Thursday, May 04, 2006

In the beginning...was the command line

All points blog on Google OneBox

Google OneBox -in case you don't get the pun, as my friend Carl pointed out to me the other day that a lot of people don't get that refers to the one search box. I love the one box- and I love using it to do other stuff (define:, movie:"name" zipcode, weather:zipcode, etc.) I think about it as a simple command line.

I am big time in favor of having a command line in my apps. (An interactive scripting engine works too.)

What's so cool about a command line? First, read the book.
Commands are simple ways of doing complex things.
You get a history of what you did. (I have seen this other apps too where it keeps a record of your steps and lets you return to previous steps- that's one better!)
Batch files...

In so many cases it's faster to get things done with the command line/typing than clicking on stuff. I have gotten into a great habit of the double ctrl trick with the new Google Desktop to launch applications. It's so much faster than the start menu, which seems to require extra clicks with each iteration of the Windows OS.

The Google Desktop launcher has brought forward a capability that has made the command line more powerful: the relevance ranked list of suggestions that pops up as you type. Beyond saving time, this helps get past one of the greatest obstacles to command lines- not knowing what to type. One reason it's easier for novices to perform most operations in GUIs is that they can literally look for the option they want, they don't have to remember it.

There is a simple beauty in using the "tab" key to autocomplete, which I first saw in the bash shell- which is now in the windows CLI as well. But, what if it was more like code completion, where it popped up a list of the available options. With documentation. Really, this is what a menu based GUI is, but turned on its head to put the command line back in charge...

4 comments:

Matt Perry said...

Here, here! The command line rules. Schools need to start teaching students about some basic command-line tasks... It's a shame to see so many people repetitively point-and-click their way through tasks that could so easily be automated were it not for some irrational fear of a text window.

Matt M said...

I think command lines are like Zork. You have to be willing to try a bunch of stuff sometimes. You don't get a lot of prompting. There are some incredibly powerful command line tools. I love doing ruby stuff from the command line (which I have running inside Eclipse)...it's removing an unnecessary abstraction. Neal Stephenson calls it Metaphor Shear. I think he's going to have to rewrite his book now that Mac OS is based on BSD. I just reread bits of it the other day and it really made me want to switch back to Linux... Ubuntu is getting to be my most frequently used VM Ware session...

gavan said...
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Paul said...
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