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In the Beginning...Was the Command Line

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In the Beginning...Was the Command Line Cover

ISBN13: 9780380815937
ISBN10: 0380815931
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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 the least technically minded people in our society nowhave 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 PCmagazines. 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.

Synopsis:

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.

About the Author

Neal Stephenson is the author of seven previous novels. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

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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killbot.prime, April 26, 2008 (view all comments by killbot.prime)
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

ISBN:
9780380815937
Author:
Stephenson, Neal
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Author:
by Neal Stephenson
Author:
Rodale, Maya
Location:
New York :
Subject:
Essays
Subject:
Social aspects
Subject:
Programming - General
Subject:
Operating Systems - General
Subject:
Operating systems (computers)
Subject:
Operating systems
Subject:
Social Aspects - General
Subject:
General Computers
Subject:
Romance - Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series Volume:
315
Publication Date:
19991131
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
160
Dimensions:
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
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.50 In Stock
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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