At work yesterday, I installed Ubuntu Server on my computer so I could dual-boot and try it out. I had previously had CentOS installed, but I was having some issues and wanted to try something else.

Now, CentOS comes with a graphical interface like a normal desktop OS might have. Given Ubuntu Server's landing page, I figured it would come with one as well. Imagine my surprise when after installation, I was shown a simple terminal login prompt. Logging in, I was given a standard terminal prompt in my home directory.

I am by no means a stranger to the terminal, I use it everyday on my Mac and (shudder) work PC. However, booting into an OS that is nothing more than a terminal was something I had never done.

I had a strange feeling as I started running commands to set up the machine. After some time, I finally identified what it was: there was pretty much nothing I could do other than something productive. There was no email to check, no graphical preferences to tweak, and no websites to visit. There are email programs for the terminal of course, but they are much more focused than a graphical program. There are also text-based internet browsers such as netrik and lynx for the terminal, but there are still no images and graphics to distract from the content on the page. The terminal prompt basically says "do something useful, or get out!"

Of course, graphical interfaces are still extremely useful, despite the visual distractions they are often beset with. However, this little experience has left me wondering how user interfaces can be designed to minimize those distractions, and maximize that ability of terminals to focus on the task at hand.