I kid about using the command line, but the beauty in it — as any proponent will tell you — is in its simplicity, its speed and its precision. Things get done faster, with less overhead, when they’re done without all the glossy buttons and shiny sliders and whirling doo-dads that encrust most graphical applications these days (Potamus excluded ).
I have been accused of taking it a little too far, by roping two computers through a third, and running the entire show without any graphical element whatsoever. But I am not at the forefront of the revolution. I am not the prophet, just the harbinger for the true believers, the ones who preach reclaiming heathen lands, bearing witness to the truth. That the command line’s love will set you free.
Before you change channels, this time it’s the devs over at surfraw who have this fun sense of humor. Their perspective alone would be worth mentioning, mostly because it lampoons the overzealous Unix fiend who thinks all life should be done at the command line (wait, that could be me … ).
But the fact is that surfraw is a great application too. As I said, console programs are fast and speedy and simple, and surfraw in principle looks rather too simple. This is the first and the last you’ll see of surfraw.
I say first and last, because the next thing you’ll get from surfraw is this:
So where’s the joy in that, you ask? What’s the point in a command line tool that jams a search term into Google? Well it’s not just Google. It’s Google and Amazon. Google, Amazon and Wikipedia. Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, Altavista, the Debian wikis, the Arch Linux package database, currency converters, DMOZ, eBay, gentoo-portage.com, the Pirate Bay, Scientific Commons, w3css, YouTube and about 100 others that are all hard-cued to pop up in your favorite text-based (okay, okay … or graphical) browser.
Oh, but my fingers are tired, you whine. Oh, it’s too much effort to type out the whole word, “surfraw” just to get a quicker jump to a search page. I have a Firefox search bar for that, and it only takes two mouse clicks of my muscularly hypertrophied index finger. (Did you ever notice that? GUI junkies have disproportionately large index fingers. Just kidding, just kidding. … )
Okay, you can trim down the word “surfraw” to just “sr” and surfraw will still do its thing. Or even better, you can add the location of the surfraw libraries to your PATH variable, and then you only need to type the name of the search engine you want to use. Convenience, at your fingertips (notice the plural ).
I know everybody says this, but after a few minutes with surfraw, I was hooked. I usually keep the Scroogle SSL search page as my home page, which keeps me a few keystrokes away from searching whatever for whatever I like. But now I can funnel my search in the direction I know it is going anyway — for example, straight to Wikipedia — and save a step or two.
I hold no grudge against applications that are at a developmental standstill, but surfraw is not one of those. The latest update was a week ago, and the surfraw mailing list is alive with chatter. Check it out and see if the Shell Users Revolutionary Front Against the WWW doesn’t draw you in. Jaunty black beret not included.