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The Return of the Command Line

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By David Perera May 9, 2007

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More proof that everything old becomes new again: an article by Northwestern University design professor Don Norman on the future of computer and human interfaces. His prediction? The return of the command line.

Command lines all but disappeared from the popular (though not professional) computing world with the widespread diffusion in the 1980s and 1990s of graphical user interfaces. Why type when you could click and drag?

But command lines are already returning as a popular ways of interacting with data, Norman says. Search engines like Yahoo, MSN, etc., are developing ad hoc line commands to make their results more precise. (We’ve offered some tips on improving your Google results.)

“Even though these three services are called search engines, they are in fact becoming answer services controlled through their command line interfaces,” Norman writes.

Unlike old green screen lines, the syntax of new command lines is more naturalistic, and the underlying software more flexible and robust. Should a search engine not understand a command, Norman notes, “the system gracefully retreats from the status of answer service to that of search engine, often returning pages that are of direct relevance.”

(Hat tip: pasta and vinegar)

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