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© October 2005 Tony Lawrence
October 2005

I couldn't think of any better title than this to describe my reaction to Paul Murphy's "The Linux killer application" column.

First of all, no real Unix admins use telnet unless over a vpn or within a local network. But never mind that, Paul's real gripe is that he thinks the command line is what is dumb: according to Paul, the right way to administer a Unix machine is with the GUI or Webmin.

You know that feeling you get when somebody says something so dumb, so impossibly stupid that you just can't believe it? Well, maybe even Paul himself realizes that he's made a colossal fool of himself, because in the comments he claims that everyone has misunderstood him and he needs to rewrite the column. Sure, I can see that. For example, Paul says:

The right way, of course, is to use a Unix workstation with a big
screen - that's why Sun still sells a 550Mhz USII with a 21 inch
screen - and the GUI of your choice with remote X-windows.

You can see how people could misinterpret that, right? What he probably meant was that the command line has much more power for certain tasks than any GUI ever made, but that sometimes a GUI is more convenient. Which is why REAL Unix admins use the appropriate tool for the task at hand.

Ooops, guess not. In another comment, Paul says:

Ok, I guess I wasn't clear -using a character interface is dumb,
using a GUI is smart.

Using the WRONG tool is always dumb. If you don't understand that there are tasks that are nearly impossible without a command line, perhaps you need to think about why even Microsoft is adding a better shell.

Sometimes the GUI is the right choice, but not always.

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Wed Oct 5 09:46:16 2005: 1167   drag


This guy is freaking dumb, or maybe intentionally stupid.

Nobody even ships a modern Linux system with telnet enabled! They tend to ship with ssh by default (which I think may be a bit of a mistake in itself).

If you use a VPN then telnet is ok, of course. Then again often the easiest way to build a quick vpn is by using ssh anyways... (If your using Windows Putty.exe is a great thing.)

Gui's are nice with some things.. They are great at hiding complexity for fairly routine stuff (like, say, configuring a wifi card for a cafe' hotspot), but to create a GUI that equals what I do on a command line a person would have to create a application of such mind-boggling complexity that it would make a fully patched Windows XP look like MSDOS 2.0. It would be almost impossible to use with menus and wizards and this and that all over the place.

What a weirdo.

Wed Oct 5 09:53:48 2005: 1168   TonyLawrence

And assuming you built this monster, why would you want to use it? It would take you forever to do things you can do in a few keystrokes at the shell.

Gui's do save time for simple tasks. Dragging and dropping one file can be easier than typing out the "cp" command, but doing a more complex copy or rename or whatever can be extremely time consuming or even impossible in a gui.

Wed Oct 5 13:10:07 2005: 1171   bruceg2004

I always say the command line is better, since if an option is not clickable in the GUI, then you can always code the option yourself. Sure, I like using Webmin, in fact I install it on every *nix machine I admin. It is useful for some tasks, but for repetitive tasks, nothing beats the 'vi' configuration tool :-)

I guess he is another clickity, click admin. Those people scare me.

- Bruce Garlock

Wed Oct 5 13:17:05 2005: 1172   BigDUmbDinosaur

I can sum up my feelings about GUIs in four words: I don't like mice.

Wed Oct 19 08:46:45 2005: 1217   anonymous

I, for one, work with telnet, as I manage SAN/NAS system that can be manage only by telnet. don't pick on me, pick on the big companies that build it that way : IBM, EMC, NTAP...
I have few hundred system to manage and everytime I connect to one, I have to enter some silly passwd, mixed of letters and strange caracters. I also have about 15 differents commands simillar on all the machines that I use to control those system. I have been desesperatly looking for a telnet gui in which I would be able to customise buttons, so I would only have to click on it to enter my commands.
It might seems dumb, but beleive me, do that for few month from a console, and you will want to do the same. I have reflexion on windows but I prefert not use windows.

putty or other system are cool, but they only call an xterm that is front end for consoles, but none are configurable..

so to come back to the discution, I agree that a good admin (and any good person) use the right tools, been gui or console, but please, dont drop telnet and guis, they are usefull for some guys out there

Wed Oct 19 09:21:06 2005: 1218   TonyLawrence

I don't know what you are using for your base, but on most systems there is some tool to modify unused keys so that, for example, ALT-F3 sends some string.

The only reason we "pick on" telnet is because it is plain text authentication. If you have no other choice, there you are.

Wed Oct 19 23:52:17 2005: 1222   drag

The easy solution to password and command overkill is to keep a list of your passwords and commands in plain text like it notepad or something like that. Then use putty.exe or another terminal emulator that can handle copy and paste buffers (highlight to copy, right click to paste). Then copy then paste the passwords into the terminal when it asks for the password. The paste will be interpreted as individual key presses and that's that.

I've never tried to paste passwords into putty like that, but I think it should work. I paste commands and such all the time.

Now this is a very very very bad idea security-wise. Having a list of passwords under your user account is a recipe for disaster.. but since your using telnet your transmitting your passwords in plain text over whatever network your using anyways. Maybe stick the password list on a removable media or something like that.

With SSH they have multiple authentication methods aviable, some of which do away with complex passwords. Public/private keypairs are the most common way people use it and most of the time in conjunction with a passphrase. Something like "I luv tacos" or whatnot. As long as the private key remains secure then it's practically secure from all attacks.

But if your stuck with telnet, your stuck with telnet. Yell at your software vendors or something.


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