Friday, October 31, 2008

In the Beginning was the Command Line

Why would people continually choose an expensive, virus ridden Windows when there is a perfectly good, although different, operating system out there? One that is free and essentially free of viruses (well, at least compared to Windows)?

(disclaimer: Novell Linux is one of the literally hundreds of versions of Linux out there. I believe that Novell is a commercial brand, therefore it costs, but I believe it is inexpensive. If a free operating system is more what you are after, I'm a big Puppy Linux fan as you can see by my other posts. But, search around; there is for sure a free version of Linux for you.)

Neal Stephenson explains it best in his essay/book titled "In the Beginning was the Command Line." I have loved many of Stephenson's books over the years. He is an unique writer with excellent skills and story lines that were unheard of, at least until he wrote them down. "In the Beginning..." is one of his earlier works, but the info in there is as true today as ever. Linux users should read it to understand the origins and reasons behind Linux. Windows users should read it to see why they do what they do. All computer users should read it to broaden their horizons.

In this excerpt, Stephenson gives a comparison between Linux and some of the other operating systems by using the car dealership analogy:

With one exception, that is: Linux, which is right next door, and which is
not a business at all. It's a bunch of RVs, yurts, tepees, and geodesic
domes set up in a field and organized by consensus. The people who live
there are making tanks. These are not old-fashioned, cast-iron Soviet
tanks; these are more like the M1 tanks of the U.S. Army, made of space-age
materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the
other. But they are better than Army tanks. They've been modified in such a
way that they never, ever break down, are light and maneuverable enough to
use on ordinary streets, and use no more fuel than a subcompact car. These
tanks are being cranked out, on the spot, at a terrific pace, and a vast
number of them are lined up along the edge of the road with keys in the
ignition. Anyone who wants can simply climb into one and drive it away for

Customers come to this crossroads in throngs, day and night. Ninety percent

of them go straight to the biggest dealership and buy station wagons or
off-road vehicles. They do not even look at the other dealerships.

Of the remaining ten percent, most go and buy a sleek Euro-sedan, pausing

only to turn up their noses at the philistines going to buy the station
wagons and ORVs. If they even notice the people on the opposite side of the
road, selling the cheaper, technically superior vehicles, these customers
deride them cranks and half-wits.

The Batmobile outlet sells a few vehicles to the occasional car nut who

wants a second vehicle to go with his station wagon, but seems to accept,
at least for now, that it's a fringe player.

The group giving away the free tanks only stays alive because it is staffed

by volunteers, who are lined up at the edge of the street with bullhorns,
trying to draw customers' attention to this incredible situation. A typical
conversation goes something like this:

Hacker with bullhorn: "Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is

invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour
while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!"

Prospective station wagon buyer: "I know what you say is don't know how to maintain a tank!"

Bullhorn: "You don't know how to maintain a station wagon either!"

Buyer: "But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong

with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay
them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to
elevator music."

Bullhorn: "But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers

to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!"

Buyer: "Stay away from my house, you freak!"

Bullhorn: "But..."

Buyer: "Can't you see that everyone is buying station wagons?"

Go out and buy a copy of Stephenson's book and expand your views. Then pick up some of his other books and really stretch the limits of your perspectives; enjoy.

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