February 17, 2019

Rant Mode Equals One: The Mighty Fine (Command) Line

Celebrating a Year of Ranting

  • February 15, 2000
  • By Paul Ferris
Author's Note: This is a timely repeat of the first Rant Mode Equals One column. The first one was published in February 1999, and I thought it might be fitting to revisit a favorite subject.

This is far and away one of the most popular things I've ever published. The responses I received to this article ranged the full spectrum, but for the most part they were almost always in the affirmative, and, more often than not, emotional.

I've included some of my favorite responses at the end.

Before you scan this article, dear reader, please be advised: it's not for the squeamish. This article goes straight to the heart of the matter of Command Line versus Graphic User Interface (CLI vs GUI). This is a sensitive subject, and my view of it is subjectively on the sensitive side: I explain why at least one command line user, myself, feels so strongly about the matter.

It's not intended to sell anything to anybody, or convince the people who are sitting on the fence to jump over into command line land--it's preaching to the choir--and if it's not that it's yelling at the top of the lungs in anger. It's not the best form of advocacy. Rather, it's about as far in the opposite direction from good Linux advocacy as you can get.

You've been warned, now enjoy.

I'm sick and tired of reading reviews about one commonly mentioned aspect of Linux. The offending write-up usually goes something like this:

blah blah blah blah you are expected to use an arcane command line. Other than that Linux is so darn powerful blah blah blah blah arcane text configuration files blah blah blah dinosaur bones blah blah blah stone chisel blah blah blah cave men designed it blah blah blah.

Steven Levy even recently went as far as to call source code itself "arcane." Steve, what's the replacement for creating programs that's not arcane? Inquiring minds want to know!

I'm going to do something not so surprising to the people who know me personally. I'm going to defend it. I'm not ashamed of it, I actually like Linux's arcane command line. As a matter of fact, it's one of those crazy things that make Linux and any flavor of UNIX better than any operating system from the lamers in Redmond.

Don't get me wrong: Linux's GUI choices get better by the day, and there are plenty of them to choose from. Getting a nice GUI on top of Linux will make the masses love it. But they will love Linux in the long run because it actually works, and works dependably. They will love it because it's fast. They will love it because it doesn't obsolete their old hardware. But I'm also willing to bet that a small portion of them will discover a dirty little secret: The command line is a good thing!

I'm envisioning hoards of people meeting in rooms like alcoholics do when they go to AA meetings--only these people will be sitting around figuring out how to feed their addiction.

A lot is being implied by the people that make this criticism of Linux and its other UNIX brethren, FreeBSD, HP-UX, SCO, Solaris and a huge list of other quality products with--get this--arcane command lines!

Notice that none of the people writing these articles makes the point directly. They just mention it in passing like saying the word arcane totally explains their point. They don't even bother to explain why they think that the GUI is the end result, or the pinnacle of modern computing. Everybody just knows that it's superior.

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