I have been a Macintosh user since before I can remember. I grew up with a Macintosh 512K in the house, and I would like to say I knew how to use a mouse before I could walk or run. To put it simply I never knew a time before the Mac OS and the graphical user interface existed. I have struggled with DOS, I have grappled with Linux, but I have never felt as comfortable using the command line as I am using the GUI. The terminal’s dominance ended before my time.
As a geek I respect the power, portability, and customization the command line brings personal computing. And as a visually impaired computer user, I admire the resolution independence offered by an interface with no bitmap graphics. I don’t feel inhibited being tied to the GUI, but I want to expand my horizons into new areas of computing that don’t require a mouse or bitmapped graphics to get around.
The GUI is hard to escape. It has replaced the keyboard commands on our desktops, laptops, and mobile phones. To my knowledge there is no such thing as a tablet with a command line only interface. As the web has gained popularity it has become harder and harder to immerse oneself in a command line only computing experience. And yet that is what I feel I must do if I am going to learn my way around a system without windows, menus, icons, and drag and drop.
My first step is picking a system I can use to ease myself into using only the command line. Mac OS X may be built upon UNIX underpinnings, but many of the capabilities that make it the world’s most advanced operating system are only accessible with a mouse and bitmap graphics. (It is also too easy to cheat using the graphical parts of Mac OS X.) No, what I want is a system that is 100% controllable from the keyboard. That is why I am choosing Linux to host my command line experiment.
Linux is an obvious choice to anyone looking to immerse themselves in a command line only computing experience. For starters it runs on almost anything. It is highly documented, with commands for everything from administering user permissions, and managing the file system; to adjusting wifi networking, and laptop power settings. It also comes with an always improving GUI that can be turned on in a moments notice in case I get stuck, or want to surf the web with pictures like everyone else. Most importantly I am choosing Linux as my command line only experience because it will make me more familiar with an operating system I have only dabbled with in the past.
My plan is to start out slowly. Install Ubuntu, a comfortable Linux distro, and configure basic settings like power management and networking using the GUI before booting into the command line full time. If I get stuck I know there is always an easy to use GUI around the corner. And unlike Arch, or other pro distributions I have used in the past, I know that Ubuntu works with the hardware I want to use without major modifications. (It is also the basis of Athena, the Linux distro provided and supported by my employer MIT.)
I don’t know when or if I will report back on my progress, but I do know that diving into the Linux command line full time will make me a stronger computer user long term, and give me greater experience with an operating system I have only toyed with in the past. Who knows, with the way Mac OS is headed maybe I will switch to Linux full time before iOS over simplifies the operating system I have been using since before I knew anything else.