Product review: Enso from Humanized

Executive summary: Any sufficiently advanced GUI is indistinguishable from a CLI.

People older than a certain age will recall the time when the only way to tell a computer what you wanted it to do was to type in stuff through a command line interface (CLI). So if you wanted a word count on a file, you typed wc filename and got the answers with no fluff. Then these kids came along with their graphical user interfaces (GUI) and persisted in believing that (among other things) opening the same file in a large and slow word processor and clicking on Tools | Word count was somehow more user-friendly than remembering commands like wc.

And where are we headed now? Watch this video about Enso (which is Japanese for circle) from Humanized, and you might almost believe that the future of a GUI is a CLI, perhaps a semantically aware CLI, but definitely some creature where you type commands (or start typing them anyway) instead of one where you point and click.

What’s Japanese for “full circle”?

That said, I downloaded and have used Enso for a few hours now, and it’s certainly got its uses. My first impressions are by and large positive.

On the plus side:

  1. the caps lock-based interface is usable and not intrusive — I had feared that using the caps lock key would interfere with normal operation, but it’s not bad.
  2. The calculator function is rather helpful, though currently limited to the four basic arithmetic operations with constant operands. It is reminiscent in functionality of the sagetex plugin for TeX and LaTeX, whose best use I have found is to write HOWTO documents for mathematics without typing the formula once and copy-pasting the results again. It’s probably helpful to think of Enso’s math abilities as a stripped down fast-response sagetex.
  3. The spellchecker and the case-toggler are nice, but your use for them will be much less if you type a lot in Firefox (blog posts, comments, etc) and already have a spellchecker add-on and the LeetKey add-on installed. Enso will probably be more useful if you do a lot of typing outside a word processor or a browser.

On the minus side (for me at least):

  1. I had a rude shock when (out of force of habit) I tried to exit Enso by holding caps lock and typing “quit”. Instead of quitting, Enso closed the application that was in the foreground! BE CAUTIOUS! Save all your work when you’re trying this thing out! This is not expected behavior for a habitual CLI-user, where if you type “quit” or “exit” you will only leave the command shell and be returned to the GUI. Perhaps “close” might be a better word than “quit” for closing other applications?
  2. The commands available for the calculator cannot currently read arbitrary scientific expressions, even ones that can be done with the plain old Windows calculator in scientific mode, or those that be done by asking Google Calculator. Hopefully this will change in future.
  3. It would be helpful if the user could switch between “replace the selected text with the result” and “append the result to the selected text” modes, particularly when writing math formulas in a document followed by their evaluations: the reader needs to see both the expression and the evaluated result.

Overall, the product looks promising, and I expect to find it more useful with a few more features and a little more extensibility.