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In the Beginning...Was the Command Line


In the Beginning...Was the Command Line Cover

ISBN13: 9780380815937
ISBN10: 0380815931
Condition: Standard
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Ben Williams, May 1, 2008 (view all comments by Ben Williams)
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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(3 of 4 readers found this comment helpful), April 26, 2008 (view all comments by
Though dated now because of the inexorable advance of technology, this book is still incredibly enjoyable. Stephenson successfully blended the traditional technical manual with the anecdote to create a wryly amusing educational tool. I can't say that there is much of practical use to be learned from this book in 2008, but there is a lot of history here, written in a style that one rarely sees in what amounts to a technical manual. In the sense that one must know where one came from in order to know where one is headed, this book is indeed well worth reading even a decade later.
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Product Details

Stephenson, Neal
Harper Perennial
by Neal Stephenson
Rodale, Maya
New York :
Social aspects
Programming - General
Operating Systems - General
Operating systems (computers)
Operating systems
Social Aspects - General
General Computers
Romance - Historical
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.02x5.34x.44 in. .31 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Computers and Internet » Computers Reference » General
Computers and Internet » Computers Reference » Social Aspects » General
Computers and Internet » Operating Systems » General
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » A to Z
Science and Mathematics » Popular Science » Computer Science

In the Beginning...Was the Command Line Used Trade Paper
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Product details 160 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780380815937 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , 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.
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