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As a Linux user, I’ve listened to my fair share of derision from users of other desktop operating systems, about the need to use the command-line on Linux. When confronted with such silliness, I’ve never been a Linux user who insists that you no longer need to use the command-line to use a Linux desktop. I’ve always been a user and supporter of the command-line. To me, the command-line interface has a solid home on the desktop. For many tasks it is far more efficient than the gui. To me, the command-line embodies the very purpose of computers – it allows you to do repetitive tasks very efficiently. The command-line excels at these and a GUI generally sucks at doing them.

This view may be a product of the time at which I adopted Linux. In the late 90′s there were a lot of things that could only be done in Linux on the command-line. I agree that things have changed and many functions that were command-line only, are now happily served by a GUI interface. However, I’ve never subscribed to the view that no matter what, the GUI > the command-line.

A common criticism of the command-line is that it is too hard to remember all the commands and switches for each command. My counter to this is that it’s no less hard to remember these, than it is to remember where in the menu hierarchy of apps like photoshop or outlook, a particular function is. By this argument, I’m not saying that the command-line should replace those apps; I’m simply saying that the strain on a users memory is not dissimilar between the two interfaces. However, the net result is that a lot of computer users simply never experience the joys of using the command-line.

siriThis is where Siri comes into the picture. If the command-line is so damn useful, why aren’t more people using it? I think there are few answers. The main one being that most computer users are unaware that a command-line interface exists on their computer. Second, those who have used a command-line, have probably only had the misfortune to do it on MS-DOS, which is a very sad imitation of a command-line interface. The other reason is that the command-line isn’t cool; it’s not shiny, it’s not animated, it’s not 3D, it’s text. Text isn’t cool.

Then along comes Apple’s Siri. Siri is a command-line interface that’s cool. We know it’s cool, because it’s made by Apple. But do we know it’s a command-line interface? In my view it is. The input method maybe by voice command, but the concept is still the same. Enter a command; generate output. The only real difference between the command-line and Siri, is the input method.

So if it’s a command-line interface, where are the complaints about having to memorise commands? I doubt you’ll find many Apple acolytes complaining about the need to remember “arcane” commands and switches. They’ll argue that Siri accepts natural language commands, and therefore remembering the commands is a lot simpler. However, a quick search on google shows a number of sites dedicated to listing useful commands and variants to operate Siri. Based on these lists, there is clearly a need to document acceptable syntax for entering commands into the Siri interface. Straying from the accepted Syntax will produce errors, or incorrect results – just like the command-line. So memorising the particular commands for doing things is an essential element of the interface. However, Siri doesn’t have the scope of the command-line on Linux, so there aren’t as many commands to remember.

But all of that being said, the simple point is, Siri makes the command-line cool. So all the old-school geeks who understand and enjoy the power of the command-line can feel vindicated. As someone erudite once said, “copying is the sincerest form of flattery”. Apple, thanks for flattering the command-line, and thanks for introducing a whole generation of users to the joys of command-line computing.

2 Comments
  1. Nice story but it doesn’t make sense at all!
    Giving/accepting commands doesn’t automatically make something a CLI.
    Do I use a CLI when I ask my wife to make me a sandwich?

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