Ease of use?

Posted on Fri 03 September 2004 in general

My parents are going on holiday next month. Traditionally I lend them some of my DVD's so they can watch them in the evenings. Now they have finally moved into the 21st century and got broadband I've decided it would be easier to e-lend them the DVD by encoding the DVD to DivX. They are only going to watch it on the laptop anyway so they might as well download the films directly onto their hard disc. I'm sure they will delete the film once they have watched it because they don't accumulate crap on their machines they way I do :-)

Now to do the encoding I used the excellent mencoder (part of the excellent mplayer package). Now I
remember when Glyn used to encode stuff. He went through a whole bunch of different programs, experimenting with various options, fiddling with stuff, restarting stuff before he was happy with the result. On my system I already had mplayer installed (its part of the "distribution") and I plugged this into my command line:
mencoder dvd:// -o movie.avi -ovc lavc -lavcopts \
     vcodec=mpeg4:vhq:vbitrate=1800 \
     -oac mp3lame -lameopts cbr:vol=3 -aid 128
And 8 hours later I had a fully formed DivX encoded movie on my hard drive. Worked as expected first time. To me this constitutes ease of use. Granted I didn't construct the command line myself (I just copied it from this article) but all the options are documented in fine href="http://www.mplayerhq.hu/DOCS/HTML/en/mencoder.html">man
pages. Now people often talk about GUI's and there are in fact several front-ends available. All the hard work is still done by mencoder, the front-end just constructs the command line based on the options you select on the GUI. However I'm not convinced they make things easier for people - in fact I think it encourages "tweak and try" behavior thats not actually that efficient. There really is no substitute for
reading the manual and understanding what each of the options means and how it will affect the result.

So what do you think? Are command line tools an alien concept to you, used only by the uber-geeks? Does a program have to have a point and click GUI for you to use it?