Linux on the line: musings on the CLI / GUI flip-flop
Of course, I don’t know who VAXherds were to mock UNIX; as sensible as VMS commands appeared to be, they could all be abbreviated to four letters. This meant I didn’t have to waste valuable keystrokes on the ANALYZE command when typing in ANAL served perfectly. And let us not forget the VAX vacuum cleaner advertisements which proudly proclaimed “nothing sucks like a VAX.” Anyway, this is all moot; where’s VMS now? And do DECUS count their membership on two hands or just one?
Nevertheless, the point is UNIX – and, by the early ‘90’s, Torvalds spectacular Linux, putting power in the hands of the PC-buying public – was a command-line driven system. It used shells, or CLIs – command line interpreters. We wizards weaved wondrous works, with hands flying forth over the keyboard. We scoffed at the mouse-dependant Windows users – who frustrated us by their exasperating slow and painful speed. You could eat your own arm off in the time it took a Windows user to click in the username box and type, move to the password box, click and type, move to OK and click once more. “Just use tab and enter” we would think while smiling pleasantly.
Yet, all was not well: the WIMP revolution had begun. The average man on the street wanted to use their computer – not master it, but simply produce the outputs they had in mind. And fair enough, too. I’d certainly be lost if I had to know how my car worked. So, despite the coolness of having a free and powerful operating system, Linux was pegged as “an expert’s system.” The perception arose that it needed sheer arcane commands to be typed in and without this was not useful. The initially small driver base wouldn’t have helped matters much, but there’s no doubt whatsoever the requirement to execute ls –alf and ps –ejf steered away regular punters.
By contrast, Windows ’95 hit the stores and people were blown away by its solutions to problems which never existed in Linux anyway – like being freed from the 8.3 file name convention. It was Microsoft’s first GUI OS (Windows 3.1 being, of course, an application that ran on top of MS-DOS.)
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David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. Within two years, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Newcastle, as a UNIX systems manager. This was a crucial time for UNIX at the University with the advent of the World-Wide-Web and the decline of VMS. David moved on to a brief stint in consulting, before returning to the University as IT Manager in 1998. In 2001, he joined an international software company as Asia-Pacific troubleshooter, specialising in AIX, HP/UX, Solaris and database systems. Settling down in Newcastle, David then found niche roles delivering hard-core tech to the recruitment industry and presently is the Chief Information Officer for a national resources company where he particularly specialises in mergers and acquisitions and enterprise applications.