Some people have objected to the use of terminal commands in support. They have a point. There are lots of reasons to use point-and-click instructions when helping new users. Here are a few I can think of:
I am a major proponent of screenshot-based instructions. My Psychocats Ubuntu tutorials are very heavily screenshot-laden in order to be new-user-friendly. I also have 1,148 image attachments in the various posts I've made on these forums over the past three years. And, no, those haven't been "Look how cool my desktop is!" image attachments. Almost all of them, if not all of them, are screenshots to help new users understand instructions.
- There is already a stigma Linux carries that it is for programmers and geeks and not for everyday users. The terminal can be scary to users used to point-and-click and may just reinforce their stereotypes about Linux being hard to learn.
- It is harder to trick users into doing something terrible when giving point-and-click instructions. Until recently, this wasn't a real problem, but one or two malicious users did sneak on to our forums last year and start posting commands to new users that wiped out a lot of data or whole installations.
- If new users see that most tasks can be accomplished via the GUI (graphical user interface), they're far more likely to explore the menus themselves and not rely on other forum members to supply them with commands with every new task they want to perform.
Now, that said, I also believe that the terminal has its place on these support forums, and I strongly disagree with anyone who says we should never use the terminal to support new users.
Here are several reasons the terminal can be useful in supporting new users:
- Even though many new users (including me, three years ago) are scared of the terminal, it's a good thing for them to realize the terminal is not scary, that fear is an irrational one, and it never hurts to have another tool at your disposal. Seeing one or two terminal commands solve what would otherwise be a complicated problem is a good sell for the terminal.
- In terms of diagnosing problems (and, yes, these are support forums, so we tend to attract people experiencing problems), the terminal has it beat of the GUI, hands down. I'll take an error message about a segmentation fault over "I clicked the icon, and nothing happened" any day. When you're troubleshooting, the GUI rarely gives you any useful information. Terminal commands, however, help you easily diagnose and hopefully fix problems.
- Terminal commands need not be retyped. It took me several months to figure this out when I started using Ubuntu, but you can copy and paste commands into the terminal. Copying and pasting is often faster than retyping, lets users afraid of the terminal still use the mouse, and keeps new users from making mistakes while retyping commands.
- Interfaces change. What was once Software Properties changed to Software Sources. One user is using KDE; another is using Gnome. One user is using Gutsy Gibbon; another is using Hardy Heron. GUI instructions that worked six months ago may not work now. The nice thing about the terminal is its ability to be the grand unifier. The command I give you will work if you're using Fluxbuntu, Edubuntu, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Kubuntu, Xubuntu; or if you're using Feisty, Hardy, Gutsy, Dapper, Intrepid.
I'm just writing this all out now so the next time someone posts "Please stop using terminal commands when helping new users!" I can just link to this thread instead of trying to rearticulate my thoughts at the time.