Building A Rich Command Shell

Previously, I wrote about some existing examples of Rich Command Shells, some from the past, some from the present.

Now, I'd like to look at this from the practical side of things. I have some software that I would like to see have a rich command shell.

What do I Want?

First up, what should we consider to be characteristics of a "rich command shell" for the purposes of this post?

For my interests, I want to see:

  • Works in a regular terminal.
  • Also works in terminals with more advanced features.
  • Adapts to the size and capabilities of the terminal, although I recognize that feature negotiation doesn't work for everything, so some things will be controlled by settings.
  • Works when not run in a terminal (like having output piped to a file or another process).
  • Can be run in conjunction with a more specialized program that might present an even richer interface or embed the functionality somehow.

The shorter version of this is:

  • It should work like things do today, in the existing environment.
  • It should adaptively support richer means of interaction as well without violating typical assumptions of today.
  • The means of adaptation should be flexible and allow progressively …
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Rich Command Shells

Many applications benefit from a mix of a graphical and textual interface. This has ranged from entire environments, like the Lisp Machine and the follow-on Common Lisp Interface Manager (CLIM), to specific applications like Mathematica and others which employ a "notebook interface". There have also been various attempts at producing richer terminal applications which can work with either standard or specialized applications to produce richer, more interactive output. Graphically enhanced textual interfaces have also found their place in various genres of games over the years.

In our case, we're interested in enhancing the interaction between a user and a specific tool. We'll take a look here at some of the ideas that have come before to get an idea of what people have already done to inform what we do for ourselves.

Some of the things discussed here are old, some are new. Some are long lost and forgotten (one link below is to while others are actively being worked on today.

Common Lisp Interface Manager

Like many things, early research into graphically enhanced and interactive textual interfaces was carried out within the Lisp world. An early paper Presentation Based User Interfaces by Eugene C. Ciccarelli IV at …

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