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In the Beginning...was the Command Line (1999)

by Neal Stephenson

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2,087276,275 (3.72)16
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.… (more)
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This is a historical document about operating systems, which I expect would be interesting to very few people these days. I picked it up because 1.) I just recently returned to the command line myself, and 2.) Neal Stephenson is writing about computers and that's, like, my favorite. It's a little immature and a lot biased, plus the metaphors get completely out of hand. But rarely have I seen a final essay so nicely tie up a book like this, and as everyone knows, I'm a sucker for a good ending. ( )
  jdegagne | Apr 23, 2022 |
A bit dated now, and would love to see some updates ... but still a cool overview of the great OS wars. Makes you feel like reading a lot of Neal Stephenson again. ( )
  rendier | Dec 20, 2020 |
A brief history of operating systems and user interfaces. It's a quick read, and has some fun soliloquys on plebians. It's not necessary reading, but it's a good distraction for an hour or two. ( )
  isovector | Dec 13, 2020 |
Neal Stephenson'dan işletim sistemlerinin tarihi olarak özetleyebileceğimiz bir makale. Her ne kadar günümüz için bilgi anlamında eski olsa da içindeki fikirler ve birçok yorum hâlâ güncelliğini koruyor. Özellikle bilgisayarlar ve işletim sistemleri konusunda meraklı ancak yeni başlayan birisi için şahane bir başlangıç olabilir. Ancak bunun biraz daha ötesine geçmişler için Neal Stephenson'un yorumlarını öğrenmek dışında çok bir katkısı olmayacaktır.

Tüm bunların yanında okuması fazlasıyla keyifli ve eğlenceli. Tavsiye etmemek gibi bir lüksüm yok özetle. ( )
  ahmetasabanci | Oct 13, 2020 |
I read this piece right around when it first came out (on a Palm PDA, no less), and last year when I went back to using Linux part-time I wanted to reread it, because I remembered it fondly. As other reviews here at GR point out, it's very dated and a lot of the criticisms of the GUI don't hold up and may have been off-base even then. Stephenson said in the mid-2000s that the essay needed a completely overhaul but he was unlikely to do it.

BeOS is gone, of course, and Linux now has a GUI and competes with Windows and Apple's OS in terms of ease of usability in some of its distros.

But what's interesting is that some of the essay still resonates, at least it does for me. The conspiracy theory parts and the intellectual condescension are a bit much, but some of the metaphors are great. Windows as a big unwieldy station wagon or ATV (yep, still true), Apple as a sportscar (mostly true although diminishing), and the split between reliance on software and reliance on hardware respectively (still true despite the app store). Also, rereading this at a time when Apple has lot a bunch of value because of flat or declining mobile phone sales and Microsoft is increasing profits through their cloud focus feels a bit like a similar inflection point. I doubt Apple is going under or Microsoft will pull away from the pack, but it's a reminder that these cycles are fast.

If you were too young or not paying attention to these battles in the 1990s and early 2000s, or you just want a flavor of what being on the internet was like back in Olden Times, this is still a fun read. But I strongly recommend that you read it here, with Garrett Birkel's annotations. They're from 2004, which is still a long time ago, but they make a great companion to Stephenson's original argument (and Stephenson approved it).

This review is also terrific: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I much enjoyed returning to this world and era. I think it explains why I keep trying to do everything in Linux from the command line even though it is so much easier to use the GUI. ( )
2 vote Sunita_p | May 17, 2019 |
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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.
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It is the fate of manufactured goods to slowly and gently depreciate as they get old and have to compete against more modern products.
It is the fate of operating systems to become free. [37]
There is massively promiscuous metaphor-mixing going on here, and I could deconstruct it till the cows come home, but I won't. [63]
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 (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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