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The Return of Command Line Interfaces

I just finished reading Neal Stephenson's ode to Linux called In the beginning...was the command line. It's an interesting, if dated (written circa 1999) and idiosyncratic read; I doubt few people would be willing to give up their UI to return to a purely command line interface, no matter how much control and power it gave them.

And yet, command lines still have their place. When I worked for Datek, we had an alternative to filling out an online form to trade stocks for active/day traders. It was just a small pop-up box with a text field--not even a submit button--that you could type an order string into (e.g. b100AMZN15.51), hit enter and have the oder execute. Yes, users had to learn the grammar of the command string, but that small portion of traders who did so and used it, loved it.

Likewise, recently command lines seem to be making a comeback thanks to a growing number of power users on the web platform. Sugardcodes and YubNub (WTF is it with these names? gah!) both offer command line interfaces to YouTube, ESPN, Wikipedia, Amazon, etc. I've been playing around with YubNub's plugin for Firefox and it's nifty and not hard to learn at all. (There's a crazy number of ways to access YubNub.)AIM bots like moviefone and SmarterChild are command line interfaces with hints of personality and the bonus of being available in a window many people always have open anyway: the IM buddy window.

Where I think we'll see a lot of use from command lines is in mobile devices, where screen real estate and entering full URLs is a real issue. (Why type in http://www.google.com when you can just type g?) YubNub is already doing this. Once can also imagine them being used for things like kiosks and internet appliances, where typing URLs without a keyboard would be tedious.

With all the cool new interaction paradigms out there, we shouldn't forget the humble command line.

Originally posted at Wednesday, January 3, 2007 | Comments (3) | Trackback (0)

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