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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read although somewhat dated.
This is an excellent book, a very entertaining and worthwhile read if you are at all interested in modern computer operating systems.
However, like all computer science books, the technological aspect of it has already dated considerably, reducing its relevance as a survey. This is of course inevitable in such a fast-moving field. I would be very interested to read...
Published on 9 Jan 2005 by R. G. Milner

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cadillacs and Tanks
As a hardware/software engineer I have worked with MS-DOS, Windows, MacOS, and UNIX for many years. Reading this fairly short, critical, and sometimes hysterically funny essay was an enjoyable experience, albeit I had some major reservations about some of Neal's suppositions and conclusions.

Stephenson presents, first of all, a rather simplified version of the...
Published on 14 Sep 2009 by Patrick Shepherd


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read although somewhat dated., 9 Jan 2005
By 
R. G. Milner "Kilkrazy" (UK/Japan) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
This is an excellent book, a very entertaining and worthwhile read if you are at all interested in modern computer operating systems.
However, like all computer science books, the technological aspect of it has already dated considerably, reducing its relevance as a survey. This is of course inevitable in such a fast-moving field. I would be very interested to read an updated edition taking into account the current situation in the OS marketplace.
Stephenson primarily contrasts Windows(tm), Linux, MacOS and BeOS. Out of these systems, BeOS is basically dead, MacOS has undergone a sea change (to a considerable extent building on BeOS and Linux), Linux has grown in sophistication and user-friendliness, and Windows is... still basically Windows with some extra knobs on it.
The book should not be ignored, though. The fundamental issue Stephenson comments on - whether it's possible to control complex equipment through simplified interfaces - is never going to disappear. It's also an entertaining read simply for the author's wonderful use of language.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written, but a bit too short, 27 Dec 2001
By 
This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
This is an amazingly fast read, and it has a lot of thought-provoking views. It's just a shame it isn't very thorough and sometimes even superficial. The book covers more or less the entire history of Operating Systems and reads like a rollercoaster ride through computer history.
The book is a very interesting thought excercise, but it feels more like a Wired article that got published in book form. At the low price though, it's a tasty intellectual snack along the road, you can probably finish it in three or four commuter train rides.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read!, 15 Aug 2009
This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
This book is an enjoyable read especially if you know a bit about the history of operating systems and their features. Neal Stephenson gives his own metaphors of what each OS represents and criticizes software from the writer's point of view. A nice read if you don't get too picky about the OS wars and a few technical details. It gets more enjoyable if you also read Garrett Birkel's response to Neal Stephenson in 2004 at the former's website!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mac vs Win debate reveals philosophical & cultural gems, 7 April 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
Neal Stephenson tells (sometimes rants) his view of the Mac vs Windows vs Linux vs BeOS debate with his typical erudite and witty up-to-the-minute style. And he has insights and experiences to make it more than just a flame war on paper. The GUI becomes more than screen candy: its a symbol of our culture's mediated reality: a metaphore for the way we experience our lives in the age of hi-tec entertainment. In the last chapter (I'm giving nothing away here, you'll have to read it yourself) he turns the magic mirror around so we see ourselves and the choices we have...
I went into my local bookshop to buy either Snow Crash or The Diamond Age because I felt like re-reading them. They were't there but this was so I bought it without even looking at the blurb on the back. Yeah, you can download the whole thing from cryptonomicon.com but this is one paperback to read in the bath/bus/bed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cadillacs and Tanks, 14 Sep 2009
By 
Patrick Shepherd "hyperpat" (San Jose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
As a hardware/software engineer I have worked with MS-DOS, Windows, MacOS, and UNIX for many years. Reading this fairly short, critical, and sometimes hysterically funny essay was an enjoyable experience, albeit I had some major reservations about some of Neal's suppositions and conclusions.

Stephenson presents, first of all, a rather simplified version of the history of PC computing world and the operating systems that have helped define and advance (or impede) the development of the PC from something that only a geek could love to a ubiquitous near-appliance. His definition of what an operating system is matches what most programmers, using common sense, would call an operating system: a suite of low level tools that perform the mundane tasks of interpreting what an application wants to do to the physical realm of reading/writing memory, disk files, displaying graphics, etc. This is not a trivial point, as the current insistence by Microsoft that its operating system is inclusive of web browsers, audio/video players, and other application-level programs is a key item in its anti-trust defense. However, Stephenson bypasses the relevance of this in favor of defining the differences between the MacOS, Windows, UNIX, and BeOS. For this purpose he uses a highly useful (and sometimes funny) metaphor defining each OS as a car dealership, each of whom sells their type of product to a different type of customer.

One of his major points is the idea that an OS is a saleable product, even though in essence it is nothing but a long string of 1's and 0's, information only, and not a physical item, represents a paradigm shift, on the order of trying to sell a car's driving interface (steering wheel, brakes, etc) as a product separate from, and having intrinsic value in its own right, the car itself. Given the obvious nonsense of this separation in the case of the car, he makes the case that operating systems should all eventually be given away free, ala Linux, and that businesses that depend on OS income are treading a very dangerous path.

He shows a definite preference for those OSs that allow the user to 'get under the hood' and tweak its operating parameters, such as Linux, and includes a long discourse on the whole concept of simplified, pre-packaged interfaces as culturally defining/defined, including some good analogies with what Disney does to make complex, detailed subjects immediately comprehensible to Joe Six-Pack.

All of this makes for easy, enjoyable reading, whether you are a power user or just someone who wants to send e-mails. But his conclusions about which OS is best and the future direction of OS evolution is definitely skewed towards the power user, someone who is comfortable in dealing with all the inner complexities of computers and software. As such, he sometimes forgets that computers are a tool (even though he devotes a section to different levels of tools in terms of quality , power and user skill levels), of no use to the user except insofar as they provide something that user wants and needs, and it is that end result the user wants, at the absolute minimum of fuss on his part.

A thought provoking essay, whether you agree with him or not.

---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book blew me away, 3 May 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
What a fantastic book! interesting look at 3 different business models for Software development a must read for the business minded geek I picked it up at 9 AM and had it finished by 1:pm .. really .. buy this book .. no don't wait .. buy it now .. then read Snow Crash :)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not just a history, 23 May 2000
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This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
at first glance one might think that this book is about the history of computers. Its not. This is socialogical study into why Microsoft are where they are, why users chose it, its competitors throughout the years and what could come next.
Its not about converting people to linux, or beOS, its about people. How and why they behave.
I like this book, the author is clear, uses interesting analogies and doesn't expect the reader to be technically minded.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and funny analyses of the OS industy, 13 Jun 2000
This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
This book is a must-read for anyone who works with computers and wants to know why things are the way they are. The author analyzes every major OS, the people behind it and the people who use it without getting technical.
I found it very funny and frightenly accurate.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Words and pictures, 7 Mar 2014
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
In this little book (whose length is more befitting of an essay), Neal Stephenson displays an impressive depth of technical knowledge about how computers work, particularly in the area of user interfaces: the means by which we make them do the things we want. He uses that as a jumping-off point to tease out the differences between typing commands and manipulating objects on a screen, and what that means for how we think about what we're doing. It's a characteristically stimulating collection of ideas - thus, at one point, he suggests an analogy between a graphical user interface (GUI) and Disney World: both "are in the same business: short-circuiting laborious, explicit verbal communication with expensively designed interfaces." He's concerned that an overuse of a GUI leads us into an unfamiliarity with the written word - in roughly the same way, I imagine, that a commentator of fifty years ago would contend that watching too much television leaves less time for reading books, and hence increasing levels of illiteracy.

It's an interesting observation, even if the technological examples he uses have inevitably become dated since the book was first published in 1999. This of course is an inevitable consequence of writing about the current state of a fast-moving technical landscape (for example, he says his favourite user interface is BeOS, whose development company was to be dissolved two years after this book came out). But the ideas contained in the book are stimulating enough to have persisted for longer than the technology, and there's been at least one attempt (not written by the original author) to update its examples and observations. One of the reasons this has been possible is that the text is apparently freely available on the net. But it's still nice to have the book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Out of date, 25 Aug 2012
By 
Mr. S. T. Dobbs (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (Paperback)
This pamphlet was interesting but was written in 1999. Much has happened to its subject since then...Jobs' return to Apple and his decision to base the Macintosh OS on Unix rather blows the whole thesis out of the water. Since then, of course, Apple's star has risen again, and we have the advent of iOS, the iPhone and iPad.
As such, it isn't really worth reading except as a historical snapshot of opinion at the time. No one could have anticipated the direction Jobs would have taken.
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In the Beginning...Was the Command Line
In the Beginning...Was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson (Paperback - 1 Nov 1999)
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