Memory and CLIs

CLIs are kinder to memory than GUIs. Two reasons:

  1. For the precise nature of computing tasks, it's easier to remember words (which we tend to remember precisely) than actions (which we tend to remember approximately). In computing, an incorrect memory is often worse than forgetting.

  2. It's easier to notate words than actions: you can ask a friend on the phone, you can write it down, or you can use a command-line history. These are cumulative: for example, on the phone you can write down a command quickly and the conversation is over; you don't need to take the other person's time while they walk you through a sequence of GUI actions which would have been complicated to write down.

[Inspired by watching Sissi use Dreamweaver, and trying to help her with it. She had forgotten how to do some things as the last time she had used it was a while ago, and neither Dreamweaver nor the Windows GUI has any memory let alone search function for actions. Contrast this with the ease with which I recover half-remembered commands from the bash history.]

Reuben Thomas, 12th June 2008

Last updated 2008/06/12