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An explanation of CLI, GUI and NUI

In this video, TechTarget editor Michaela Goss talks about CLI, GUI and NUI.

A natural user interface makes interaction with a computer as intuitive as possible.

A user interface is what lets a person control a computer, like the home screen on your computer that you navigate with a mouse. While intuitive interaction is the goal of every user interface from the start, natural user interfaces, or NUIs, bring the user closer to the computer than ever before. Natural user interfaces enable control with a gesture, spoken word or biometric input.

NUIs stand in contrast to traditional user interfaces like graphical user interfaces and command-line interfaces.

Before NUIs were -- and are still in use -- CLIs and GUIs.

CLIs came first and operate via text commands entered through a keyboard. These commands consist of very specific language and syntax, though, requiring the steepest learning curve, but the least system resources. They're generally used in scripting and automation tasks.

GUIs are more intuitive than CLIs but require more system resources. The user can click an icon to open a file, for instance. They don't need to memorize strict code or syntax to use a GUI. This is the standard way most PC operating systems work.

NUIs followed. NUIs aim to make interaction as simple and natural for the user as possible -- they should not have to think about how they need to interact with the computer, just interact with it.

But NUIs require the most system resources.

With NUIs, the user interacts with the computer through a collection of actions including touch, gesture, voice and eye movement. The user can say "open this file" instead of clicking on it. Or swipe a window to close it instead of hitting an "X" button. The NUI also provides visual, auditory or haptic feedback to the user -- such as vibrating or replying with "here's that file you were looking for" audibly.

User interfaces can be combined in devices. For example, modern computers have CLIs for certain things, but generally use a GUI for navigating the main operating system. Smartphones combine GUIs and elements of NUIs like touch and haptic feedback. Some new AI assistants like the Humane AI Pin and Rabbit's R1 AI assistant do away with the GUI almost entirely and function primarily through voice commands.

While GUIs remain the standard way users interact with computers and smartphones, trends toward AI and augmented reality suggest that NUIs will become more common in the near future. What kind of user interface do you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments and remember to like and subscribe, too.

Ben Lutkevich is the site editor for Software Quality. Previously, he wrote definitions and features for

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