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Striking a Balance Between the Command Line and GUIs

November 12, 2013

There's been some recent discussion and debate about the benefits of using the command line (or green screen, in IBM i parlance) as opposed to GUIs.

Despite the wishes of some, the green screen is still with us. Despite the perceptions of others, the GUI is more than just a pretty interface.

In my case, I've been doing more work that involves connecting external storage with IBM i systems. What's interesting to me is that many (though certainly not all) of the IBM i guys I've been dealing with strongly prefer the HMC GUI to the VIO server command line when they're configuring virtual networking and virtual storage. As more and more can be done straight from the HMC GUI, these folks find that they no longer need to login as padmin. Then they question why they should even bother to learn the commands. Finally, if they never need to touch VIOS after installation, they wonder why they should bother even learning it when they can just call some AIX guy like me if they ever need help.

I can see the merit in this argument, and my counterargument that it's good to know what's going on under the covers is generally met with a look of, "I'm just going to call you anyway, so let's talk about something else."

This really got me thinking. Just what makes certain people inclined to favor the command line in IBM i over GUIs (and vice versa)? I'm sure familiarity has something to do with it. I saw my first AS/400 command line and first logged in as QSECOFR in the late 1980s. Today I can logon and do practically everything I could do then in the exact same way. If I'd spent my whole career working on servers from AS/400 up to Power Systems with IBM i, why would I want to learn anything else?

By forcing folks like this to learn VIOS, we're taking them way out of their comfort zone into the crazy upside-down world of UNIX. This isn't just about IBM i people, though. Other UNIX pros can be driven batty when they're forced to use the korn shell with set –o vi and stty erase ^? and oem_setup_env and all of the other quirky nonsense many of us take for granted because we use it every day.

While I'm neither shocked nor surprised when someone tells me that they prefer the HMC GUI, it does make me pause and consider. Do IBM i professionals REALLY prefer the command line? The biggest command line backers I know hate mouses and will go to any length to avoid using them. Were this truly a command line vs. GUI argument, then IBM i guys would make the effort learn how to login as padmin just to get out of pointing and clicking on an HMC GUI.

Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe the IBM i pros do understand that GUIs have their advantages in certain situations. In general though, they still prefer to do things the way they've always done them.

I'm the same way. I'd rather login as padmin or root and get my work done on the command line. I find it faster, and I believe it gives me more control of and greater insight into what's going on with the configuration. But another part of it is that I've always preferred logging into command lines when administering any machine. It's what I've always done. The HMC GUI came along -- not to mention IBM Systems Director and myriad other tools to manage machines -- but I kept doing things the way I did them.

Is this because I'm resistant to change, or is it truly because I'm using the right tool for the job?

Posted November 12, 2013| Permalink

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