What You Said: Do You Use the Command Line?

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By Jason Fitzpatrick on June 24th, 2011


Earlier this week we asked you to sound off with your love (or lack there of) for the command line. You sounded off in force and now we’re back with a comment roundup.

It turns out you all pretty much love the command line with that love ranging from not even liking Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs) to using the command line to get serious work done but having a long standing affair with your OS’s GUI.

Many of you lamented the poor command line implementation in Windows—especially after you’d had experience with other operation systems. Mike writes:

Of course. Some things are easier that was. Like ping and ipconfig. With a strong Unix background I still write and use batch files. It would be nice is the command line included more nice things like grep, sleep, touch. Maybe, someday, Windows will mature into a full OS.

Ouch. Chris quickly followed this comment with a way you can get all that command line goodness in Windows:

After using Linux for some years I started missing all the power of Bash, Perl and the simple tools like base64, gzip, dd in Windows. Now I have Cygwin installed on all of my Windows computers and use Bash for lots of stuff; finding files (find!!!), editing (vim), renaming and even git.

Even native Windows users who weren’t trying to emulate the expanded functionality you find with the Linux command line found plenty of useful things to do with it. Merlin writes:

I often use it. There just are things that are easier done with the command line. And I use batch/command files also. To install some programs with different options without having to go through all the clicking. A preconfigured install so to speak. Most installs have the possibility to work with command line parameters, so I put them in a batch file and run that to install the program on multiple PC’s. Saves me a lot of clicking.

Brodiemac highlights how command line work is becoming something of a lost art and why it’s still relevant even for Windows users:

If you want to automate your Windows 7 deployments, you need to know command line for ImageX, sysprep and diskpart. I’ve worked side-by-side with Engineering grads from RPI who couldn’t do any of these while I ran typed circles around them with my lowly associated degree and 30 years experience with the command line.

Joe shares a reason many of our code-junkie friends have started living an entirely mouseless existence:

I use the command line because the mouse hurts me. My RSI issues are mouse-related, so I try to use it as little as possible, which means I stick to the keyboard as much as possible. So, keyboard shortcuts for GUI programs rule the day.

Besides that, the CLI is much more powerful than most GUI’s for things that I do, which is very programming-centric. You can’t beat “ps -ef | grep java | grep -v grep | wc -l” or “ant clean dompile deployhv deployrvm javadoc” with a GUI.

Alternatives for GUI programs are useful, too, like Emacs dired instead of Windows Explorer or Nautilus. Emacs is very good at replacing lots of GUI programs for me.

Of course, when it comes to creating Word docs or Spreadsheets, you need a GUI.

It would be remiss of us to not include a sample from the small pool of dissenters. Njitram writes:

Terminal is the main reason I refuse to use Linux. It’s fine for batch scripts and very short commands such as “make” or “ipconfig” but anything long should have a GUI. I know plenty of people don’t share my opinion but even more do. So there, that’s my view on things.

Dan echoes this sentiment:

As little as possible. I left DOS or Windows almost twenty years ago, and while I am still quite adept at using the CLI, I would prefer to do things on Windows GUI. And I can still create and run batch files without opening CMD. I played around a bit with Windows Powershell but decided it’s not for me.

On Linux the CLI/Terminal is still a necessary evil, though I try to avoid it. Given a choice, I’d rather use a GUI frontend than to meddle with the CLI.

GUIs are pretty great. I think we can all acknowledge that without them computing simply wouldn’t be where it is today. Mass adoption of computing, the spread of the internet, the evolution of the web, all those things depended on lots of non-technical people seeing the computer in a way they could use and understand it.

We received 200+ responses to this Ask the Readers post; hit up this link to check them all out. Have a strong opinion about the command prompt one way or the other? It’s not too late to sound off in the comments.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/24/11
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