands). But you do actually need someone talented at writing the GUI (video games tend to do a decent job, when they aren’t designed for consoles)
            FIREFOX deliberately changes where things are in every version, which is just kinda dicky.Report

  6. Avatar Crprod says:

    I finished up my working career in IT support. Much of my anti-malware work was done rebooting in safe mode and then using the CLI and regedit to start the cleanup process.Report

  7. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I love my command line. Some of the command line tools, however, need to die in a fire.Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    While the CLI can be more convenient for certain individual tasks, the key thing—the reason it will continue to be used for decades to come—is that it’s much easier to automatically generate text commands than it is to automatically generate GUI input. Tools exist to automate the operation of GUI applications, but they’re much more difficult to use due to the need to automate menu navigation and dialog boxes and such.

    Not that I need to tell you that—this comment is for the people who don’t deal with this stuff on a daily basis.Report