A week ago I published a boring little post on this blog about the command line and the average user. The essence of it was that non-geeks considering switching to Linux shouldn’t even be shown the command line, as it may scare them away. Much to my surprise, that post got a lot of attention.
Tuxmachines.org picked up the post and Free Software Daily linked to it shortly after that. Jarred, a friend and long-time reader, confessed on his own blog that he was a “reformed command line snob.” A couple of days later someone shared a link to my post on reddit, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Traffic to the post when from one hit every five minutes to one every minute. On Saturday I was getting up to two hits on the post per minute at the peak. I’ve also turned up discussions including a link to my dull post about the CLI and new users on a Polish forum, an Arch Linux forum thread and on Twitter as well as in connection with a Spanish-language post that seems to be saying roughly the same thing as I said.
Not long ago I wrote about problems getting the Android live CD to work. That post also got way more attention than I felt it deserved, and I said as much on my Facebook status. One of my brothers replied that I must have “struck a nerve.” I guess so. It looks like it has happened again.
Frankly, I was surprised that so many people seem to think that all Linux users should be expected to learn to use the command line. If this is the case, then how can we expect Linux to be widely-adopted? Perhaps that’s the key: some people don’t want Linux to become popular. For years it’s been a geek OS, something for tech savvy insiders to play with, but not for the faint of heart or soft of mind. If people can use Linux without ever even seeing the command line, as they typically are able to do with Macs and Windows PCs, it will no longer be an insider’s OS, the territory of true geeks.
Am I wrong?
Now, be sure to understand me on two points. First, I love using the command line. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m getting there. I can download software and make basic modifications to the system with it, and I am learning some basic programming. Second, even if the command line becomes unnecessary for the “average user,” it will still be available to and useful for the advanced computer user. Look at any Mac computer and you’ll find the terminal. Most Mac users never touch it, but programmers and sysadmins do.
What I’m saying is that I’m not calling for the abolition of the command line. Rather, I’m advising those who want to “sell” regular folks on GNU/Linux to avoid showing the command line to them at all. Maybe later it will be called for, but not in the beginning. Perhaps never. It’s okay though. You can still “get your geek on” with Linux.