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To CLI or not to CLI

Friday, November 28, 2008 | 1 comment

Today I had a discussion via Pidgin with Els on the merits of using a command line interface over a graphical interface and vice versa. I argued that one big advantage of a command line interface is that it's easier to blog on how to do something. Visitors can copy and paste commands to a terminal without having to read long winded instructions, often accompanied by several large screen shots, explaining where they have to click, and which menu they have to open. And I also guessed that the former is easier on the ear for visitors using a screen reader than the latter.

Els argued that a graphical user interface promotes discovery, by thinking logically one can often figure out what settings do, etc. She also remarked that she couldn't imagine that operating systems were written with lazy bloggers in mind, which made me laugh out loud. And I argued back that while I understood her point, I am also convinced that the ease of copy pasting commands from a terminal to a forum or blog post is a major reason why it's used over screenshots of a GUI (assuming it can be done via a GUI, of course), implying that it's easy to get the wrong impression.

On the other hand I agreed with her that there is still quite some work for Ubuntu (read: GNU/Linux) developers: some tasks still have to be done via a shell because there is no alternative.

However, I am quite comfortable with the command line, and I prefer it for a lot of tasks over a GUI. And I guess that a lot of GNU/Linux developers are way more comfortable with the command line than I, which might explain why GUI wrappers are missing here and there. Moreover, it might also explain that if a GUI is present, it's now and then horrible. Interacting with a GUI is not the same as specifying a bunch of options on the command line. And I've the feeling that some developers don't get this.

Anyway, in the evening - somewhat to make a point I guess - I burned a video DVD via the command line instead of trying to figure out how to do this via the GUI using Brasero. I used discovery via Google, using Firefox, to find out how to do it on the command line. The point? I prefer to have both a GUI and a CLI available.

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