Can you work without a command line?

On the Project Butterfly blog, a recent poll gave these choices:

  • I can’t work without the command line
  • I think it’s time for a new way to draw without the command line

In a follow-up post, the observation was made that “We thought that only a few people would work without a command line, but the results were refreshing.” Apparently, only 66% of respondents selected the first of the available options.

To this I respond, “Beware the trap of the biased sample”. The poll asked people who are largely users of a product that involves drawing without a command line if they can work without it. In response, an amazing 2/3 of them say “I can’t work without the command line”, i.e. they can’t possibly do what they are currently doing, every time they use the product on which the blog is based.

How is that “refreshing”? 34% is an incredibly small number when the only alternative answer is self-contradictory. It should be very close to 100%, surely?

Every poll has a biased sample, including my own polls here. The trick is in working out how strong the bias is and determining if it invalidates the results. In this case, readers of the Butterfly blog are largely users of a command-line-less product and therefore likely to have a strong bias against the command line. So that 66% number would be a bit bigger if addressed to a more general population, I reckon.

I’ve added my own poll for my own biased sample (that’s you lot out there, largely users of a command line-based application) using exactly the same question format. I’m not entirely happy with the way the options are worded as it is not entirely neutral, but I’ll stick with it for the purpose of the comparison.

While I might dispute the conclusions that might be drawn from the poll, I must say that I like the way the Project Butterfly team is doing this in the open. It’s much better than the traditional Autodesk practice of claiming that what they are doing is supported by polls among customers, then refusing all requests for the full details of those polls. As the devil is in the details, I automatically discount any such claims based on secret research, from Autodesk or anyone else. I encourage the Butterfly people to keep doing what they are doing, regardless of any nitpicking from me; it is very refreshing (there’s that word again) to see Autodesk being open and I want to encourage it.

In addition to voting, I’d love to have you add your own comments either for or against use of the command line in CAD. It may be old and unfashionable, but does that make it inefficient? Have you tried turning it off in AutoCAD and running purely on Dynamic Input? Have you had experience with CAD or similar products without command lines? Let’s hear it.


  1. After my last time with the Autodesk usability team, I can say yes. I can’t say what I saw there, but I can say it was pretty encouraging.

    I am a command line junky. I love the ribbon, context menus, etc., but still I’m a command line junky at heart. I try to brainwash as many newbies ‘in that ways of the command line’ as possible. 2 hands are faster than 1.

    Keep up the good work Steve

  2. Chris Cowgill

    Here is my question, does the use of dynamic input count as using or not using the command line. In my AutoCAD environment, I shut off the command line, only because I have access to dynamic input. I could not live without the ability to type in my commands. That is why Microstation in the past has never been a viable option, it is too based on the graphical interface, and insists that users use icons and buttons to do their every day tasks (not saying this is still the case, I haven’t seen Microstation since the original failed version 8 which I think was before J which was before the new version 8). It just makes more sense to use the keyboard with one hand and the mouse with the other. The only reason I created a ribbon for our office customizations was as a compromise for those who just dont seem to understand typing in commands.

  3. srlafleur

    I can’t live without the command line and the dynamic input popping up in my face drives me nuts.
    There are a handful of icons that I use, and even some pull-down menu items (yes, I AM a dinosaur, and yes, I have 2010 set the old-fashioned wasy), but I primarily type, pretty much looking at the command line only to see where I’ve been or for a prompt that I’ve forgotten. I hate “pop-ups” of any kind because I like to see what I’m working on and not have to be distracted by something getting in the way. I used to even hate right-click menus, but I now have them set up “properly”, so they’re only there when I want/need them, but not for Enter or to repeat the last command.(Why would you want to right-click, then have to make a selection such as Enter, or Repeat the last command, when right-click can be set to do just that?)

  4. dave ea

    as soon as an AutoCAD user understands the power of scripting, all arguments against the command line become ridiculous IMHO. no amount of mouse clicks could ever keep pace with 50-500 streamed sequenced AutoCAD commands applied to hundreds of drawings overnight while i sit watch olympic curling.

  5. Jen

    The great thing about AutoCAD is that there are multiple ways to accomplish just about everything. Users are free to find the way that works best for them. I hope it stays that way; unless they find a way to enable telepathic control, that would be my preferred method. 😉

  6. Brent Daley

    I think if I had to I could live without the command line, as long as there is the dynamic input. You have to at least see what your typing or if you made a mistake to do it right. Besides…what else would you do with your left hand if you weren’t using it to type in things. I’m sure I could use another mouse if their was dual support. Now that would be cool.

  7. My thought is… take away all other UI items *except* the command line and I’m still faster than the vast majority of users. DYN is not a substitute either.

    I don’t even understand the second choice in the poll you mention… “new way to draw without the command line”…? That statement implies that the only choice now is the command line…

  8. R. Paul Waddington

    Jen’s point is very important. It is the variations of input that enhance AutoCADs use for many but RalphG comment is more important. I always look at this point with any change or addition.

    Being able to teach AutoCAD (or any other program) needs a straight forward method and a command line gives an instructor, and students, a focus point that remains constant and very usable.

    I encourage new users to look at and try all the interface options but when it comes time to demostrate you need to be consistant; toolbars and the command line allows that to happen.

    ‘Power’ users, can do what they like but we should never lose sight of the fact new users need to be brought on board as easily and as quickly as possible and the command line assists here considerably.

  9. Tim English

    “I can’t work without the command line”
    As stated this is a biased statement and even though i ticked this option, more relevant to me would be “I want to have the command line as an option for user input”.

  10. Command line love it

    My throughts

    What about the future a 20 to 30 inch multi touch screen with 1 to 1 surface mapping

    laying on the desk with Autocad 2011 support for Windows 7 64 bit multi gesture and build in fly out key board at the command line.

    No Mouse, no keyboard, just a ribbon with bigger tounch buttons.Two hands on one surface

    Oh the memories of the drawing board.


    Justin Rlaston

  11. I can do everything with the command line and my mouse, and more quickly. When I write a tutorial or instructional video, I have no idea what the user’s interface is going to be. I either assume they know how to start a command, or I tell them what to type on the command line. I know it’s going to work.

  12. Philip Craig

    I switched my staff over to a command-line-less product (ie Microstation) and found that at first, they couldn’t work without the command-line. After a month of using the program, they don’t want the command-line back, ie attitudes change with exposure to new ways of working. Now, given the option of returning to AutoCAD, none of my staff want to go back; they are quite happy to live without the command-line. From my experience, any survey on the subject is invalid as the results are overly tainted by current exposure. A user exposed to the command line would likely prefer the command line until they get used to working without and then you see a complete change. To get something valid, you would have to survey people who have made the switch and see if given the choice, they would switch back.

  13. David Kozina

    As I am trying to transition over to AutoCAD 2011 from AutoCAD 2008, I am trying to see if I can get along without the CL. I have dynamic input w/ prompts turned on, which allows me to see available sub-options at the cursor position. The CL itself is floating at the bottom right of my screen, auto-hide on, so I can pop it open if I need to. So far, I haven’t had too much difficulty, but one thing I find I am a little concerned about is the reduced ‘feedback’.

    Nothing has gone awry so far, but I recall in 2008 and 2007, once in a while (and not readily reproducible), after doing some Table modifications and editing (ie, merging cells, deleting rows/cols, etc), for some reason, AutoCAD would get ‘stuck’ in the sense that afterward, although I would be given prompts on the CL, the software still thought that some command was still active. I still don’t know what exactly triggered the behavior, perhaps an Escape somewhere that threw things off – but the upshot was that when I then tried to save my drawing, there would be a quiet little message on the CL stating that the save had **canceled** since a command was still active, before returning me to the normal CL prompt – and eventually, thankfully, I *noticed* the message (it’s amazing and at times scary what you can miss when you are not really looking to see something). At least, in those cases, I caught things in time before I lost work.

    My point to all of this is that if such a quiet (yet critically important) message went almost unnoticed by the ID10T behind the keyboard, I’m a little concerned, when going CL-less (similar to clueless?) as to how much I can trust that the SAVE function actually did it’s job. IOW, a little visual feedback would be really nice. Some software programs ‘gray out’ the Save Icon after a successful save, until additional changes/editing is done. That would be a nice touch.

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