When something is too user-friendly there is an instinctual felling that there must be some nuances of use that you are sacrificing to obtain use an un-intimidating product or service. This is a good general rule, but one that doesn’t quite have the bite that it used to. Modern web hosting control panels, for example cPanel hosting do more than simply let you more files around and setup spam filters. They are full-service suites that at times seem to encompass just about anything that you might ever want to do with your web site.
Again, though, your presumption may be that this couldn’t possibly be all that is needed. In this case, you’d be right. Web hosting control panels are a fantastic way for the beginner-to-intermediate user to focus more on their web site and less on learning tech tricks. But the more experienced you get, the more you are going to wonder where their limitations lie and when you should be using other ways of accessing and manipulating your account.
Command line interfaces: not quite the dark side.
If you’ve never done so before, the notion of learning any kind of scripting might seem like jumping to the dark side and liking it. Those who have experience with this type of scripting may be chuckling at the thought. Knowledge of the basics of how to use a command-line interface can quickly provide you with access to a world of functionality that you may not have even considered.
DOS, Unix, and for that matter, just about any operating system comes with a command line interface with some syntactical basics that are quickly picked up, never forgotten, and which have a plethora of uses. Let us take the wildcard, for example. The asterisk (“*”) is a long-running “match anything” standard. Do you have a directory with 5000 files, and you only want to move files with a certain word in it to a new directory? In a control panel this could take hours. From a command line this can be done in 10 seconds.
While control panels are continually adding new features to them, they are catching up to operating systems that have been around for decades and have ridiculous amounts of add-ins and small scripts that are often forgotten about, yet still included. Some of them admittedly today now seem silly and quaint, but many of them, if you can make basic use of them, can provide fantastic time saving techniques. Let’s say, for example, that you are looking for a file, but all you know about is the rough 3-month period in which it was made, about how big it is, and one or two words that you are sure are found within the file. Again, with most graphical systems this is a nearly impossible task. With an “ancient” interface this can be done in a few lines and at most a minute of your time.
Remember when you complained about learning Latin?
Like Latin, it may seem like few people still use it. But when you start using command-line interfaces, you start to see that by learning them you are equipping yourself with tools that will have more uses than you can hypothesize about. So the answer to the question of what the limitations of control panels are is simple: it’s somewhere… and you are only going to know where when you see what else you are capable of by stepping outside their world a bit.