Designing Towards The User

Any Systems Administrator who hasn’t heard of Tom Limoncelli should probably do some reading. His latest blog post ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ or ‘Sysadmins at the Keyboard’? over at Everything Sysadmin talks about how sometimes the time spent on designing a product or interface could have been better spent if the organization had just spoken to the people who will actually be *using* the systems.

Those of us that actually do the administering of systems and “grew up” without the GUI for the most part, feel more comfortable in the command line environment. Even when I have to fix something in Windows as simple as networking, the first thing I do is open up a command terminal and type ipconfig /renew. All the time that Microsoft spent developing the end user networking GUI was for nothing when dealing with a user like me. But then again, most users that use Windows aren’t like me. And the time Microsoft spent creating the interface was well spent.

The issues come in when someone like Cisco spends hundreds of thousands of dollars writing interfaces for something like the ASAs (which is actually an excellent GUI as far as GUIs go) and most people who deal with ASAs use the command line. I do most of my Cisco work directly using the command line within IOS. All the *nix machines I administer (which is actually quite a few more than I would like to think about at times), I don’t install any of the GUIs. I do everything via the trusty old command line and I know a lot of others do the same.

Even taking this so far as the development world. Even when I write code, I do so using vim on the command line and not an overkill IDE like Eclipse. Even the long time developers and engineers at my company use the command line when given the opportunity. Now this isn’t to say that GUIs don’t have their place, since they certainly do make some tasks, easier, faster, etc. But the fact remains that companies like Cisco will make these GUIs that costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop/test/deploy/maintain, when the majority of the people that use it usually just want a solid debugging tool where they don’t have to keep clicking over and over (as Tom notes).

  • Harry Walter

    I do all my development in Vim and only ever use the command line for unix admin tasks. I find it faster, more efficient and with windows you can see what it’s doing rather than what it tells you it’s doing.

  • eric

    @Harry That’s basically the point I am driving home is that if the primary user of the software (in this case the admin) spends most of their time on the command line, why would an organization want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on developing a GUI. It would likely be in their best interest to develop better command line tools. This is a very specific “Know Your Audience” reference.