Do You Use the Command Line?

March 15, 2007

In the run to abandon command line interfaces for the GUI, we've left behind the versatility of language. ... [Imagine] using a drop-down menu to select the one web site you want to go to out of the 100 million web sites in existence. Ludicrous! How do we actually surf to a site? By typing an address into the address bar. When we want to go to the mail "application", we type in "gmail.com"; when we want to open a news "application", we type in "nytimes.com". On the old unix command lines, we would type type "pine" and "rn". See a similarity? The address bar is just a primitive command line. A command line that your grandmother can—and does—use.

Aza Raskin, Get Humanized

The command line is alive and well. It's simply become so sophisticated that most of us don't realize we're using it. Whether we're entering a URL into a browser address bar, taking advantage of autocomplete to look up a co-worker's name in an address book, or using Google to search the Web, the command line is hard at work. Most people wouldn't want it any other way.

To an end user, a command line is nothing more than a box to enter text. The magic happens when this text is processed. Aza Raskin's company Humanized uses this simple idea to build text-driven applications that save time and effort.

What would happen if the same thinking were applied to chemical informatics?

Image credit: Bartholomule - Flickr