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In the Beginning...Was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson
In the Beginning...Was the Command Line

Ben Williams, May 1, 2008

The publisher starts off with this gem: "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."

This is no more than marketing nonsense. Though triumphantly successful nonsense. Jobs and Wozniak had nothing to do with this. Altair, IMSAI and SWTPC were putting computers in the home before the Apple ever got off the ground. Or more accurately, out of the garage. Assembled, tested, in many cases integrated with text displays, graphics cards, and keyboards. Apple came late to the game, with one innovation, and only one: They put the computer on a single PC board. That's it - that's all. They chose an anemic processor (the 6502) and they put up substandard text and graphics compared to anything else out there, but they did package it small.

Now, the reason I'm going on about this isn't to discredit Neal Stephenson; in fact, I like his work a great deal and don't have a problem recommending this book. What I'm warning you against are publisher's blurbs. As we see here, they play fast and loose with the facts and you cannot trust them - they'll tell you anything to sell to you, the truth isn't a metric they use to decide what to say.

I also think it is a travesty that the real innovators are rarely mentioned, while Apple gets a lot of credit they really don't deserve. Home computers? Altair, IMSAI, SWTPC. Most powerful home computer of that era? 6809-based SWTPC and clone machines. The first multitasking, windowing, command line-having OS on a PC? Amiga. There's a very good reason that Job's speeches are accompanied by the aspersion "reality distortion field." But remember - they did come up with a complete computer on a single board. Cough.

And by the way - I'm a happy Mac user. Go figure.

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