Yup, we’ve got that one

And more than one million more. Become a member today and read free for two weeks.

Read free for two weeks

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

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 28, 1999
ISBN: 9780061832901
List price: $7.99
Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
Availability for In the Beginning...Was the Command Line
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.
Clear rating

A pretty basic review... I like Stephenson's writing, but the topic that he covers uses dated information. (Talking about the computer industry in 2000? Gasp!) I liked the 'Unix Philosophy' better.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The book is a good read and offers interesting insights into the command line versus GUI discussion. But it was published in 1999, before the internet got really big, before Google got really big. Microsoft still is around, so is Apple. BeOs however didn't survive, unlike Linux. Still, many of the lessons the book tries to bring across and many of the metaphors still apply.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
i love this. This work not only highlights the power of a great operating system, it shows us how our laziness and convenience-laden society has left us vulnerable and weak. not strictly about computers at all, but about us as users.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

A pretty basic review... I like Stephenson's writing, but the topic that he covers uses dated information. (Talking about the computer industry in 2000? Gasp!) I liked the 'Unix Philosophy' better.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The book is a good read and offers interesting insights into the command line versus GUI discussion. But it was published in 1999, before the internet got really big, before Google got really big. Microsoft still is around, so is Apple. BeOs however didn't survive, unlike Linux. Still, many of the lessons the book tries to bring across and many of the metaphors still apply.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
i love this. This work not only highlights the power of a great operating system, it shows us how our laziness and convenience-laden society has left us vulnerable and weak. not strictly about computers at all, but about us as users.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Anyone who wants to understand operating systems needs to read this. It's a little dated, as Apple has moved to OSX since it was written, but it gives an insight to operating system mentalities that I have never seen anywhere else.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
At 160 pages, this slim volume is more of an extended essay than a full-blown book. Even at that brief length, however, what Stephenson attempts is fairly audacious: a history of personal-computer operating systems from 1984 to 1999; an introduction to Linux and the concept of free, open-source software; and (for lack of a better term) a philosophical inquiry into the nature of operating systems and their impact on the way users interact with and think about computers. That's a tall order for 160 pages, and it's not all equally successful. The historical survey of the contrasting approaches to operating-system development taken by Microsoft and Apple is fascinating, but it is brief: a history of concepts and business models rather than of the evolution of either Windows or Mac OS as actual pieces of usable software. The introduction to Linux is equally brief, but (from my non-Linux-using perspective) more comprehensive and more successful at conveying a sense of what Linux is and how it works. Stephenson's heart, however, is clearly in the third section of the book: The philosophical discussion of operating systems. He writes with eloquence and considerable passion about the power, flexibility, and customizability of Unix and Linux (its free, open-source descendent), and bemoans the preference of 98% of computer users for the expensive, bug-ridden, failure-prone, heavily mediated commercial alternatives: Windows and Mac OS.A lot of this philosophical material is interesting, regardless of what operating system one uses. Stevenson makes interesting points about graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and "mediated experience," about the differences between Windows and Linux tech support, and a dozen other things as well. He is frequently insightful, nearly always amusing to read, and makes an honest attempt to understand the position of the 98% of computer users who don’t think like he does. Yet, at some fundamental level, he Doesn't Get It.The most fundamental division in the computer-using world may be that separating those who care about how their OS works and those who care that it works. Stephenson clearly belongs to the first group and is just as clearly writing for members of the second group (his own cohort already knows the difference between source code and object code, the meaning of "open source," and other things he explains with such admirable clarity). Stephenson frames his arguments, however, as if he was writing for his own group . . . not those of us on the other side of the divide. He lauds the power, flexibility, and adaptability of Linux with the verve of someone who sees them as absolute virtues. He describes the steep learning curve and in-your-face complexity of Linux with the diffidence of someone who sees them as a challenge. Most of his intended audience would likely differ with him on both counts. The moderately powerful, flexible, reliable "devil you know" is, for most users, likely preferable to the more powerful, flexible, and reliable – but utterly alien – system that it would take months or years to become comfortable with, if that devil does the tasks they require of it with reasonable speed and efficiency. Usability is not a cardinal virtue on Stephenson's side of the divide, but it is perhaps the cardinal virtue on the side occupied by most rank-and-file users.None of this renders Stephenson's arguments void . . . Linux does have huge advantages, and the future of operating systems may well lie in free, open-source software. It does, however, give both author and book a huge blind spot, symbolized by Stephenson's apparent puzzlement that Linux hasn't triumphed yet.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is an odd little essay about the nature of computer systems and user interfaces, though it's a little too dated to truly inform today's users except in a very broad sense.

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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Load more
scribd