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Command line for novice users?

Philip comments on the bleeding edge technology in Ubuntu. Although most of the time I (more or less) agree with his posts/comments. I can't understand why he keeps insisting that the command line is the only real way of using [Unix|GNU/Linux|whatever flavor].

His opinion about the command line comes forward from time to time.  Although practical and efficient, in my opinion the command line is not usable for novice users.  Nor should they have to use it.

Most novice users do not want to learn how to use the command line.  They are not interested in it.  Explaining the advantages of the command line to them takes a lot of time and effort.   And pulling your hair out too.

I wonder if he ever has taken the time to work with people who didn't have any experience with the command line.   It is ever so difficult.  And it is even more difficult for people who do not speak English well.


It is the only efficient way of getting anything done from a computer. Not to mention the only unambiguous way. Clicking around wastes a lot of time and will *never* be as expressive as just asking for it.

The comment about "English" is a different discussion. I see your point, but I don't buy it. Computers happen to speak a language that looks a bit like English. That's just the way it is. Localization adds more room for confusion. It's just part of the game.

To answer your question: no. I do not deal with novice users. By choice. User space = problem space. I leave teaching to trained professionals. Instead of teaching jumping through hoops and frustrating clicking around, they should teach the command line.

We learned the command line, didn't we? Why are today's novice users any different from us? Why should they have their path to efficient and unambiguous communication with computers obstructed by fuzzy "userfriendliness" as produced by Ubuntu? They should be helped, not obstructed.

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I have to disagree here. The command line is easier to use and easier to learn than the gazillion different GUI's on $distro.

The problem is that most users come from Windows, which does not have a usable command line. If it had, then even novices would love it (because all their friends would be able to help them with it).

It is far easier to ssh and vi to a machine, than it is to setup vnc and start a GUI to change a setting somewhere in /etc/$application.conf. Yet this is what i see (ex-Windows people) do.

...i sound like a command line promoting zealot now...i'm not that extreme. It is just that *the* GUI is non-existant on $distro today. So *the* command line is an easy solution.


i meant 'disagree' with the blog, not with Philip's comment ;-)


Hmm, I think there are 2 different things:
- Command lines/simple textfile configuration files are great for support staff. If there's a problem, you can say: oh just enter . You can even send it via mail, chat or whatever. You can ask for the output of commands. Great.That's way more convenient than saying: right-click on the icon that look like a pair of scissors, then select the folder, go to the menu 'edit --> details' and check the box uh oh I forgot, but it's something like 'always use this format'.
- However, users don't like command lines. Period. Talk to anybody who just uses a computer to get his job done, and he/she doesn't like it. Argue what you want, the last thing they'll do is reading a manual and trying to remember a dozen of command line options. A program that is truly user-friendly should not require an end-user to look at manuals. Take e.g. adding users: I do this around once per month on a Unix box, but sorry: I don't feel the intention to look each time for 15 minutes at the man page just to know how the mkuser command should be used. Using a straightforward GUI program gets the job done in 2 minutes (which is more than an experienced sysadmin on the command line, but less if I would have to read the man page and execute the command myself).

It just depends on the tasks performed.

I agree with the ssh better than vnc in Paul’s comment it also illustrates where he’s coming from: a power user who wants to do (configuration)tasks on remote systems. This implies a knowledge of networking, the file system and Vi.

For many users the big blue E on the desktop is ‘the interwebs’. If you remove the ‘my documents’ shortcut, many of them have no idea where this folder is located on their filesystems. They’re ignorant, they want it to ‘just work’, they’re spoiled, but they’re users.

For them , the cli interface is a scene from lost and when confronted with it they start typing 4 8 15 16 23 42

Also, some people can’t even read fluent. Lot’s of people can’t read the English tutorials where all the CLI-kung-fu is explained.

So what to do with these people? Give them an firefox instead of the blue E, show then that this is the ‘interwebs’. Show them k3b, and tell’m how to copy the neighbors cd-collection.
Tell to hit the pidgin if they want to chat, amarok if they need tunes. And so on…

The keyword is "education". The users don't have to *like* it. Did we all like at school? Hell no. Did we have to learn it? Fuck yes. Why should it be any different with computers? Why do we cater to the terminally unwilling?

Why did this blog software eat half of a sentence in my previous comment?

If users can be trained that clicking on the big blue E will get them the interwebs then surely they can be trained that typing in firefox will have the same result?

The 'average user' (defined in this case as the mystical people who never need to configure or update their systems and just want the web) would need to know two or three commands. It's not like they'll be expected to write their own shell scripts.


it is apparent that you do not have many novice family members or friends that you help out.

Are we going to force individual users to use the command line ?
Should we make the command line a mandatory course at school ?

I hope not. For most of the work people use computers for, the command line is not appropriate. Surfing websites ? Sending mails ? Managing files ? Writing documents ? Most people prefer the multimedia world we are living in. With animated smileys if they like that. Why not ?

Sure, the technical people that work with computers professionally, they should at least have some basic knowledge about the commandline (a little birdy told me even the next Windows Server will have it, rejoice !).

Anyway, Philip's day-to-day work is very different from the average user that sees the computer as a tool. And in the average-user world, the command line has no purpose. Or at least should not have a purpose. That is the ultimate goal for most of the OSes that Philip dislikes...

Besides, I have yet to see the first mobile phone with a command line interface. Isn't the phone just a tool, like a computer is to the average user ?

Philip is, let's face it, an idiot. Being extremely vocal, especially towards newbies, slapping them around with man pages, is an easy way to get yourself promoted to 'super-user' in their eyes.

I still yet have to understand what his problem is with Ubuntu, and in general with every non-FreeBSD type of OS. I'm using Ubuntu, and always have a minimum of 6 terminals open. I'm not hindered by any clickety-click, or non-Unix ways that Ubuntu should imply on me.

True, Hardy isn't really polished (and I'm using an euphemism here), and the NVidia drivers crash my system, but hey - you can use the nv driver too. If you don't like compiz, Gnome or whatever, switch to another Window mgr. I thought Linux was all about choice.

Besides, other OSen have their gripes too. Use the one you like, and feel productive in. But don't enforce your choice upon others. I bet everyone's capable enough of sorting this out for themselves.

Kristof: If that is your definition of idiot, then I am glad to be an idiot. I have an opinion, and I feel that I have earned the right to that opinion. I don't think I am a "super user" however.

I would also like to point out, that much of my income is produced not on FreeBSD but on Linux. There are a number of things I dislike about Linux. Both inside and out, but particularly out, but it pays the bills. I have a vested interest in keeping it working, in other words.

Linux is indeed all about choice. Ubuntu makes choice difficult by hiding all the Unixy things that make "choice" under layers of experimentation and complexity. Sure, it might look pretty, but it doesn't work.

Dag: don't get me started on "surfing". I'll be the first to say that we should decommission and rethink HTTP. I'm not a user though. In fact, I'm an idiot, and that of course the sort of things idiots say.

If we follow Philip's point of view, we should expect from every car driver in the world that they know about the car engine before they can drive it.

We can't expect from every users/drivers to know about the command line/engine because the computer/car has become a common consumer good. Period.

Most people are simply not interested in knowing the guts of their computer, they just want to surf the web, send emails and exchange instant messages full of funny emoticons and sounds.

Seb: car analogies don't work. Every driver _should_ know about the engine in his car. Otherwise he's going to break it or at least cause it to wear out a lot quicker than it should.

But a car compares to a computer as a fish to a bicycle, so the analogy is always going to be flawed. "common consumer good" or not, if you're not willing to learn how it works, perhaps it's not for you.

OK, so the analogy doesn't work. In real life, how many really know about their engine ?

I'm not saying that you are incorrect in your statement, I agree everyone should know about their car or computer, the world would be a better place. In practice, this is just not possible.

I guess you must be really frustrated to live in this world :-/

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I wonder if he ever has taken the time to work with people who didn't have any experience with the command line. It is ever so difficult. And it is even more difficult for people who do not speak English well.

I couldn't resist commenting. Very well written!

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