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Thread: The terminal has its place on an online support forum

  1. #1
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    The terminal has its place on an online support forum

    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:
    • 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.
    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.

    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.

  2. #2
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    Re: The terminal has its place on an online support forum

    terminal is much easier, its easier for someone to copy/paste something and hit enter rather then going through 5 menus and entering something...etc
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  3. #3
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    Re: The terminal has its place on an online support forum

    I also didnt realize the copy paste method for a while and one of the things that made it difficult for me to figure out is that in terminal the commands arent ctrl-c and ctrl-v. This is the way I always cut and paste. Instead you have to user ctrl-alt-c and ctrl-alt-v.

    Also tab autocomplete is indispensable.
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    Re: The terminal has its place on an online support forum

    Also, don't forget that some users, like me, don't use typical setups (xmonad with terminal apps and Opera), but have knowledge on the system, but are not familiar with GNOME or KDE's menus.

    The terminal is the one thing we have in common, and my only real way of giving meaningful advise.

    It would be inappropriate for me to say "Press 'Ctrl + P' and type in 'firefox' and press enter to launch firefox" because most people aren't using xmonad or wmii on this forum. I would think it is equally inappropriate to demand GUI specific advise (unless of course, the question is about the GUI itself)

  5. #5
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    Re: The terminal has its place on an online support forum

    Quote Originally Posted by tamoneya View Post
    I also didnt realize the copy paste method for a while and one of the things that made it difficult for me to figure out is that in terminal the commands arent ctrl-c and ctrl-v. This is the way I always cut and paste. Instead you have to user ctrl-alt-c and ctrl-alt-v.
    Or you can just highlight and middle click

  6. #6
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    Re: The terminal has its place on an online support forum

    Quote Originally Posted by LaRoza View Post
    Also, don't forget that some users, like me, don't use typical setups (xmonad with terminal apps and Opera), but have knowledge on the system, but are not familiar with GNOME or KDE's menus.

    The terminal is the one thing we have in common, and my only real way of giving meaningful advise.

    It would be inappropriate for me to say "Press 'Ctrl + P' and type in 'firefox' and press enter to launch firefox" because most people aren't using xmonad or wmii on this forum. I would think it is equally inappropriate to demand GUI specific advise (unless of course, the question is about the GUI itself)
    Not only that, but many of us use other distros. While some things are very different (such as package management), the CLI still works pretty much the same way in both Arch and (X)ubuntu.

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