So as I was confronted with “you should learn to use the command line” again, here’s my opinion on this invention. The command line is the prompt where you can type in commands and those get executed by the operating system. It what Linux people need to use a lot, Mac people had to resort to when nothing else worked and Windows people didn’t need to use ever – as the command line never was very powerful on Windows.
In my opinion this is also what directly impacts the platforms distribution. Windows 85%+, Linux 1% and the rest is Mac. But why should the distribution of a platform be directly connected with the platforms use of the command line? The first barriers seem to be easy to overcome.
First, you need to be able to type and grasp some basic concepts, like the way the file system is laid out, which types of other stuff in the operating system is mapped into the file system, and basic usage principles. This alone is enough reason most users won’t bother with this ever. Typing is strictly not what most users want to do, they want to surf the web, listen to music, watch movies and when typing is only needed for messenging or typing in profile information in Facebook.
Well, normal users stink anyways, you say, and as a programmer you should be comfortable with typing on a keyboard too. So let’s look at the positive aspects of the command line: it’s all just typing, you don’t need to take away your hands from the keyboard to use a mouse and thereby it’s all faster anyways and also, there are so many commands with so many fine grained parameters that you can do basically anything using the shell.
This is true, and I don’t want to argue with anyone here. Surprise! I don’t think the command line is inherently bad. Instead, I think it’s an expert system. If you have invested years and years learning commands, parameters and when to use which parameter and which parameter won’t work with another one. The leaning curve is steep. You’ll need to learn the use of every single command that you’ll need for every single of the the most trvial of actions. You’ll need to know that there is this command, and how to use it, you’ll need to learn with parameters do what and you’ll ask yourself who decided on the defaults parameters or the absense of them and you’ll read man pages over man pages for that.
So if you did that, congratulations, you have aquired a valuable skill. At least as long as there’s no good GUI based solution for that. But there’re more problems with only working in text mode:
You type, the program executes and you get output. The sequential cycle of this dance has no possibility to give you additional information while you type or while the program executes. When it dumps a lot of text on the screen, you scan it for what you need to know, and then you type and wait again. For a lot of problems this won’t matter at all. Sometimes it’s even faster, for example when you grep for a certain file you’re searching for. But in the shell, there’s no mouseover, no intuitive visual design that could give you clues what to do and how to do it, no spelling correction when you mistyped a character in the middle of a three line-wrapping command. Type and execute.
Don’t misunderstand me here: I wish I would be a master of the command line. As the myth of doing command line magic is what let’s us admire those who can. The basic thought in every person who needs to use the command line is always “damn, this is hard” and “it’s take forever till I get all this” and “I guess I have to learn all this stuff”. This makes us admire those who CAN do all the stuff and know all the commands even more.
But times are a’ changing. The first really well usable wide-spread operating system that you could accomplish pretty much everything with was Windows XP in 2003. In all other systems you always had to be mastering the command line to be able to do what you really wanted to do. It’s 8 years since, and a lot has changed. GUI programmers got better at what they’re doing and they’re giving ordinary users the power to use the computer. Windows 7 is a very nice OS, and MacOS gets better with every release.
To me, command line commands are a basic foundation that you can base an operating system on. But commands are badly designed by default, and therefore you should never have users be dependent on them. Never ever. And as it’s not 2003 anymore, you cannot expect power users to know or even aspire to know the command line anymore.
I can do work in the command line when I need to, but I’m always very slow at that and I’d always rather have a GUI based tool at hand, that shows me instantly what to do and how to do it instead of Googling and guessing – and for my part if something cannot be done conveniently without the command line in an OS, I think the OS is badly designed and needs work.
I’d rather stay clicking.