On Using the Linux Command Line

In this article, I’ll be using the terms “terminal” and “command line” interchangeably. Yeah, I know they’re different… but they’re not different enough to make a difference to the audience I’m addressing: the non-professional, hobbyist computer user. They both mean that prompt after which you’re gonna type your commands – like the C:\ prompt in Windows.

If you dabble in Linux, like I do (in case you haven’t guessed, I’m not a Linux guru, by any means!), you run across blog posts and other articles singing the praises of performing computer operations from the terminal, with the implication that using a graphical window (or “Graphical User Interface”, or “gui”) is for illiterates and those of shady moral intent. The argument usually boils down to one of two:

  • The terminal is much more flexible! You can do things from the terminal that no graphical interface, no “Explorer”-like window, will ever let you do!
  • The terminal is much more secure! There are so many processes going on with the graphical interface that you have no idea what you might be letting loose!

You know what? Both of those things are probably true. But neither one carries a lot of weight with me. Because while the terminal IS flexible, and there ARE a lot of things you can do from the command line, they are only useful if you have some idea of what you want to do, and if you can remember the confusing and subtly-different commands that bring about your desired results. And while the terminal is, indeed, more secure, I think most users know enough not to leave a root terminal open very long, or do anything more than the most basic stuff in it (and if they don’t, I’m sure they soon discover, possibly with the eyes of chagrin, the consequences of these actions!).

We not-power-users use the graphical interface because it allows us to check out the stuff we want to check, or make the changes we need, without having to remember commands or do a lot of typing. A fast, accurate typist can compute rings around me; I have no doubt, and I bow to his or her prowess. But I’m not going to learn all that stuff, and I don’t have the typing skills to do it quickly anyway.

There is one place where the command line IS that fastest, most accurate way of completing an action, and for it I am always grateful. It is in the case where some genial genius has posted the exact instructions for some task I want to perform… and I can copy-and-paste each precise instruction into the next line of the terminal. I can Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V with the best of ’em, and when I do, boy, HOWDY can I go fast!

An example of this is the raft of “NN things to do after you’ve upgraded your Ubuntu installation” posts that proliferate every April and October. Many of these folks include the code to type into the terminal. I am only too happy to paste that in and go – and I’m sure it’s much faster than, for example, using the Synaptic Package Manager to go get all those programs individually (or even all at once!).

So command line? Terminal? GUI? I use ’em all, as it suits me – and I’m not about to change to join some elite cadre of power-users, on whose level I don’t really belong.


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