In the Beginning...Was the Command Line

In the Beginning...Was the Command Line

3.8 17
by Neal Stephenson
     
 

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This is "the Word" -- one man's word, certainly -- about the art (and artifice) of the state of our computer-centric existence. And considering that the "one man" is Neal Stephenson, "the hacker Hemingway" (Newsweek) -- acclaimed novelist, pragmatist, seer, nerd-friendly philosopher, and nationally bestselling author of groundbreaking literary works

Overview

This is "the Word" -- one man's word, certainly -- about the art (and artifice) of the state of our computer-centric existence. And considering that the "one man" is Neal Stephenson, "the hacker Hemingway" (Newsweek) -- acclaimed novelist, pragmatist, seer, nerd-friendly philosopher, and nationally bestselling author of groundbreaking literary works (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, etc., etc.) -- the word is well worth hearing. Mostly well-reasoned examination and partial rant, Stephenson's In the Beginning... was the Command Line is a thoughtful, irreverent, hilarious treatise on the cyber-culture past and present; on operating system tyrannies and downloaded popular revolutions; on the Internet, Disney World, Big Bangs, not to mention the meaning of life itself.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
A challenge to an icon-obsessed culture that increasingly is interposing a graphical computer interface between people and the physical world.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
In the network world of the silicon samurai Stephenson is a big-time wizard.
USA Today
A powerful voice of the cyber age.
Seattle Weekly
Stephenson is a literary visionary of the technological future.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061832901
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
465,909
File size:
257 KB

Read an Excerpt

In the Beginning...was the Command Line

About twenty years ago Jobs and Wozniak, the founders of Apple, came up with the very strange idea of selling information-processing machines for use in the home. The business took off, and its founders made a lot of money and received the credit they deserved for being daring visionaries. But around the same time, Bill Gates and Paul Allen came up with an idea even stranger and more fantastical: selling computer operating systems. This was much weirder than the idea of Jobs and Wozniak. A computer at least had some sort of physical reality to it. It came in a box, you could open it up and plug it in and watch lights blink. An operating system had no tangible incarnation at all. It arrived on a disk, of course, but the disk was, in effect, nothing more than the box that the Operating System (OS) came in. The product itself was a very long string of ones and zeroes that, when properly installed and coddled, gave you the ability to manipulate other very long strings of ones and zeroes. Even those few who actually understood what a computer operating system was were apt to think of it as a fantastically arcane engineering prodigy, like a breeder reactor or a U-2 spy plane, and not something that could ever be (in the parlance of high tech) "productized."

Yet now the company that Gates and Allen founded is selling operating systems like Gillette sells razor blades. New releases of operating systems are launched as if they were Hollywood blockbusters, with celebrity endorsements, talk show appearances, and world tours. The market for them is vast enough that people worry about whether it has been monopolized by one company. Even theleast technically minded people in our society now have at least a hazy idea of what operating systems do; what is more, they have strong opinions about their relative merits. It is commonly understood, even by technically unsophisticated computer users, that if you have a piece of software that works on your Macintosh, and you move it over onto a Windows machine, it will not run. That this would, in fact, be a laughable and idiotic mistake, like nailing horseshoes to the tires of a Buick.

A person who went into a coma before Microsoft was founded, and woke up now, could pick up this morning's New York Times and understand everything in it -- almost:

.................

Item: the richest man in the world made his fortune from -- what? Railways? Shipping? Oil? No, operating systems. Item: the Department of Justice has tackled Microsoft's supposed OS monopoly with legal tools that were invented to restrain the power of nineteenth-century robber barons. Item: a woman friend of mine recently told me that she'd broken off a (hitherto) stimulating exchange of e-mail with a young man. At first he had seemed like such an intelligent and interesting guy, she said, but then, "he started going all PC-versus-Mac on me."

.................

What the hell is going on here? And does the operating system business have a future, or only a past? Here is my view, which is entirely subjective; but since I have spent a fair amount of time not only using, but programming, Macintoshes, Windows machines, Linux boxes, and the BeOS, perhaps it is not so ill-informed as to be completely worthless. This is a subjective essay, more review than research paper, and so it might seem unfair or biased compared to the technical reviews you can find in PC magazines. But ever since the Mac came out, our operating systems have been based on metaphors, and anything with metaphors in it is fair game as far as I'm concerned.

In the Beginning...was the Command Line. Copyright © by Neal Stephenson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Seattle, Washington
Date of Birth:
October 31, 1959
Place of Birth:
Fort Meade, Maryland
Education:
B.A., Boston University, 1981
Website:
http://www.nealstephenson.com

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In the Beginning...Was the Command Line 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book after dinner with no intentions of finishing it that same night. As it ended up, I couldn't put the book down until I had read the whole thing. Laughing out loud at some parts of the book!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent read. I am already a Stephenson fan, and I was delighted to read this essay. It covers more than the cover hints at, including social values and world views pertaining to the whole OS battle and society in general. I love the humor, the analogies, and the overall style of this deeply engaging book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great, steaming, meme-laden frontal lobe dump about Operating Systems, GUIs, Morlocks, popular culture, cars, Hole Hawg power drills, and why LINUX is like an Egyptian taxi ride. This extended essay first appeared on the web. It may still be there, free for the reading. But I like the idea of a bound, printed copy; it's easier to carry and lend around.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Neal Stephenson's essay was hilarious and hard for me to put down. I absorbed every bit of it. Definitely a book I will re-read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...Not the book. The fact that this book is free on Neal's site.