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The Command Line - Best Newbie Interface?

CmdrTaco posted more than 10 years ago | from the now-bloody-likely dept.

Linux 885

An anonymous reader writes "This essay describes the surprising results of a brief trial with a group of new computer users about the relative ease of the command line interface versus the GUIs now omnipresent in computer interfaces. It comes from practical experience I have of teaching computing to complete beginners or newbies as computer power-users often term them."

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The 'help' command (5, Insightful)

nokilli (759129) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508731)

I'd wager that computer literacy amongst people who've tried Linux would be twice what it is today if when you typed help foobar bash would perform a man foobar if 'foobar' wasn't a builtin command. And it'd probably be double that if you incorporated some kind of search facility too. Type in help disk space and get a hit on the df command, for instance.

Re:The 'help' command (5, Informative)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508748)

Just do an alias of "help" to "man -k".

As long as "makewhatis" is setup first, that will do about the same thing.

Re:The 'help' command (5, Insightful)

TehHustler (709893) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508789)

And thats going to make sense to newbies how?

Re:The 'help' command (5, Informative)

PowerBert (265553) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508846)

bash has a help builtin which will direct the user to man and info commands.

$ help foobar
-bash: help: no help topics match `foobar'. Try `help help' or `man -k foobar' or `info foobar'.

Re:The 'help' command (4, Insightful)

Talez (468021) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508913)

Nope. Sorry. man is crap for a newbie.

What Linux needs is a MS-DOS 6 style help command. When you type help it pops up a nice ncurses screen of all the different commands available on linux systems, briefly what they do and a link that can take them to a simplified, easy to read page of advanced things to do with the command.

Re:The 'help' command (1)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508813)

Like the 'apropos foobar' command?

Re:The 'help' command (2, Funny)

PRES_00 (657776) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508815)

Why not come up with a command line wizard that displays a command, gives you information about its function and prompts you for the most personally intuitive replacement designation for that command.This is even more important for non-english speakers.

Re:The 'help' command (2, Insightful)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508821)

Doing the man command is probably too much for a true newbie. See 'man ls' or 'man nmap'.

Re:The 'help' command (1)

PowerBert (265553) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508825)

I feel bash 2.05b responds well enough.

$ help foobar
bash: help: no help topics match `foobar'. Try `help help' or `man -k foobar' or `info foobar'.

Bash tells me what commands to run to find the information I'm after.

Re:The 'help' command (5, Funny)

oingoboingo (179159) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508870)

And it'd probably be double that if you incorporated some kind of search facility too. Type in help disk space and get a hit on the df command, for instance.

How about a little animated 'bash$' command prompt which jumps up when you hit F1, or which politely asks "It looks like you're composing a shell script. Would you like some help!" when you're in a bit of a pickle. You could type in a plain-English question about what you wanted to do, rather than having to remember the cryptic names of Unix commands. When you selected your specific query from a list of options that the animated character presented to you, it would then go on to show you exactly how to enter the command you were interested in. It would be great! You could even theme this 'assistant' according to your could appear as an animated 'ksh' or even just a '%' sign for those wanting to get on with the job.

As for a name, what about 'Bob'?

Re:The 'help' command (4, Insightful)

HidingMyName (669183) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508907)

I suspect that new users find Unix/Linux challenging due to historical reasons. Two problems that stick out are command naming conventions and command output.

It is an unfortunate artifact of Unix history that some of the commands are poorly named. The Help command did exist in Unix, but it was the help system for sccs (too bad there wasn't sccs --help or some such convention instead). There are a few other pet peeves of mine, grep might be better named search, etc.

Command output is problematic since users often expect feedback. For example when we grep on a file and don't find the pattern, grep does not generate any output. From a programmer point of view that is definitely the right thing (especially since these commands are used as filters in a pipelined fashion), however, from a user centric point of view there may be an expectation of a report that the pattern was not found. I'm pretty used to the Unix/Linux way of doing things, but new users are not.

Re:The 'help' command (5, Insightful)

zymurgy_cat (627260) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508933)

I'd wager that computer literacy amongst people who've tried Linux would be twice what it is today if when you typed help foobar bash would perform a man foobar if 'foobar' wasn't a builtin command. And it'd probably be double that if you incorporated some kind of search facility too. Type in help disk space and get a hit on the df command, for instance.

What I'd really like to see is a more helpful man page with examples. It's frustrating when using a new command to read "usage: foobar [VNFHDMudndghfud8734yfhfnbgdh] filename | device | dir | options filename[]" and then read through 5 pages of options and switches I'll never use. If every man page had at least a few examples of how to do stuff most people want to do, it'd be easier to both do those things and learn the more complex commands.

Another nice thing would be a howdoi command which allows the input of natural language and spits out a small man page (with examples!) or help file, ie, "$>howdoi see how much hard drive space i have" spits out how to use df.

hey there mr bear (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508739)

id wager you beat me at first post, for once a small boy i have yet to live

Mac OS X (4, Insightful)

jammer 4 (34274) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508741)

And isn't it nice that Mac OS X now gives you the best of both worlds :)

Re:Mac OS X (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508749)

OS X sucks.

Re:Mac OS X (1, Funny)

Standard Colin (737911) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508771)

I like the way you chose to back up your statement with solid, and clear evidence.

Re:Mac OS X (1)

jammer 4 (34274) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508868)

Well, I don't think anyone would debate that the Unix shells are the most powerful CLI's around right now.

And in terms of GUI, even if you don't like the Mac OS X GUI you need to admit that it's a well functioning GUI. So my point was that Mac OS X has a good GUI a good CLI. Maybe not the "best" but certianly good.

Re:Mac OS X (2, Interesting)

scsirob (246572) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508774)

I write diagnostics tools for a living. All command line based. Same source tree compiles on Solaris, Win32, Linux, NetBSD, FreeBSD, AIX and MacOS-X.

Too bad, users of MacOS-X are the *only* ones who need handholding to operate the tools.

Unix CLI is NOT easy (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508775)

The Unix/*nix/*nux CLI is not easy. It is a major design flaw that the file name "jones.txt" is treated different than "joNes.txt".

If you want the best of both worlds, try the Amiga CLI, which has many features of *nix, but does not take case-sensitivity to this useless extreme.

Good point on OS X, however. It is Apple's first serious OS. The previous ones were hard to use and crippled due to the lack of a CLI.

Re:Unix CLI is NOT easy (2, Informative)

BassKnight (525986) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508831)

You can configure the shell to work with more confort with the case sensivity issues. Gentoo comes with tcsh preconfigured to behave like that. IMHO i don't find case-sensitiveness an annoying issue, rapid fingers and the blessed tab-autocomplete do the work easy for me.

Re:Unix CLI is NOT easy (2, Informative)

oingoboingo (179159) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508885)

The Unix/*nix/*nux CLI is not easy. It is a major design flaw that the file name "jones.txt" is treated different than "joNes.txt".

This is not true on OS X. The default filesystem is case independent.

Re:Mac OS X (3, Insightful)

baryon351 (626717) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508829)

I think so

I don't believe the importance of a really refined gui is as high as it used to be. Back when the original mac was introduced, along with other later GUI based systems such as the Amiga, it was brand new. Newbies back then were far newbier, and it wouldn't be unusual to find 98% of the population who had never used a computer, EVER.

Now in the same society you'd be hard pressed to find a third grader who hasn't used a computer for nearly a year. The skills are being embedded at a younger and younger age. The big difference between a machine thats intuitive now, and one thats not, is the one that doesn't crash is more usable. Not much more than that

Re:Mac OS X (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508830)

Bullshit it does.

The GUI portion of the OS is fragile and reacts unpredicabily to changes to the underlining structure of the OS.

Seemingly innociate changes or functions (like mounting a smb share from command line) WILL on occasion lock up the system and render great swaths of the OS unusuable and/or locked up. Sometimes not even a reboot can fix it completely.

None of this inteaction is documented ANYWERE. Their is no telling what you do and how the OS reacts, the config files aren't documented, how the home files and profiles react to changes is undocumented. Even the man files for commands are mostly just copies from BSD and may not be completely accurate to the changes that Apple had to make to those commands.

OS X is fun to use, but it's like a toy OS from the perspective of a experianced *nix geek.

4Dos (3, Interesting)

swordboy (472941) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508742)

Does anyone remember 4Dos [] ? Between that and Qmodem, I learned a whole lot about computers.

Re:4Dos (1)

rduke15 (721841) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508812)

I do.

It enabled me to actually do some useful stuff with the Windows command-line and batch files.

That was, of course, before I discovered Perl. And later (on Linux) what a real CLI is supposed to be.

Re:4Dos (4, Informative)

muffen (321442) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508826)


I still today spend way more time in a 4DOS (or well, 4NT) prompt than I do in the windows GUI.
Virtually everything I do at work is done via 4NT BTM files (batchfiles that only work in 4DOS/4NT).

The CMD line interface is really good, and it makes me a little sad that new computerusers don't realize this.
Some things are just done so much quicker using the CMD interface...

For example, I use multiple computers at work, and I have to transfer files between them all the time.. I do this using 4NT BTM's, and it takes a few seconds to transfer a file... doing the same thing in a FTP app takes much longer...

disclaimer (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508744)

since you are obviously a lunix user - did you have gay sex with them before or after this lesson? And did it involve a mare?

Re:disclaimer (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508791)

After - If I were to have it before, in England, I would be in terrible trouble. But you don't research these things in America you insensitive clod!

(author posting anonymously)

Brilliant (2, Informative)

jennifer_l (755361) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508745)

Wow, what a well-researched and interesting article. Will we be seeing 'newbie conversation' mode with the limited commandset (as used in the article) splashing across the desktop soon? Unlikely, I think, but this article puts the whole thing in a new dimension for me.

I notice the author is multitalented -- he's also the genius behind Desktop Manager [] , a virtual desktops manager for Mac. Wow. If only I was single...

Re:Brilliant (4, Funny)

rjw57 (532004) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508770)

If only there was a -1: Author's Girlfriend moderation option...

Re:Brilliant (1)

jennifer_l (755361) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508784)

*snigger* It should be +5 (and a cup of tea) surely?

Re:Brilliant (1)

Chalybeous (728116) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508882)

+5 and a cup of tea with Professor Chronotis...
(I really should stop doing obscure sci-fi gags, but I love Cambridge and Douglas Adams!)

Re:Brilliant (1)

torpor (458) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508894)

oh man, on a sunday morning too ...

(cup of tea on a sunday morning, i mean)

so. why aren't you single?

Command line is your friend (5, Insightful)

scsirob (246572) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508746)

I find it amazing how many computer "experts" are dead in the water when the mouse doesn't work or the GUI doesn't come up as expected.

Too bad only the "old-timers" seem to appreciate the power of the keyboard.

Re:Command line is your friend (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508785)

The thing is, I found windows to be far superior in using the keyboard in GUI applications. You can navigate completely without a mouse in Win XP something you really can't in KDE or GNOME.

I also frequently use the start->run command, I never manually browse to a folder.

Re:Command line is your friend (1)

HFXPro (581079) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508931)

I'll second his results. I too find it often much easier to navigate around in windows with a keyboard than in the popular linux gui's. Even better I can often get by using a mouse only without a keyboard and still get some work done. It makes it a little hard to program, but doing things like researching on the web, etc can be done without too much hassle.

Re:Command line is your friend (5, Funny)

chunkwhite86 (593696) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508793)

I find it amazing how many computer "experts" are dead in the water when the mouse doesn't work or the GUI doesn't come up as expected.

These same so-called "experts" tend to have MCSE certificates proudly displayed on their cubical wall.

Re:Command line is your friend (2, Funny)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508859)

Nature has it's natural selection...

Mouse-users will be less succesful in life because of RSI.
The female would find the male less attractive because it has less to offer.

In the end there will only be keyboard-users.

Re:Command line is your friend (4, Funny)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508919)

She will also enjoy his strong and nimble fingers, whereas the lonely mouse user will have to find his own use for his strengthed wrist.

Re:Command line is your friend (1)

Wun Hung Lo (702718) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508871)

I agree totally. I don't know how many so-called "System Administrators" (especially MCSE's) I have dealt with who pee their pants when they see a command prompt.

If it's GUI-less,
they're cluey-less.
(Hey, I'm a poet!)

Re:Command line is your friend (1)

Gopal.V (532678) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508897)

I'm a GUI geek most of the time ... but actually, you should find how effective command line is when you actually put that with crontab ...
like the firewall for browsing during lunchtime... send a password reminder mail every month or something ...

For those watching , it's magic :)

Re:Command line is your friend (5, Funny)

w1r3sp33d (593084) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508922)

And many of us still use the most powerful keyboard ever created, the IBM (super-clicky) Model M. The sound of these keys has been known to kill users at twenty feet and drive MCSE's mad.

Re:Command line is your friend (1)

khakipuce (625944) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508939)

Like many perople I grew up in the days when there was nothing else and I have long advocated that one should use the right tool for the job, and very often the correct tool for interacting with the OS is the command line.

In the days of showing users how to use DOS there was a lot less to remember and no hand-eye coordiantion skills to learn, to get started. Over the last few years my mother has started using a computer and she finds it very hard to double click wihtout moving the mouse - I've taught her the keystrokes to get round this - but here life would be a lot simpler is there was no mouse.

I also find that, like other posters have said, people who have never used the command line do not know what they can do with it. And so a lot of simple taks (recursively delete all files called *.log that are over 7 days old) become a real chore.

purely anecdotally (4, Insightful)

Transient0 (175617) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508747)

It seems to me that if you start someone on a command line versus starting them on a GUI they learn a little slower but acquire a deeper understanding of the computer.

point-and-click and drag-and-drop don't encourage any actual understanding of ways in which a computer interprets commands.

Re:purely anecdotally (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508805)

I'd say at least 90-95% of people don't have the slightest interest in how the computer works. They merely have a problem to solve (or a game to play) or whatever. Similarly, while I have a vested interest in how the work I'm trying to do works, I prefer tools (or even a complete environment) where I can ignore the rest and assume it'll work when I need it do.

Naive, yeah, but there's too few hours in the day to worry about everything...

Re:purely anecdotally (4, Insightful)

Ubi_NL (313657) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508816)

Don't you nerds get it??

I don't WANT to understand how my computer operates internally, just as much as I don't give a toss for how my car or my phone works.

I just want to type a friggin letter.

(This is not a troll, but to show that slashdotters are not really a typical representation of the worlds population)

Re:purely anecdotally (1)

Chalybeous (728116) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508818)

I'm tempted to agree. I was taught the basics of MS-DOS in school before we got Windows 3.1, and I understand computers better than other members of my family, who've only used Win9x.
I still use command lines, too - I can telnet to the university library catalogue, check my internet connection, and half a dozen other useful things that are either more time-consuming or dumbed down under Windows.

Now, if only I could get some help learning the Linux command line, I'd be set...

Re:purely anecdotally (4, Insightful)

nickos (91443) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508849)

"point-and-click and drag-and-drop don't encourage any actual understanding of ways in which a computer interprets commands."

How does moving a file using the command line rather then dragging and dropping it in a GUI encourage "understanding of ways in which a computer interprets commands"? They're just different interfaces.

If I install some speech recognition software on my Mums Windows box, will the new command based interface encourage "understanding of ways in which a computer interprets commands"?

While most users who know how to use the command line also have a good understanding of how computers work, this knowledge is not the result of them having to use the command line.

Re:purely anecdotally (1)

jtwJGuevara (749094) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508855)

Yes, I learned the deep knowledge of computing that turns into carpal tunnel syndrome after repeatedly typing "cd x", "dir /w", "cd x" "dir /w" [...].

Re:purely anecdotally (1)

Cybrr (535845) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508877)

It knows where you click (mouseDown and mouseUp btw) and what you are holding. That's not a big difference from it knows what you ask and what additional info (parameters) you pass to it.

Piping would be harder to understand in GUI terms though. Hmm.

Re:purely anecdotally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508900)

The command line limits you to the things you know, which is good for newbies because they're not overwhelmed by the complexities of what they don't know yet. This quality also favors learning before doing, so there is a reason why the command line leads to a deeper understanding.

On the other hand, a GUI is great for tasks which you don't have to perform regularly (which means you are less likely to remember the command line syntax). A good GUI is an interface which unifies tool and help. In the hand of the uninitiated it provokes trial and error, but in the hand of knowledgeable people, it offers the mnemonic hooks which let you perform a wide range of tasks without having to remember implementation dependant syntaxes while still knowing what you're doing.

Ah the command line... (5, Funny)

Xpilot (117961) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508757)

Apprentice: "What is that, Master?"

Master: "It's a command line. The instrument of a Unix Programmer. Not as random or clumsy as a GUI. An elegant interface for a more civilized age. Before the dark times. Before...Microsoft!"

Re:Ah the command line... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508840)

Can't blame this one on Gatesy. Three guys are at fault here; two named Steve, the other named Xerox.

Re:Ah the command line... (2, Offtopic)

Xpilot (117961) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508875)

Can't blame this one on Gatesy. Three guys are at fault here; two named Steve, the other named Xerox.

They invented the GUI but they didn't demonize the CLI the same way Gatesy did. And Apple now has a Unix shell in OS X, so they have redeemed themselves.

I wonder why my post was modded down though. Must be a lot of humorless Microsoft apologists in the audience today.

Command Line (-1, Offtopic)

chunkwhite86 (593696) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508758)

In Soviet Russia, the command line uses YOU!

Command-Lines (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508768)

I have always wanted to bind my run line into the start bar of Windows XP....

It has been my experience when trying to improve efficiency, the mouse has been a pain. Using it to click and move around a mouse pad may be easier, but the time it takes to grab a mouse and move it could easily be beat by pressing tab and enter.

Well (5, Insightful)

odano (735445) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508769)

I believe it is because the command line is very simple and compact, single-threaded and simple to understand.

Modern GUIs have many things going on at once, which can confuse people who have no idea what is going on. Windows pop up, there are icons to deal with, they have to search through endless menus to find what they want.

The command line however has simple command to remember instead of complicated graphical procedures, and the status of the command line really never changes. If you mess something up, you are still back where you started, but in the GUI, a user could close a window to open another one which obviously confused people who don't understand what they mean.

Re:Well (1)

coolguy81 (322371) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508863)

The command line can be simple to understand... but as far as single-threaded... there are command line programs that are multi-threaded and if you are just talking about multitasking, that can be done too.

CLI for noobies: background foreground suspend []

Re:Well (1)

jtwJGuevara (749094) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508888)

I've found with the older generation, my father in particular, that the GUI's indeed cause more confusion. He can halfway type and I've managed to get him to navigate in a DOS prompt to find a word processor once without too much pain, but give him a mouse and a bloated GUI (ie: Windows 98 and later editions) and he is about as disoriented as neutered cat. He doesn't know what to click, when and where, and what all of these buttons are supposed to do.

Re:Well (5, Interesting)

SvendTofte (686053) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508917)

Sounds like the people here have no idea what makes GUI's so powerfull.

1. State. You can (should) always at a glance be able to see what state the system has. With a CLI interface, there's simply no state. It's a command execute cycle forever.

2. Exploration. Simply exploring a program, by seeing what it menu's contains, is a very easy, and intuitive way of exploring. CLI's have none of this.

3. Rote memorisation. There is no motor memory when using the CLI. You must remember the syntax of commands 100% accurately. GUI's support "knowlegde in the world", as Norman puts it. Consider a door handle on a door, it has an obvious way of being used. Staring at "~$", is so very different.

4. Easy reversal.

In fact, the benefits of GUI's over CLI's are so many fold, I won't bother with digging out the literature.

The command line has only one advantagde, it's speed, and the possibility of executing extremely complex commands. Both not things newbies are well known for.

"To master modern GUIs, one must recall the operation, layout and relation to each other of hundreds, if not thousands, of such panels."

Funny, I thought that was the same with CLI's. With a GUI, the GUI can at least support exploration of the interface. Click that arrow down, see what happens. A CLI can do none of these things, unless you consider adding random letters after a command, to be "exploration" ...

Re:Well (2, Funny)

SvendTofte (686053) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508936)

Also, don't forget the modus operanti of Unix tools on succesfull operation. No feedback...

How the hell do you have a dialogue with someone who won't talk with you?

I bet if you (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508772)

give a newbie instruction on how to operate a computer with 1's and 0's they will just as easily become apt at it.

These days people only know the GUI, for that matter the MS Windows UI of doing things. Most people have no time/reason to understand how things work or that there is a more optimal way of doing things. The other guy watchs TV so, I must watch TV. Get it.

Sure, for computers, for now (4, Interesting)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508777)

But you think a command line would make using a digicam easier? A microwave? A thermostat?

The computer as a non-specific device is a fundamentally flawed (though useful) contraption. The command line, GUI, and other UI creations are all hacks to help users get around the problem of genericity of the machine.

As computers get more powerful and more 'intelligent', computer user interfaces like these will wither away and something more straightforward like controls for a camera, microwave, or thermostat become the primary UI of the computer. This means that innovations in computer operating system design must be made so that the OS can guess what the user wants to do and present an appropriate, simple interface.

I really look forward to the day when the concept of the PC disappears.

Are you a Mac zealot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508828)

"I really look forward to the day when the concept of the PC disappears."

Does this mean that you want everyone by this point to be using Apple Macintosh microcomputers intead pf PC's? Did you lift this line from a Steve Jobs speech?

Re:Sure, for computers, for now (1)

khakipuce (625944) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508865)

This only only true for single purpose machines. I agree with you that the problem with current PCs/Laptops is that they are generic machines.

What will really lead to what you advocate is not more power and intellegence but reduced size and cost. How often have you used a pocket calcualtor rather than the calc app on your desktop? the reason? it feels better to use a dedicated machine rather than a multipurpose one (why hasn't the Swiss Army Knife done away with a box full of tools?).

When we can have one machine per task (a "note pad" for writing, a "calculator" for spreadsheets, a stack of "electronic" forms for database apps) we won't need UIs.

I think the future is a computer that is the size of a sheet of paper and as thick as a sheet of card - which I can interface with by writing - and costs $20

Re:Sure, for computers, for now (1)

McWilde (643703) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508892)

If all your computer does is control a thermostat I guess it only makes sense to get rid of everything on it except for a single dial. But then you'd probably be better of with a regular old bimetal/mercury switch thermostat.
I want to do spectrum analysis, audio editing, play Grand Theft Auto and read my mail. I need more controls than Time and Power and more feedback than *ding*.

Sure! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508786)

The DOS command line, that is. M$ is much more friendly than any unix flavor command line. So, if you are a newbie, go M$!

TeachThis to PHB (1)

robbyjo (315601) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508787)

And you can take a conclusion: Aunt Tillie's intelligence >> PHB's intelligence. And... in an RPG world, the same would apply for strength, dexterity, wisdom, and charisma. Oh yes, it takes all these to get the CLI working... ;)

Re:TeachThis to PHB (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508867)

I thought ESR was the only person to talk about "Aunt Tillie".

Aunt Tillie? (1)

nickos (91443) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508941)

ESR - Is that you?

from l?tid=99 []

don.g [] writes "As reported by NTK [] , ESR appears to have embarked apon the process of recasting the Jargon File [] in his own image, adding terms like "Aunt Tillie" and "GhandiCon" that he dreamt up and seemingly no-one else uses, and various terms from (of all places) the warblogging community, where he is active. He's also updated the "Hacker Politics" page to be more closely aligned with his own views."

Help Ninnle! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508792)

Tells you everything you need to know!

I'd be willing to wager... (2, Interesting)

Millennium (2451) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508803)

I'd bet that the CLI is probably easier to learn for a complete newbie to computers in general, but a GUI probably easier to learn for anyone new to a given application.

More intelligence in either interface would certainly be a Good Thing, however.

Command line is more consistent (3, Interesting)

AtariAmarok (451306) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508807)

In my experience, the command line is more consistent, especially if you are telling someone to do something. Once you get into it, it just a matter of saying "press A, then press ., then...."

With a GUI, there is a lot of hunting and squinting and guessing: basically, the stuff is never in the same place and never looks the same from one machine to the next.

Helps if you can type (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508814)

I'd hate to see what this guys commandline looks like given his typing ability : "This essay describes some of the observations I made when giving some of the more advanced members tow brief session with a Linux session over SSH. "

Interesting (4, Interesting)

sniggly (216454) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508817)

When I installed a linux desktop for my mother about a year ago the trouble she really had was with the concept of the mouse and clicking. That the motion of the mouse in horizontal space translates into motion of an icon in vertical space, that a click OR double click means activation... She had to learn all those things and it took a while. The whole idea of icon and menu based computing was new to her and still isn't demystified.

When she worked she worked with DOS based programs. I guess now these are so much easier to understand because you actually "talk" to the computer albeit through a keyboard and with a very limited command set. Maybe the mouse driven GUI is a bad inbetween step from the keyboard-only days to a time when computers understand conversation.

One of the things I really miss when I sit behind a windows computer is a bash shell, tab completion, gcc, vi... and you usually arent allowed to install cygwin on people's systems :)

Not to nit pick too much, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508898)

But the command shell on Windows XP has tab completion, and gcc and vi are in fact available for Windows with cygwin or not.

Shhh don't let the secret out.... (1)

filesiteguy (695431) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508819)

I tend to agree that either CL or panel-driven apps tend to be easier for newbies. I often work with those who have only used mainframe panels and they are VERY comfortable. I give them a Windows-based system with the "Start" button and they're lost. I then show them how to enter the command line world for directory lookups and editors and things are happy again.

Microsoft demonized the command prompt... (5, Insightful)

Xpilot (117961) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508822) part of its Win95 hype machine. Microsoft likes to point out that pointy-clicky is sooo much easier than the "arcane" and "cryptic" command prompt, and tried as hard as possible to hide it. Microsoft certainly didn't try to improve its command prompt much, and even in modern version of Windows it still retains a lot of its retardedness inherited from the early days of DOS.

The question is, why? Sure, newbies hate it, but it's really useful to have a powerful command prompt, so it wouldn't hurt to include it. Even Macs have them now. Windows would be much more tolerable if it had a Unix-style command shell out of the box. Yet Microsoft feels the command prompt should die and it seems (at least from my point of view) that it's included only grudgingly in the OS.

M$ copied this from Apple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508864)

Like with other aspects of the GUI world, Microsoft was only following Apple's lead in "demonizing the command line"

Old Timers Favourite?? (2, Interesting)

ashwinds (743227) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508824)

My dad is all of 64 yrs. When he started on computers a year ago - he started with Linux (the man does not know the "windows-way". One of his early observations was that it was easier for him to learn the command line and keyboard shortcuts. He could list these on a peice of paper and run thro' whenever he ran into trouble/forgot. Of course now he is on KDE 3.2 and seems fine with the GUI...

Obvious Troll Reply (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508827)

So don't feel superior when you mod me down.

Troll bait though it is I have to say it:

No OSNews article is worth slashdotting.

True Story (3, Interesting)

ellem (147712) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508833)

Had a Fujitsu laptop, like a P133, in 1998(?) and I loaded Redhat 6.0 and could NOT get the Xserver to work. I spent about 6 mos (now and again) at the command line putzing around on tryng to get the Xserver working. In that time I learned more about Linux AND Windows than I ever knew even existed. Suddenly alot of Windows oddities made sense... in the sense that I got what they were _trying_ to do. And it left me with a hollow feeling whenever I used Command... Why doesn't Windows have...

more memory intensive though (2, Interesting)

jago25_98 (566531) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508835)

It may be more logical,

but it's more memory intensive - visuals are easier to remember. Well, I find it easier to remember visuals rather than words.

Like the VMS shell (0)

garompa (714684) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508845)

you can do anything you want with the HELP command.

Push The Power Of Combining Commands & Scripti (3, Interesting)

pandrijeczko (588093) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508848)

I developed an training course at work to introduce Windows-orientated users to Linux.

From the word go I had them "cat"-ing, "sort"-ing, "grep"-ing and "cut"-ing files, showed them how to combine commands on the command line and how to turn them into shell-scripts.

The guys I taught were, like me, support engineers on Linux-based telephony products and were keen on learning how to strip relevant info from log & text files.

Within a couple of weeks they were churning out pretty good shell-scripts that were extracting info from files all across the system, "gzip"-ing them up and mailing them off automatically in cron jobs. Many of the commands they used in the scripts I'd never even mentioned in the training but had showed them about man pages and "find"-ing files on the system.

The moral behind the story is that if you give people enough of the basics, they'll soon go find problems they need to solve and work out their own ways of doing it.

Bandwidth (1)

paranerd (672669) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508852)

I've never been able to understand the love afair with the mouse and the pretty icon. 10 fingers + 101 keys VERSUS three fingers and some pretty pictures. You do the math.

Full screen editors rock (5, Funny)

MagerValp (246718) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508876)

**** COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 ****



Now that's newbie friendly.

Re:Full screen editors rock (0)

garompa (714684) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508911)

BASIC sucks, but still is a nice programming language for newbbies :) my first "computer" was a Sinclair 1500, and I know what you mean.

Re:Full screen editors rock (1)

AMD-lover (759977) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508912)

And the famous: LOAD "*",8,1 followed by RUN. Simple and fast.

MS-DOS (2, Interesting)

MalaclypseTheYounger (726934) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508878)

All I can say is that I am an old school MS-DOS guy, and it constantly drives me nuts when I see people using Windows Explorer to find a file, select it, go to the menubar, select Edit, Copy, and then navigate to a different directory in Windows Explorer, menubar, Edit, Paste.

Maybe it's because I type 80wpm (at least when doing sysadmin work in MS-DOS I do), but things I do in MS-DOS seem to take 50-75% less time than to do similar tasks using a mouse & windows only.

Other Newbie Terms (2, Funny)

Digitus1337 (671442) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508881)

Name Called By:
-Noob -Ghost Recon/Console Gamers
-Newp -RPGers
-Nub -CSers
-Nubby -''
-Nubzy -''
-Pub -''
-Pubber -''
-CS -Gamer

Well, (1)

DavidBartlett (748559) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508891)

I was a newbie 2 years ago, and was often infuriated by poorly written GUI tools that crashed all the time. I found that the command line just simply worked.

Screw 'Em (-1, Troll)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508895)

I know this sounds trollish, but I'm all for making people learn how to do things themselves.

If you aren't willing to learn how to use a command prompt (in Windows, Mac or Linux) you probably aren't willing to learn how to use the normal features.

At best, these users turn into the ones that call me everytime their email "goes down" because AOL booted them.

Just take a hardline approach to computers - if you can't be bothered to learn, I can't be bothered to help you.

For example of ease of commandline usage. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8508914)

Configure the DNS server address staticly:

In windows:

Goto start --> start --> control panel --> networking --> select the correct device --> options (or whatever I don't f-ing remember) --> select TCP/IP --> select options --> hit the DNS tab --> Select "I want to specify dns addresses bullet --> type in ip address in the boxes.

Networking specifications are spread throught 100's of dialogs and wizards. Some can set conflicting settings, some can override the settings of others. Some are grayed out to prevent these conflicts and you need to figure out why. All system wide configs are stored in the same place as program specific configs and user configs. If any program or installer corrupts this one binary file it will render the entire OS unusable.

In Linux (if the dns server is

echo "nameserver" >> /etc/resolv.conf

Remember resolv.conf because DNS is to resolv the URL names into ip addresses. System wide configs are stored in plain text files in /etc/ directory. If any of these configs get corrupted you can edit them manually to fix them, or copy originals from packages, or copy them from another source and edi them to fit your needs.

Only for English speaking newbies (4, Interesting)

poszi (698272) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508916)

I did some teaching of command line for non-English-speaking students and the biggest obstacle was the language barrier. They couldn't remember the command and they didn't understand the output of the command. Even if they knew some English, there were always some technical terms they couldn't understand and they felt intimidated. This way they were much more efficient in a localized GUI.

I am office suite, hear me roar (4, Insightful)

Uggy (99326) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508920)

from my web log, I think it's appropriate and strangely enough, quasi-religious...

We all strive to be big monolithic programs, with fancy buttons, big memory footprints, environments where people, if they want to do anything, must go through us. We strive to be pre-eminent on the desktop, world stage. We crave fame. Look at me we say. Look how important I have become. I am an Office Suite, hear me roar. Look how much I can do. If you want to do any work, you must come through me.


We must teach our brethren the ways of the Unix shell, for if we don't we will forever be trapped handcuffed in that big shiny plastic bubble of modern life, where we see but we can't interact. We must go back, back to the beginning and learn the first lessons.

ObOldJoke (3, Insightful)

Ethelred Unraed (32954) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508924)

Who is this General Protection Fault, and what's he doing reading my hard drive?

That said, it would be rather helpful if command-line tools would actually communicate more in plain English. Most of the commands and responses were meant to save keystrokes and be brief, and were written by geeks for geeks (so to speak).

Why write "Segmentation fault: core dumped", rather than, say, "Sorry, this program has unexpectedly quit because of a programming error"? In other words, worry less about technical accuracy in error messages and concentrate more on making the computer and OS more understandable to non-technical people.

I'm not saying bash or the other shells should be re-written that way, but it would be nice if a more newbie-friendly CLI was around.



Building a better shell (5, Interesting)

arevos (659374) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508927)

Interestingly enough, I'm designing a shell for my final project at Uni. This is a pretty useful article, all considering. I was originally designing the system to be more easy to use for powerusers, but perhaps there's a niche for newbies too.

Before, I was concentrating on the syntax of control structures. Like having:
if ($value == 1) { echo hello }
for $i (1:10) { echo $i green bottles }
Rather than:
if [ $value -eq 1 ]; do echo hello; fi
for i in `seq 1 10`; do echo $i green bottles; done
I could think about adding in a better help system as well. I've got a few months left of design work.

And I need to fix the lexer, too. In a recent presentation, I found a rather embarrassing bug. The concatenation operator in my shell is the same as perl's, the full stop, or period, ".". Cleverly, the shell can also treat numbers as strings and strings as numbers.

Unfortunately, it was all a bit too clever.

The expression 3.0 + 2.0 was parsed as (("3" . "0") + 2) . "0"). Giving 320. Oops!

But given a little more work, maybe I could get it to solve some of the problems mentioned in the article above. Could be an interesting thing to do.

Exactly (-1)

stateofmind (756903) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508934)

Everyone I've known that has learned the command line first, then GUI were usually better users overall. They understood the underlyings better.

Just like when I teach a new developer HTML, I dont let them start using a WYSIWYG app, I have them learn by hand in a text editor.


Command line in the classroom (1)

WerewolfOfVulcan (320426) | more than 10 years ago | (#8508942)

I teach C++ (and other goodies) at the local community college. The first night of class, I have the students ssh into a FreeBSD server and introduce them to the command line. They have cheat sheets for common commands both at the command line and in Jed. By the end of that first class, they've learned enough about FreeBSD to be able to write and compile code. I also give them instructions for using PuTTY to connect to the server from home, so they're working in the exact same environment that we were using in the classroom. I'm going to do the same thing for PHP and MySQL in the fall.
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