Thursday, June 30, 2011

Give Me Back My Command Line

PC-DOS was an early OS for personal computers ...
From a marketing perspective this BLOG is a disaster. I know this. Ideally It would be narrowly focused and I'd post consistently within established boundaries topic wise. If I were really ambitious I'd even try to figure out some under serviced topic area and focus there; that would be good marketing. Instead I'm all over the place. I'll talk about very esoteric and technical topics sometimes while delving into business or strategy at other times. Realistically the only person who would ever want to read this BLOG regularly is me. I don't think I'm going to change though. The real unifying theme behind all my posts is that I'm interested in and often passionate about the topics I explore. It's also the case that I've been writing in one form or another since my early teens. It's in my blood and I get itchy if I don't do it regularly so on with the show.

Most of us can remember MS-DOS. In case anyone reading this is too young to have lived through those days I'll very briefly explain what it is/was. Back before Windows Microsoft sold another operating system called DOS. Microsoft is the MS in MS-DOS. Since I said this would be a brief explanation I'll skip delving into the origins of DOS and simply say that there were no pretty icons or docks, just a screen with a prompt that you used to navigate around in your folders and launch applications. DOS is an example of a command line interface. Linux is a more modern/current one.

At this point I'll step back and say that the title of this entry is meant to be a metaphor. It's also an exaggeration. I'm really not interested in a return to the days before Graphical User Interfaces (GUI's) became common. What I do want to do is discuss the downsides of abstractions. GUI's like Windows and MacOS are good in that they hide some of the underlying details of what is going on which makes for a reduced learning curve. That's good because it helped bring computing to the masses and facilitated the creation of the world we live in today. But these abstractions do have a downside.

To use an analogy, it's kind of like the whole dark and light side of the force thing that Obi-Wan warned Luke about. The dark side is easier but it comes at a cost and I see that cost fairly frequently when I interact with tech savvy people in their early twenties and younger. They seldom seem to have the kind of grasp of the foundational technologies that my friends and I had at that age. We weren't smarter of course, we just lived in a world where you operated a lot closer to the bare metal. Given a choice most of us would have taken an easier path if it existed.

From a trouble shooting perspective having had that exposure to less refined technologies can be a real advantage at times since the point at which things become "magic" is much further down the rabbit hole for technical people of my generation.

To be fair, I've met and worked with a lot of really brilliant and capable people who are a decade or two younger than me. I'm not saying I'm inherently better because I have a bit of gray in my beard or I remember a time when FPU's were exotic and expensive add ons. I do think it gives me a bit of an advantage if I keep up with what is going on today and I think this is true of anyone who has both experience and up to date skills.

I suspect that thirty years ago somebody about the age I am now made a post similar to this one to a BBS talking about how high level languages like C were ruining young people and how knowing assembly language and being able to design and build your own logic boards was really useful and important. Technology may change rapidly, but people not so much so.

Image via Wikipedia
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