What Sucks Most about GUI’s: No Current Directory

Published at 07:58 on 28 July 2020

Say you’re doing some coding and debugging using the command line. You change directories to where the source code is and thenceforth, until you explicitly change to some other directory, you have set the default directory for all editors, compilers, debuggers, file-filtering utilities, and so on. It’s automatically understood that, unless you explicitly specify otherwise, if you specify a file name, it will be in the current working directory.

No graphical user interface that I’ve used has had anything analogous. As such, I’m forced to continually spend effort manually specifying source and destination directories. This constitutes repeated work that I don’t have to do when using the command line.

Each utility starts out relative to the home directory, or, in some cases, the directory where it was last used. It’s hard to say which is worse, but I think my vote goes for the latter: it’s a pathetic attempt at user-friendliness that ends up being incredibly user hostile: in order to predict where the files for a given application will go, I must memorize, for each application, where the last file I specified with it lived.

It all results in continual violations of the principle of least surprise. I’m persistently having to use find to determine which seemingly random and bizarre place a GUI application just created an output file in.

This, more than anything else, is why, decades into the existence of the graphical user interface, I inevitably have one or more terminal windows open, and opt to do a significant amount of my work at the command line.

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