Fwd: 'open' instead of 'xdg-open' for usability?

Robert Qualls robert at robertqualls.com
Mon Dec 16 07:21:46 PST 2013

Forwarded because I accidentally just replied to Simon.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Robert Qualls <robert at robertqualls.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 9:16 AM
Subject: Re: 'open' instead of 'xdg-open' for usability?
To: Simon McVittie <simon.mcvittie at collabora.co.uk>

The fact that one-word command names are such a limited resource means
that they shouldn't be used by obscure programs. Changing things in
this way would obviously break things, but I figure it would be worth
it in the end.

I think we need to have a group of people sit down and hammer out
something before we get too far into the future. Like, there should be
some kind of POSIX Command Standard or something that keeps track of
reserved keywords that do obvious things. Maybe there would eventually
be different PCSs for different languages / dialects...I dunno. I'm
not saying it would be trivial.

It might not seem like a big deal. When I was drawn to the shiny lie
of Ubuntu back in 2007, I mostly stayed away from the terminal
because I thought it was hard and complicated. And I wasn't far off. I
still have to google how to use tar to this day. The problem is that
people really need to know how to use this stuff. Every single Linux
installation I performed for friends or family or myself eventually
broke and required some command-line savvy. In the end, they all went
back to Windows and resumed the virus buffet (and so did I, until
giving Arch Linux a solid try). I absolutely refuse to believe that a
person could use any contemporary, open-source OS without needing the
terminal eventually. If the terminal makes sense and commands mostly
use intelligent defaults, then it can be a more inclusive experience
that isn't reserved for "hackers." People might be more inclined to
appreciate open-source OSes as platforms running ecosystems of
lego-like components instead of rigid user experiences that they are
accustomed to purchasing from corporations.

Random examples of other ideas that come to mind:
download <address>
compress / archive <file / directory> (ok, this one would be tricky
due to format changes)
package install <package name / filename>
search <keyword> (admittedly, there's already find and locate, which
aren't terrible)

I mean, I'm not proposing the idea of screwing with up anything that
depends on openvt through open, like, right this second, but I do
think that this is a real, pervasive problem that needs to be thought
about on a wide scale with the intent of making changes eventually.

On Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 6:22 AM, Simon McVittie
<simon.mcvittie at collabora.co.uk> wrote:
> On 16/12/13 10:03, Robert Qualls wrote:
>> Instead of making users google this, shouldn't we just have a universal
>> 'open' command on all freedesktop environments?
> Unfortunately, that name is already taken. On my Debian system:
> archetype% which open
> /bin/open
> archetype% dpkg -S /bin/open
> kbd: /bin/open
> archetype% ls -l /bin/open
> lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 6 Feb 17  2013 /bin/open -> openvt
> According to open(1), it was an old name for openvt, which is kept for
> compatibility.
> This is a nice illustration of how one-word command names are a limited
> resource. Similarly, view(1) is either an alias for see(1) (a precursor
> of xdg-open from Debian's mime-support, which is a precursor of the
> Freedesktop shared MIME database), or an alias for vi(1) which opens the
> file read-only; and node(1) is either the Node-JS programming language
> interpreter (now called node-js in Debian), or an amateur radio daemon
> (now renamed to ax25-node).
>> Imagine the following conversation:
>> new user: What command do i use to find files?
>> *nix veteran: Oh, that's easy. Use xzzy-locate.
>> new user: W-why not...just locate? That makes sense.
>> *nix veteran: 'Cause we're a bunch of nerds.
>> new user: oh.
> Welcome to the command line. If things must continue to work the way
> they always used to work (which is the case for command-line utilities,
> because they're "API" for scripts) then you can't avoid being exposed to
> 40 years of historical baggage; if this hypothetical new user is using a
> GUI, which they probably are, they won't run into this.
>> When I got the document open I saw that my viewer was evince. No
>> wonder I couldn't remember.
> I use evince too, but my GUI menus (in GNOME Shell) call it "Document
> Viewer". You should only have to see the internal name if you go looking
> for it (or if you use the command-line, where it's necessary to
> disambiguate between half a dozen possible document viewers).
>     S
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