Command line vs. GUI

Windows command line (DOS)Users who are not familiar with a command line interface (CLI) or graphical user interface (GUI) may want to know the pros and cons of each to help determine what works best for them. Others may be curious about differences between the two. With a heavy focus on file commands and manipulation, the following table illustrates which interface has the advantage in certain categories and why.

Note: If you are looking for DOS information and commands, see our page on MS-DOS and command line.

Topic Command line (CLI) GUI
Ease Due to a higher degree of memorization and familiarity needed for operation and navigation, new users find operating a command line interface more difficult than a GUI. Because a GUI is much more visually intuitive, users typically pick up on how to use a GUI faster than a command line interface.
Control Users have a good bit of control over both the file and operating systems in a command line interface. However, for new or novice users, it is not as user friendly as a GUI. A GUI offers a lot of access to files, software features, and the operating system as a whole. Being more user friendly than a command line, especially for new or novice users, a GUI is utilized by more users.
Multitasking Although many command line environments are capable of multitasking, they do not offer the same ease and ability to view multiple things at once on one screen. GUI users have windows that enable a user to view, control, manipulate, and toggle through multiple programs and folders at same time.
Speed Command line users only need to utilize a keyboard to navigate the interface, often resulting in faster performance. While newer technology is making a GUI faster and more efficient than ever before, using both a mouse and keyboard to navigate and control the GUI is still a bit slower than a command line interface.
Resources A computer that is only using the command line takes a lot less of the computer's system resources than a GUI. A GUI requires more system resources because of the elements that require loading, such as icons and fonts. Video, mouse, and other drivers need to be loaded, taking up additional system resources.
Scripting A command line interface mostly requires users to already know scripting commands and syntax, making it difficult for new or novice users to create scripts. Creating scripts using a GUI has become much easier with the help of programming software, which allows users to write the scripts without having to know all the commands and syntax. Programming software provides guides and tips for how to code specific functions, as well as preview options to see if and how the script will work.
Remote access When accessing another computer or device over a network, a user can manipulate the device or its files with a command line interface. However, you must know the commands to do so and is not as easy for new or novice users. Remotely access another computer or server is possible in a GUI and easy to navigate with little experience. IT professionals typically use a GUI for remote access, including the management of servers and user computers.
Diversity After you've learned how to navigate and use a command line, it's not going to change as much as a new GUI. Although new commands may be introduced, the original commands almost always remain the same. Each GUI has a different design and structure when it comes to performing different tasks. Even different iterations of the same GUI, such as Windows, can have hundreds of different changes between each version.
Strain A command line interface is often very basic and can be more of a strain on a user's vision. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can also be a bit of a risk when using a command line interface because users are only using a keyboard. There is little need to change hand positions and strain to the wrists or even fingers can occur. The use of shortcut keys and more frequent movement of hand positions, due to switching between a keyboard and a mouse, strain may be reduced. Visual strain can still be a risk, but a GUI has more colors and is more visually appealing, leading to a potential reduction in visual strain.

Note: Overall, a GUI is used by more users today than a CLI. Dedicated and hard core programmers may lean towards using a CLI for efficiency and speed, but the GUI is more user friendly and preferred by most users.

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