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.
Topics: Computer Programming, Hackers, The Internet, Tech Industry, Informative, Philosophical, and Essays
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For example, Stephenson proclaims his love for Linux, but reassures us it's actually pretty hard to use -- which is no longer true (most Linux distros offer nice, clean, *fast* GUIs that I prefer to Windows and the Mac).
He deconstructs the earlier years of Apple and Microsoft in an amusing and interesting way, and while his analogies often run pretty far afield, they do serve to illustrate the essential madness that defined Apple and Microsoft in the 1990s.
The value in this (for me) was his explanation of open source development and what it offers the end user. I arrived at many of the same conclusions independently (I was a hardcore Mac user from 1985 to 1995 when the Mac's constant crashes pushed me to Windows, though after a few days with Windows Vista on a new laptop, I installed Ubuntu Linux, which is now an easy-installing, easy-to-use OS).
I now run my 25 year-old marketing and consulting business from four Linux machines, so I understand Stephenson's love of the OS.
I'm less understanding of some of the wild digressions found in the book, and ultimately think I'm giving it three stars instead of two because I think several of his points are spot on (if a little hard to uncover).
For example, Writers should probably heed his warnings about proprietary file formats -- as a fulltime professional writer, 95% of my copy is written on programmer's text editors (including the Emacs editor Stephenson mentions in the book).
And yes, Linux is hugely elegant and offers users a choice of GUI or command line (it's not a coincidence the Mac OS is built atop a free version of Unix).
Interestingly, Stephenson -- a longtime Emacs text editor proponent -- said in an interview his latest book (Reamde) was written in Scrivener, a commercial Mac-only piece of writer's software that makes it easy to stitch together (and rearrange) scenes and chapters of a book.
I don't know if that means he's abandoned his beloved Linux in favor of the Mac (there is now a beta version of Scrivener available for Mac & Linux, though I don't believe it was available when he wrote the book), but it does mean portions of this book are no longer accurate.more