Why You Should Go Commando!

Click, drag, drop, move, scroll. We’ve all got used to using a mouse to talk to our PC’s. The command-line interface seems primitive and obsolete sometimes, useful for technical stuff, but not really part of the everyday use of a PC.

Not to me. I love it. I actually think using words and logic is less primitive than pointing at pictures. That’s not the main reason why I like the command line, though.

I also am well aware that command line interfaces are more powerful. I know my way around a Unix shell-script, a DOS command batch file, and a Powershell applet, so I know it’s amazing for automation. That’s not why either!

I remember a conversation with my Gran once. About the difference between radio and television. As a child, she said, she used to sit around the radio with her family and listen to the programs. She said it was better than TV. Her reason why? The picture’s better.

I’ve heard similar things about other media comparisons, too. Do you prefer books because they have “better special effects” than movies? I’m the same.

When I was a kid, there was a kind of computer game based entirely in text.

“You are in the forest,” it would say. “There are exits north, south, east, and west. There is a troll here.” Upon which you would type “Kill dwarf”, or “Go north” or whatever. Sometimes it could get pretty evocative.

“You are in the catacombs. Ghostly voices echo through the walls…” I loved it. When people asked me what was so good about those games, I would smugly reply:

“The graphics are better.”

I still think of those games as a ground-breaking new form of novel, rather than a primitive video game, similar to the books I had which said things like:

“To escape through the window, turn to page 247, to escape through the door, turn to page 12. To wait for the gang to return, turn to page 95.”

The first computers I used seriously were Acorn Electron and Acorn BBC, DOS PC (called IBM compatible in those days) and UNIX. These all had text-based interfaces. Of course, I was right at home in all of them.

Being in a command-line environment was like being lost in the adventure all over again:

“You are in your home directory. You can go ‘up’,’documents’, or ‘misc’. There is a file here.”

The human imagination is a powerful thing. Well, for me, anyway. When I listen to The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio play, I see things in my head that no TV costume expert could do. When I read a book, I’m there. I smell the smells, feel the tensions and live the experience.

In fact, the more you leave to the imagination, the better the experience becomes.

Then DOS became Windows. And the Acorn BBC turned into the Archimedes and A4000 with a mouse and WIMP interface (do the kids still call it that?)

It wasn’t the same. All my imagination of what it “felt” like to be in a directory was gone. Replaced by 8-bit windowpanes and icons. Rubbish. Before, being in my home directory felt like being home. Now it feels like being in a home. Like in the phrase “retirement home”, where everything is impersonal, carries no emotional attachment and is generically decorated.

As a bit of a Linux hobbyist, I understand the command line is more fundamental and powerful than the GUI. As a Windows user, I appreciate Powershell and Command.exe. I also know that Windows and Unix/Linux desktops have come a long way since the 80’s. My personal reasons for loving the command line and shamelessly proselytising it goes beyond power-using and scripting abilities.

The graphics are simply better.