Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Command Line for the Common Man: The Command Line Comeback

The need for a new command line interface ...

"Command line interfaces are bell-bottom out-of-fashion in the current Web 2.0 boom: I have yet to see an Ajax-enabled glass-reflected command prompt. Let's face it, command line interfaces are extinct to the masses. The GUI dealt the first blow, and now the Web has nailed to coffin on the old style text interface, and it seems to have been a boon for the user. I don't know if I can set up a printer on the command line, but I do know that I don't want to try.

But maybe that isn't the fault of command line interfaces in general. Maybe it's just the command lines we're used to. The hard part of learning Unix is memorizing command names as unfathomable as Stonehenge's origin. And even if I do remember the command name, remembering its options is like bobbing for apples in a cement mixer. I still have to ask my co-workers what flags are needed for untaring a gzipped file. "tar -xfvz". How could I forget?

If commands were memorable and their syntax forgiving, perhaps the command line wouldn't be going the way of the punch card. And perhaps they aren't. Perhaps, command lines are staged for a comeback.

In the run to abandon command line interfaces for the GUI, we've left behind the versatility of language.

Language has an immense amount of descriptive power. Pictionary is a game where you try to represent objects, places, and abstract thoughts in pictorial form. It's hard. There is no reverse game. Words can capture abstractions that pictures cannot.

The icons that Microsoft Word puts in its standard toolbar are a great example of graphics being used as a poor replacement for words. Can you figure out what each of these icons does?

I quizzed my coworkers at Humanized. Their success rate was an underwhelming 27%. You may do better, but that's not the point. You had to learn those icons as some point by mousing over them to see their tool tip. Those icons, no matter how self-evident Microsoft would like them to be, require a fallback of language to actually explain what they do."    (Continued via Humanized)    [Usability Resources]

Bash - Usability, User Interface Design



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