Problems Don't Always Need Command-line Solutions

October 8th, 2010 by Jacob Barkdull

We see it all the time, someone straying from one distribution or another because you "have to use the command-line". I've even heard that in person, I've heard it too many times. So, I looked around to see what may be causing this impression, and sure enough it didn't take long to find.

Simply browsing Ubuntu Forums I would get the impression that Ubuntu doesn't have any graphical way to configure the system if I didn't know any better. From updating the system to changing the window control buttons placement, everything is explained in commands. Yes, eventually someone explains how to accomplish the same thing graphically, but this sometimes only happens after the user asks how to do it graphically.

Part of the reason this happens is because more experienced users prefer to perform some tasks from the terminal because it's faster, more efficient (especially over a network), easier (believe it or not), because they work without a graphical user interface, or for all of these reasons.

To be fair, I am one of those users.

The "command-line" is the most powerful way to control a computer. It has existed since the beginning of computer operating systems (in fact it was all we had at one point) and it will not be disappearing anytime soon. It's even making a comeback in the windows world with Microsoft "Power Shell" which is still inferior to BASH.

The situation has improved over the years, and while I believe newer users are primarily responsible, some more experienced users have figured out that in order for the "command-line-based system" impression to disappear we all need to adjust to explaining things like we would to our grandmas.

So instead of:

apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

We need to explain the same thing like this:

  1. First click on "System" near the top left corner of the screen
  2. Then click on "Administration" then click "Update Manager"
  3. Let it load and once it's done click on "Check"
  4. Let it load and once it's done select what software you want updated
  5. If you don't know what you want updated just select them all
  6. Once you're done click on "Install Updates"

It's longer, it looks more complicated, but this is what people are used to. It's sad, but it's true.

We need to somehow let the old tutorials, the old solutions, and all the commands, disappear, and let the new, easy to understand information replace it. Users shouldn't be finding and using information that's only relevant on Debian Etch or Ubuntu Dapper Drake.

At the same time while GUIs have generally been very much the same for years (GNOME's had this layout almost since the start) we do have new ones, and KDE almost looks and behaves completely different, so we do have similar complications with GUIs as well, but the "command-line" tutorials are even on Ubuntu's own documentation/FAQs and this should particularly be an easy problem to fix because Ubuntu's docs only need graphical solutions for GNOME, Kubuntu's docs only need graphical solutions for KDE, Xubuntu's docs only need graphical solutions for Xfce, and so on.

I use Ubuntu as an example because it's generally considered the "the distribution for noobs", but in this regard they explain solutions no better than Debian or Red Hat. So basically, we should never mention the "command-line" if there's a way to do the same thing graphically.

As much as that may hurt our individual geek/nerd reputation, it is one of the things that needs to be done for our favorite operating system to succeed on the desktop.


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