Dan rants: Unix Usability

On Wednesday I spent a whole lot of time getting a friend's Macintosh back up to (barely) running condition, and I just spent way too much time fruitlessly trying to help a cow-orker figure out some trivial Windows 98 problems.

It has become fashionable recently to rag on Unix usability again, to wonder whether usability issues are going to cause kernel forks or other such problems.

I say that anyone who needs to carry a handkerchief around to wipe the drool off their shoes should probably go right on using Windows, anyone smarter than that can probably benefit from learning the Unix user interface as it stands, right now. And if you can go to the bathroom by yourself, you're probably smart enough to do so.

But to go along with my unsubstantiated rant, an anecdote. Ages ago someone sent a list like the following to a company mailing list asking how many of these two letter commands installed on many Unix versions they could tell off the top of their head:

ar as at bc cb cc cp cu dc dd df du ed ex fx id ld ln lp ls m4 mt mv nl nm od on pg pr ps rm sh su tr ul vi wc

My response consisted of this image, icons of applications that were running on my Windows desktop when I got the e-mail:

Needless to say, I won, before I pointed out that on any of the above mentioned two letter command I could type "man ar" (or whatever) and get full instructions, whereas I had to jump through hoops and read tons of pages to figure out what each of those icons meant, even with their cutesy little roll-over text.

5,000 years developing written language and we're going back to heiroglyphs. Give me that new-fangled command line thingie any old day.

Friday, November 19th, 1999 danlyke@flutterby.com