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Author Topic: Command Line Cachet?  (Read 6404 times)
tomh38
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« on: January 10, 2009, 11:38:45 am »

Last weekend I was doing a few things at my computer.  Some family were here, and I needed to get a few things done before we left to go out to dinner.  My nephew (16 years old) was looking over my shoulder while I was working, slightly interested in this whole "Linux" thing, but after a while not really impressed.

At one point I opened Terminal to copy some files or something like that.  As soon as it popped up, my nephew (Ben) asked "Oooh, what's that?"  I responded, "Um ... it's a terminal emulator."  I vaguely realized that the kid had probably never seen a command prompt before.

"Oh yeah," he said.  "Doesn't this use some kind of secret language?"

We didn't have much time, but I showed him some of the things you could do with it, and then he asked me if he could have that on his computer (some kind of laptop with XP on it).  I told him if he came over this weekend we could look over some options.  I may install VL on it if everything works with a LiveCD and that's what he wants.  He seemed particularly impressed with all the things you could do just by typing in commands, rather than always clicking stuff with the mouse.

The conventional wisdom is that everybody wants easy-to-use graphical tools.

I've been wondering, are we missing something?  Is there an untapped audience out there made up of people who might want to learn a little bit more, and who with a little help might get something more out of using their computers?

I know it's sounds kind of crazy, but I'd like to know what any of you think.

Tom

P.S. I was thinking more or less of this definition of cachet:  1.  A mark or quality, as of distinction, individuality, or authenticity (from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/cachet), emphasis mine.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2009, 11:44:37 am by tomh38 » Logged

"I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones." - Linus Torvalds, April 1991
Joe1962
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2009, 12:23:51 pm »

This is an interesting subject. I think most experienced users will agree that many things are easier (or actually only possible) to do in the cli. Even mc, which is not strictly cli, but text mode, does some things way easier than a gui filemanager. For example, I am currently using gware gnome (on VL6 alfa something...) due to the need for anjuta, but most of the time I find myself opening up a terminal and running mc rather than use nautilus, which I find pretty much as basic (maybe even more so) as thunar.
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GrannyGeek
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2009, 02:01:26 pm »

If he's interested in having Linux on his computer, by all means put it there. But if he just wants to use the command line, he can do that in XP.

Start menu, Run, cmd.exe. Or Winkey+R, cmd.exe. There are many, many commands available under the 32-bit XP terminal. Somewhere I have a link to where he can get a list for XP. The list is built into the system. The next time I have XP loaded I'll look for it and post it for you, if you'd like it. Many XP power users do lots of things through the command line.

I'm not one of them. I've never been much for command lines because I can't remember the switches and modifiers and all that stuff and most of the time I don't understand the available help. But I have a few favorite Linux commands I use a lot (df -h probably being used the most) and I prefer Midnight Commander as a file manager. I rarely use the command line in Windows because it does nothing more easily than I can do with PowerDesk.
--GrannyGeek
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Lyn
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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2009, 02:01:38 pm »

Its strange, I am still learning (I hope to continue do so until the day I die) how to play around with linux and I have to say like most I don't venture into the command line much, but when I do I love the simplicity of it.  The fact that you can get to the guts of the system by editing plain text files has a huge appeal - it means if I screw up completely and am left with no GUI I can put things right (usually).   

Mind you I used dos when I was working for a recycling charity on very old machines - we are talking 3 - 486 machines with 200 MB hard drives and 4MB RAM.  To make things simple for our customers, who were for the most complete newbies, myself and a student constructed a batch file that produced a simple menu so customers could access the supplied programs.  We built a stack of freeware, open source and shareware programs running on top of FreeDOS.  IIRC it ran into in excess of 600 lines but gave you a very very simple desktop that was just about user proof.  It was relatively simple to write and easy for us to amend but enabled us to shift a couple of hundred of these machines that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. 

Later we had better machines and installed Windows 95 and then Windows 98 and finally on other machines Linux, a mix of Mandrake and Vector.   But with the power of the command lines and simple text files a few hundred computers were saved from the tip and put to good use.  Indeed I still have one!
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tomh38
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« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2009, 02:30:11 pm »

GrannyGeek,

Those are good points you make.  I did have in mind that my nephew might really be more interested in doing things from a command line, rather than Linux (or some other *nix) itself.  Then again, any OS install can get "borked,"1 so having an alternate to boot into is usually a good idea, especially for somebody who only has one computer (the case with my nephew).  VL is a pretty good option for this - and if something did happen to his Windows install I would be the one to get the call to help him repair it (already made a set of system restore CDs for him).

Anyway, my point wasn't so much about the command line in Linux vs. Windows, but that for some years now we (we as in the Linux community, not we as in the VL community) have been de-emphasizing the command line, especially for new users.

I'm just wondering if there might be some people out there who could be interested in CLI stuff (on whatever OS), but who don't know anything about it because we're hiding it in the closet.

Sometimes I see things on the Ubuntu help forums where people get advice about how to do things with a graphical tool and it ends up being really complicated, whereas if they just opened a terminal and typed in a few commands it would have been much simpler.

Anyway ...

Tom

1.  Personally I prefer the term "bjØrked," but this may confuse some people.
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GrannyGeek
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« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2009, 03:07:44 pm »

There are a lot of somewhat recent computer users who may have never seen a command line (especially Windows users) and I'm sure that among them are some who might like to use it instead of doing everything through a GUI. While I'm happy to see more user-friendly tools becoming common in Linux, I also don't care for the trend to shield users from the command line as much as possible. Sometimes it's the easiest way. Like typing df -h is a lot faster than finding and running the graphical tool that shows disk usage, which is why I like it. I also like to find things with locate and which. I suppose if I had some desktop search thing running all the time and indexing my files it would be just as fast, but it would make my poor computer run a lot more.
--GrannyGeek
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kidd
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« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2009, 06:00:07 pm »

A long read @ osnews (4 parts) "The Command Line - The Best Newbie Interface?" -> http://www.osnews.com/story/6282 

I think any serious Windows user that wants to use cli a lot installs cygwin, because windows cmd.exe has very few (and less flexible) commands than unix.  Only to name one, I don't think windows has any sed substitute (yes, you can install sed for win32, but...)

Being a heavy commandline user myself, I'll try to point what (IMHO) makes cli better for most tasks than point&click.

Scalability:

- data scalability: Say you have 10 files. ok, no problem if you have an icon for each file.  but with actual hdd, we have LOTS of data, and directory structures are far too complicated to have a nice visual appealing. say you have to move a file from c:\program files\foo\bar to c:\Documents and settings\kidd\Desktop\mydir\mydir2 . It's very likely in each directory, you'll have 20 more dirs and 20 files.  Anyway, you must KNOW where you want to go, so one option is visually grepping icons until one matches the word you're repeating yourself, and the other is to just type the path.   A well configured shell and Tab key are priceless.  My desk is usually messy, so I want my Computer desktop to be clean 'per se' when I see desktops with 50 icons there I always think of a meta-computer to organize it Smiley

- more features don't clutter the system: Imagine you use program XYZ, that uses menues as it's only way to do things.  If XYZ had 9 features, no problem, you can have 3 top-level menus, and 3 submenus each.  Ok, now XYZ goes 2.0 and now it has 9999 features.  you see the problem, right?  Many GUI apps have shortcuts for some features but others (programs or features) do not have adequate shortcuts.  As cli apps can only receive instructions commandwise, interfaces use to be more consistent and regular (programs like mc are somewhere between GUI and CLI)

To ilustrate both last topics: http://www.online-tech-tips.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/customize-start-menu.png For me that's not very usable.  And I've seen pretty worse ones.

Repetitive tasks:

 I do many repetitive tasks on my comp.  Why not automate them?  GUI automation is a nightmare. CLI is fairly easy even for people with few or no programming knowledge, just the up arrow will do most times.

remote:

 You can do ssh faster and easier than using vnc or any graphical remote apps.

Ubiquity:

 ls works here and at the other side of the world. cli is pretty distro/unix agnostic.

I hope it wasn't too long...
« Last Edit: January 10, 2009, 06:02:18 pm by kidd » Logged

lagagnon
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« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2009, 06:45:05 pm »

And I would add to kidd's post:

command piping: that is, piping the output of one command directly into the next, a feat which simply cannot be done in any GUI. The power of such is incredible, but you need to know a lot of commands to do it effectively. For example, let us suppose you need a list of only the top five processes that are consuming the most CPU time on your system:

ps -eo user,pcpu,pid,cmd | sort -r -k2 | head -6:


Try to accomplish the same thing in a GUI!
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GrannyGeek
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« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2009, 07:38:57 pm »

kidd and lagagnon,

Most of what you wrote was incredibly geeky to me--and I dare say most "normal" users. I had to do man sed because I had no idea what it did. I didn't  understood what I read in man sed but it didn't sound like something I'd ever want to do. In fact, I found it rather horrifying.<g>

Next example: I don't select files by icons. In Windows (Linux, too) I use Details view. I've never had trouble selecting files and moving them around. Granted, I'm not doing heavy-duty moving but "normal" users don't do heavy-duty moving.

I sort of know what "grep" means, but I can never remember it and I never use it on my own. If someone types it in a command, I can use it by copying the command, but on my own, no.

As for cluttering the system, it hasn't bothered me in my 21 years of computer use. A program may have 9000 options (come, now--that's a huge stretch<g>) but if I use only 150, what difference does it make?

As for the picture of a Control Panel flyout, I probably would just open Control Panel and find what I want there. You can see it grouped by functions or the whole list if you prefer. You can use Details view if you want it to be more compact. Remembering commands to get to what you want would be far more difficult (and sickening) to me than going through the list.

ssh--never use it. What do I care?

ubiquity--I don't go to the other side of the world, so again, I don't care.

piping--surely you jest! I don't do that, nor do I do scripting. In fact, reading about that stuff makes me kind of sick.<g> Not that I'm criticizing people who love that stuff or deny that it can be very useful and efficient for them. It's just that for me, it would take a lot of effort and a great improvement in my memory and I'd rather spend my time laying out pages or writing or maintaining my little databases or editing photos or organizing my music collection or several gigs of digital pictures. See, I'm not interested in that system administration kind of stuff. I'm a home user, nothing more. My interests are graphic design, page layout, photo editing, and those are much more hands-on than writing scripts or grepping.

So you're not going to sell me on the wonders of the command line. Again, I'm not saying it's worse than a GUI and I'm not suggesting you use anything else and I'll grant that for what you're doing, it's more efficient and probably easier. But for me, no. There's a big difference between home users and power users and it would do well for Linux promoters to remember that and not go overboard on propagandizing command lines for things home users never do and never want to do.
--GrannyGeek
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Pita
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« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2009, 10:41:02 pm »

By birth I am somewhat gui challenged for which reason the command line is the most
importatnt feature for me and the first thing to open is xterm. Often I just stay on the
console. Quite a few programs I open only in xterm. As for file managers I just can't get
away from MC I have tried a few and have a few in my box, nothing can beat MC in
versatility and speed.

Icons, there are none on desktop. I hate them

To pipe one does not have to go all the way that complicated.
cat file | lpr gives a fast printout of text files.

Looking for missing libs w/o scanning a long list for it:
ldd program | grep found

Using the command line one has to remember commands which is good for the
brain and might prevent alzheimer. Wink

Recently a friend brought her beautiful Mac. I finally found the xterm and she was
just rattled when I showed her how easy and fast it is working from command line.
She has only one problem, --bad memory retention.
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Triarius Fidelis
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« Reply #10 on: January 12, 2009, 08:17:07 am »

Even playing music is faster on the command line.

Firefox and Pidgin are really the only two graphical applications I use on a regular basis.
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nightflier
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« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2009, 09:23:35 am »

A while back someone made a big deal of having an all GUI interface and ridiculing the command line in TV and print ads. Being a follower in many ways, the competition decided to follow suit and all but abandoned the cli.

I think this "war on the command line" was a big disservice to users. It is a very powerful tool, especially when combined with the GUI. The two complement each other. With the ability to copy commands from on-line tutorials and howto's and paste them into a shell, even casual users can quickly perform complex operations without understanding the nuts and bolts of it (yes, I know, big security issues here, but still).

I once wrote a howto on using Samba, and found that the command line version was a lot easier than the one for the GUI. For the latter I had to make the assumption that the user would run a certain distro version with a specific desktop and theme. Then it was necessary to explain where the icons were located, what they looked like, and whether to single or double-click on them. Then I had to describe what the resulting windows looked like and where to click in those. It was a pain.

The command line is making a comeback and is here to stay. OSX has a real terminal. I understand Windows Server 2008 has a command line boot option, and Windows 7 is supposed to have a much improved shell. Let's put it to work.
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StrayBit
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« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2009, 10:44:24 am »

I would imagine that there are many more of us like Pita.  I remember someone setting me down at a very pre-Mac Apple exclaiming "Isn't that great!"  After looking at a meaningless screen and a keyboard with several keys with cryptic pictures (and NO Ctrl key), my response was "What do I do now?"

The only reason I opened Win3.1 was that WordStar couldn't support all the features my new HP300 had.  The only reason I switched from QuatroPro to Exel was when my boss said we all had to use this new program that one of the Sales Managers found then I had to figure out how to use VisualBasic to get it to do what I wanted it to do.

Even now, the only reason I use anything after Win98 is that it is already installed when I get the machine.

Speaking of security - I don't understand why it is such a big deal.  Yes, I do like the idea of limiting what less knowledgeable users can see and do.  Otherwise it is a pain for me - I've enabled every option for myself and still have to reboot into root mode to do half of it - loosing my train of thought in the process!  Finally found that there is Super xterm and thunar as well as su, which helps some.
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MikeCindi
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« Reply #13 on: January 12, 2009, 11:18:55 am »

Speaking of security - I don't understand why it is such a big deal.  Yes, I do like the idea of limiting what less knowledgeable users can see and do.  Otherwise it is a pain for me - I've enabled every option for myself and still have to reboot into root mode to do half of it - loosing my train of thought in the process!  Finally found that there is Super xterm and thunar as well as su, which helps some.
Why not open a console, su to root and run your gui program; why "reboot" or even logoff? On my testing installs I don't have a root pw as I'm in there so often and re-installing often (trying to "break" stuff you know).
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kidd
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« Reply #14 on: January 12, 2009, 11:22:43 am »

  The only reason I switched from QuatroPro to Exel was when my boss said we all had to use this new program that one of the Sales Managers found then I had to figure out how to use VisualBasic to get it to do what I wanted it to do.

StrayBit, it often happens to me at $work, where we all should use the same tools, and people choose the less powerful because it's 'famous' or with no learning curve at all.  I end programming my own tools that emulate theirs, but I think it's a loose-loose approach :/

Being easier to learn is a good point for sure, but everything comes at a cost.  Most simple tools are the easiest to learn, so learning curve is short and small. No further progress can be made. There's no way to do powerful things without having powerful knowledge, so most time, the problem is most users do not think about efficiency.  Then GUI is perfect.  In fact, as GrannyGeek said, she hardly ever needed grep, nor sed, so efficiency, or power-user tools make sense only for a fraction of users. (I hope it doesn't sound rude, at least I don't mean it)

I get really nervous when I see someone doing 30 copy&pastes  when I know that can be done with a single regexp and sed, but if I tell people that what they're doing is inefficient, and there's another way to do it, they ask for the exact line that will solve their problem and forget it.  No spark of interest in learning, or writting that line down.  Next time they'll do copypaste again, or at most, ask me again for that f*cking line.

I think cli people have very particular way of using computers, and probably taking things on other life situations.   Maybe it's just me, but avoiding repetition, and learning how to do better next time is one of my  guides in everything I do. I think it's all related to knowledge and reuse.

Sorry if it's getting a bit offtopic...
« Last Edit: January 12, 2009, 11:24:51 am by kidd » Logged

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