Why Do So Many Linux Users Prefer the Command Line to a GUI?

Why do so many Linux users prefer CLI over GUI? I came across some helpful contributions the last time I followed this question on Reddit like:

For the same reason I prefer talking to pointing and grunting. It flows so well and gives good feedback.

It’s not snark. It’s poetically accurate. You simply cannot fit every option for a command line utility on a 2-d plane. Just thinking about how crazy a GUI interface to GNU find would be.

I work with GUI apps more often than I do with the CLI but it is how I do my most important dev tasks. The command line interface arguably has a steep learning curve but once you get the hang of it you will love it because it will become second nature.

Here are the most universal reasons I think many Linux users prefer the command line interface.

1. Distraction free

My first favorite thing about the CLI is its distraction-free interface. Granted, the default black and white can be intimidating the first couple of times but you see the blessing that it is once you get a hang of it.

At all times the interface displays only information that is necessary to your current project and any other info is a number of keystrokes away. This way, you stay focused on the important things.

2. More Verbose

Think about it – it’s almost impossible to fit every command line option into a GUI option pane. Text editors and IDE’s (among other complex apps) manage to put various options into toolbars and hidden layouts after aeon of programming but more feature options are added over time – which when called, invoke commands in the background.

If you’ve ever built a GUI app before you would know that every option you see in the app window is tied to a command that runs in the background. In fact, before features are implemented as GUI options, the CLI aspect is sorted out first. Owing to this fact, the CLI will always be more verbose in terms of option sets and usability.

3. Requires Less Storage Space

This one is more or less a no-brainer. Command line-based apps require less storage space because they lack the “flesh” that GUI apps have, no matter how lightweight they are.

This means that if storage space is an issue for you then you are better off using CLI-based apps without the worry of losing productivity. And this leads to my next point;

4. Enhances Productivity

Working in a distraction-free mode already moves productivity up a notch and the fact that you’re working with just your keyboard most of the time improves both your workflow and morale.

A developer friend told me once, “the less often you touch your mouse while working, the more productive you will be“. It is, therefore, no wonder why master programmers prefer to use CLI-based editors e.g. Vim and Emacs.

5. The Most Memory Efficient

Working from the CLI is by far more memory-friendly than using a GUI app and a good sample scenario is Git. The top GUI apps for Git are memory-efficient enough but using Git directly from the command line is the most memory-friendly your operations can be.

6. Distro-agnostic

Command line apps seldom use different commands irrespective of which distro they’re running on but that is not usually the case with GUI apps across the GNU/Linux, macOS, and Windows platforms since the options can be rearranged to fit the platform’s UI scheme.

Within the Linux ecosystem, bash, for example, uses the same commands. As a system admin, all you need to do is learn bash and you should be able to use any other Linux distro.

There are other reasons why the CLI is more appealing to many Linux users including piping, automation via scripting, and overall speed.

Whether you use the command line more than you do GUI apps,¬†I’m sure you have ideas on why so many Linux users prefer to use it more than they use GUI apps. Share your opinion with us in the discussion section below.

Divine Okoi is a cybersecurity postgrad with a passion for the open-source community. With 700+ articles covering different topics in IT, you can always trust him to inform you about the coolest tech.

Each tutorial at GeeksMint is created by a team of experienced writers so that it meets our high-quality writing standards.

16 thoughts on “Why Do So Many Linux Users Prefer the Command Line to a GUI?”

  1. I must agree with Martin. For modern software engineers, we are working with dozens (if not hundreds) of different tools over the course of a year, and these change from year to year. There is no way for any one human to hold all of those commands in your head.

    You know how they say, “A picture is worth 1000 words”?
    That’s exactly what a decent GUI does…graphics and visual structure to organize and convey information far faster than pure text ever can….And thus speed up your understanding and productivity by 10x +.

    The people who “LOVE” CLI must work in legacy systems or in IT support, where they are managing and optimizing efficiency of largely the same systems year after year. In this use case, getting very comfortable with a few CLIs and scripting makes perfect sense.

    But for more general developers (especially with the speed of change in web development), CLIs can actually serve to slow every….single…step…of the process, as we have to stop and read documentation and browse multiple websites before getting the sequence of commands we need for each step. (Has anyone tried to work with with the 10,000+ separate commands of the AWS CLI? How long will it take you to get “comfortable” with them?)

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  2. Most of these arguments are stupid. Linux users pretend it has to be an EITHER OR but it can be a mixture of both. The reason Speedometers are a gauge and not text is because Humans are faster at working with visuals. As a dev you have to work with hundreds of different frameworks and nobody can remember all those commands and every day you need to learn new ones. I could save 1000s a year if I didn’t constantly have to look up some commands that an idiot hipster added to their newest framework.

    GUI IS FASTER. GUI PREVENTS/REDUCES ERRORS.

    You can have a gui with text boxes and drop downs that can be precise and easy to use. Click a button/list item to get to the right context menu, pick a command from a drop down and fill in a few variables and check option fields. If there are a lot of options you can use accordions to reduce clutter. ANY linux command could quickly be turned into a gui.

    Scripts and CLI is good for automating task but for every day use it is retarded. I don’t mind having to look up a few things when I am gonna automate a task and not have to look at it again but having to memorize the commands for 50+ frameworks and libraries is just retarded and inefficient.

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  3. Tell me what / which GUI you’re using.

    Now tell me the ‘man-page’ equivalent of where you can go to get any help for, or with, that GUI. For all you ‘Manga Comic Book’ readers, the ‘F1’ key (do you even know about the ‘F1’ key?) is not even close; I said “equivalent”. Go back to your Chromebooks.

    End of discussion.

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    • And how many times have I sought a “man” page, only to find that it is missing, or it has errors, or had to spend 20-30 minutes reading to understand the single thing I needed to do to take the next step?

      Nothing EVER takes 20-30 minutes to find in a GUI…in 5 minutes or less, it is either there, or it isn’t.

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  4. Getting to the nuts and bolts of Windows is best done from the command prompt. The average user does eveything in GUI and is usually leary of the black box. My experience shows that to be a good thing.

    Nothing can nuke a system quicker than the inexperienced poking around in the command prompt of Windows and the CLI of Linux.

    I am not a programmer (yet) but the command line is far quicker for just about eveything. I always update or install software from the command line. For me it is more convenient. The only time I stray from that is when I use synaptic.

    Plus, when I am around regular type users they think I really know what I am doing. If you can’t blind them with brilliance then baffle them with….you get the idea! Another great article!

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    • This is not because the windows command line is “better”…this is a design decision of Microsoft that certain functions are EXPLICITLY withheld from the GUI, and ONLY available via a command.

      This is not “to be helpful” or “increase productivity”, this is ONLY to try to prevent ignorant mistakes. Your average IT person could probably get things done just as quickly, or more so, if all of the needed functions were included in the GUI.

      To your other point…I’m glad that the fact you can memorize text commands makes you feel special, and enables you to “appear smart” or obfuscate to your colleagues. But I don’t think this helps support the point of a CLI being “better”.

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  5. The other reason to use the command line instead of a GUI is when the GUI hides everything useful.
    (read: Gnome)

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  6. I for one love the fact that with a solid understanding of bash, grep, gawk, sed, printf, tail, head, sort, uniq, pipes, curl, make, etc etc, I can code on just about any Linux platform no matter the distro, size, age, or device (think IoT) and I can make magic happen this way… xD

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  7. Your final point seemed to get near this idea, but I’m surprised you didn’t include how reproduceable it is. It’s not just that once you know Bash, you’re good on lots of distros, but also that it’s much easier to convey help with a few lines of commands than it is to do the same with GUIs. It makes learning and hacking much more easy when you can do complex actions by repeating a few commands you read about, and people can share complex configurations that simply work because it’s ubiquitous, as opposed to trying to interpret a 15 image slideshow or a ten minute YouTube video.

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    • I’d have said ‘repeatability’ rather than ‘reproducable’, but yes.

      One thing I find particularly useful is to be able to produce a set of commands for a change (ITIL) that can be tested independently and incorporated into the change paperwork so that when the change finally gets approved, it can be replayed without trying to remember everything from 6 months ago!

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  8. CLI produces way much less lag times than GUI, which relies heavily on video refresh rates and on video CPU and memory consumption. In a scenario where you are needed to do audit investigations involving GB-sized files, working solely with CLI will make you produce effective and meaningful results at least 2 times faster than working with GUIs.

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    • This response makes sense ONLY for log files or transaction files.

      For all other data types, which make up the majority of the quantity of information “Big Data” in the world today (images, video, audio, numeric and geospatial datasets, CAD…literally everything else), this response makes no sense at all. With all other data, you need some other application or toolset (always with graphics involved) to make sense of this data.

      I would guess that you work in IT and spend much of your time with textual log files.

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      • The article is entitled “Why Do So Many Linux Users Prefer the Command Line to a GUI?”. I did not take that into saying “…for all use cases and purposes“.

        Of course, GUI is more convenient, and has its place and space for many use cases, but the same can also be said of the CLI. It depends on the working context. I never said that, as a Linux user myself, I work ONLY or MOSTLY with CLI. I use CLI ONLY when it suits my specific purpose and use cases.

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        • @LoloyD,

          Thank you for your clarification. You’re absolutely right, and we appreciate your input. The title was not meant to imply that all Linux users exclusively prefer the command line over a graphical user interface (GUI).

          As you rightly pointed out, both the CLI and GUI have their merits and are valuable tools in the Linux ecosystem. It’s all about choosing the right tool for the job based on your specific needs and working context.

          Your perspective as a Linux user who utilizes both CLI and GUI as needed is a valuable reminder of the versatility of the Linux environment.

          Reply
  9. Well after 35 years working with Unix variants.. I guess it’s an old habit, and certainly way faster. Least for me.

    Reply

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