Take this GUI and shove it

In many cases, a command-line interface makes life easier than some fancy GUI. Here's why

A few weeks ago, I posted a bit of advice for VMware amid speculation that the leading virtualization company might purchase Suse Linux from Novell. (As in: Don't do it.) Since then, I've taken hits in comments and in email, mostly in reponse to my criticism of the YaST tool that serves as Suse's central management console.

Plenty of people commented that if you don't like YaST, you don't have to use it, which, while technically true, doesn't accurately reflect the problems you may encounter if you use YaST alongside traditional shell management.

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Also, YaST is one of the primary differences between Suse and other Linux distributions. If I'm going to toss YaST, why wouldn't I just use CentOS or RHEL or any number of other distributions? After all, what differentiates one distro from another in the server space? Management tools, the software update tools, directory paths, and the choice of default packages. After that, it's all just Linux.

Even though I singled out YaST, I find nearly all GUI management tools for network devices and servers more trouble than they're worth -- except on Windows, where there generally isn't a choice. Even there I'll head for the CLI (command-line interface) for many tasks.

This preference isn't techno-codgerism, it's based on the reality of day-to-day network and server administration.

Think back 15 years or so to the four main players that were producing routers and switches: Cisco, 3Com, Nortel, and Cabletron. Of those four, only Cisco consistently maintained a CLI-based management framework, while the others offered text menus to configure their gear. Some also included a crippled CLI shell, but they were all pushing their ease-of-use over Cisco's comparatively obscure CLI. Of those four companies, only Cisco thrived while the others either failed completely or have been marginalized.

Also, in 1996, two new networking companies were founded: Extreme Networks and Juniper Networks. Both companies made the CLI the administration tool of choice, and both companies are still around and doing well.

Of course, many different factors led to that Darwinian triumph, but the fact of the matter is that most high-end network architects and admins cannot stand menuing interfaces on network gear. It makes just about everything harder by trying to make a few things easier, and for many like me, that's a nonstarter.

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