Friday, May 27, 2005

Gui and Shell-whats the difference

Please don't be afraid-the second part on updates will come soon. But before, I would like to discuss something different that I saw over at the Linux Weeek in vienna.
You all know Linux. It is a pretty shell-based POSIX operating system. And you might have heard about zsh, the new "super shell". It offers autocompletition "menus", selection with enter, etc and reduces typing effort to a minimum. Impressuive when you compare it to the crude MS DOS command line on which countless Tam hours have been spent measuring and controlling stuff over RS232. Using windows was not possible due to the direct memory access technique used. And after all, nothing beats a command line for geekyness;-P
But this is the point! Where is the difference between a GUI and zsh? Both can be conterlled with the keyboard. While hackers will frown over Windows and KDE, they will be all bonkers about zsh. But in pronciple, these two tools are all the same. The one displays in XGA natively, the other one can be displayed in XGA. The one can be controlled with cursors, and so can be the other. The one offers easy access to options-and so does the other. In case you haven't tried zsh yet, it even allows you to list program options in a wizard while typing.
Overall, this shows a thing that many developers underestimate. The so-called Market Myth/dogma. If many users beleive x, no matwer how mad it is, it will be hard to convince them. You will have to adjust or you will die.
Just look at extremists in the real world... . What do you think?


Blogger piyo said...

It's great that Tam Hanna's Palm OS is mentioning Zsh, my favorite shell. It indeed is built with easy interactivity in mind. (The only gripe I have is that it doesn't work so well with Unicode.)

However I don't understand the point of this post. GUI and shell are different, though they have similarities that warrant a comparison. GUIs give you a lot of information without too much interactivity, simply because there are more units of information (pixels vs characters). This is the strength of GUIs.

However the common complaint with GUIs is the level of control. Most "geeks" revel in the expressive power of a tool it bestows on the user, and GUIs by themselves lack this power. Sure you can control it by keyboard, and it shows options (which allow to remember them on sight with visual cues, instead of forced memory recall). But how do you automate it? How can you overcome the inherent modality of a GUI?

(Aside: Automation can come in the form of an Expect script for Unix or you can use this free scriptable GUI tool for Windows called UWSC:


I believe "shell apps" increase the programmatic expressiveness of the user and "GUI apps" need some kind of script glue (either built-in to the program (GIMP) or provided by another program (zsh, expect)) to match that power. That is why "developers" correctly underestimate the GUI, it is not expressive enough.

What we have to remember here is approach of the "Unix way" of making small tools. It's the perogative of the user to combine them, either by using a script, typing them in, or building another app on top of it. The point is not making the time effective when touching or handling the computer. Both GUI and shell can do that. It is making the time effective when not touching the computer at all. In other words, can it do what I say even when I'm not there?

1:48 AM  
Blogger piyo said...

The english version of UWSC can be found here:

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