“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Humanized – Is the Command Line really more human?

Enso The folks at Humanized, headed by Aza Raskin (the last name is not a coincidence) bring you a Command Line Interface (CLI) to do many simple tasks for you on your computer.

Let me try to explain. The folks at Humanized have decided that the modal trigger of your caps lock key is doing the wrong triggering. What it should be doing instead on actuated is pop open a nifty little CLI with so far a relatively small but useful set of commands. You can set up the behavior of the caps lock key to either need to be held while typing a command or lock so you can let go. In either case a command is actuated when you hit the enter/return key.

To be honest the “hold” version didn’t work for me. The Letter “a” is almost impossible to hit when holding the caps lock key, so I immediately switched to the locked version which works much better for me. And no, I don’t miss using my caps lock key. They were dead on that it is pretty useless, though you could choose other keys like the “start” button.

I almost exclusively use it as a launcher (one of the names of the product). I have no use for it as a spell checker because Google solved that problem for me by putting a spell checker directly in my browser.

But as a launcher I like it in specific circumstances. But generally I find it problematic. On purpose I gave myself a month before writing a review here because I wanted to give myself time to adjust to it. Here’s what I found:

The premise of a CLI is that it is easier to learn commands and type them then it is to use a mouse, hunt and click type interface. My hands do more on the keyboard then they do on a mouse, so every time I leave the mouse I am loosing efficiency. Nice theory, but it assumes a lot about keyboard mouse usage that I’m not sure is really true. I am confident that there is a loss of efficiency. But that statement is de-contextualized from how people are using computers and how that use is juxtaposed to the launching of applications.

When I have set up a few launch commands for popular sites I go to. So launching tabs in Firefox (I love that it does that instead of launching windows) is my primary use of Enso right now. I can also launch applications but it never occurs to me to use it for that. I also when launching URLs in Enso fumble, even after a month. I get confused about what would be the best way to do it and I stall thus eliminating any sort of efficiency that I might have. I have noticed that I’ll use Enso even when my hand is already on the mouse, or I’ll use my bookmark toolbar by del.icio.us with my mouse even if my hands are on the keyboard. Then I’ll get angry with myself for doing the wrong thing, making for an even further delay. I’m sure this is only because I’m an interaction designer.

My behavior when browsing the web is actually bifurcated. Most of the time say 70% I am in my web browser to read. This means my hand is on the mouse. I use the mouse to scroll and click around from place to place. About 30% of the time I am composing like I am right now, but usually writing an email in Gmail which is now my sole email program for non-work email.

Because of this 70/30 split, I am still favoring a point-click behavior stream and thus when I want to switch to a keyboard method of doing things even when appropriate I freeze.

If I was doing things differently and not so mouse driven in how I actually use things (and quite honest SHOULD be using things) then maybe the learnability factor of Enso would hit it up a notch and then I’d be able to better integrate it into my life.

I think they got some things right like using the caps lock key and the wording of most commands, though some are a bit long and you have to type the whole thing. Most commands are done through auto-complete which is nice.

On their blog they talk about not using intelligence to create an adaptive interface similar to the one that Office 2003 has where it only shows you the menu items that you use. I agree that MS got it wrong and the reasons they describe are right. The reason they are right is that MS’s model is one of restriction. Another version of an adaptive interface is in Gmail using their auto-complete for email addresses. It puts them in order of popularity but it shows you all of the choices still. I think doing this would go a long way to making their auto-complete feature work much better and increase efficiency. I also think like in DOS there needs to be short hand for longer commands that are used repetitively.

I think for any interaction designer it is worth playing with ENSO. I have no plans to uninstall it despite my problems. Exploring the command line is interesting work. I’m just not confident it is a product I’ll pay to use if I was a regular user.

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