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March 23, 2015

The Worst Program Name Ever

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

Who thinks about program names? No one. Thanks to the proliferation of graphical operating system, you’re no longer required to type a program’s name to run it. No, you can click on an icon and not really care about the name floating below.

Because program names had to be typed at the command prompt, the names were usually short. So you’d type 123 to start Lotus 1-2-3 or type wp to run WordPerfect. Short names are best, which held true for both DOS and Unix. After all, the longer the name the greater the chance to screw up your typing.

DOS’s program-naming rules were founded in CP/M which was founded in Unix. Each command line operating system used short names for programs as opposed to a detailed or more descriptive name. Since Unix had been around the longest, it sported the richest variety of names. Often clever names had to be fabricated because a more obvious (and shorter) name has already been taken.

For example, the grep program hunts down text. The find program locates files. who lets you see who else was online. But the worst program name ever is finger.

finger just seems icky. In fact, when I asked someone how to use it, they replied in typical, crude Unix geek fashion. I shall not repeat what was said.

Basically, the finger program retrieves information about other users. So you “finger” someone else on the system, as in finger dang, where dang is my account name. The command is still available on the Mac. Here’s its output:

Login: dang           			Name: Dan Gookin
Directory: /Users/dang              	Shell: /bin/bash
On since Sat Mar 14 14:52 (PDT) on console, idle 5 days 7:16 (messages off)
On since Sat Mar 14 14:53 (PDT) on ttys000
On since Sun Mar 15 07:46 (PDT) on ttys001 (messages off)
No Mail.
No Plan.

If I wanted, I could supply a Plan file for finger to read, but I won’t. That’s because the finger program is pretty much ignored these days. In fact, where once you could “finger” anyone on the Internet, you can no longer do so.

System administrators felt that finger‘s seemingly innocent information display was too compromising. For example, you could massively probe a domain for valid user account names and then launch a password attack. That’s one reason why finger remains a relic of the past, but I’d like to believe that the command is neglected simply because it’s the worst program name ever.

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