159 of 168 people found the following review helpful
missing history, strange conclusions,
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This review is from: In the Beginning...was the Command Line (Paperback)I'm a professional programmer and an avid Linux owner. I'm always happy when someone throws a little barb at Microsoft or Apple. That having been said, I think this book generates more heat than light when it comes to the "OS War." It's somewhat weak on history, and a bit out of touch with what the average computer user wants.
A glaring omission is the early history of Stephenson's beloved Unix. To hear him tell it, Unix begins with Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds. Now, to be sure these two are giants whose shoulders we stand upon, but where is the story of Unix's actual invention at AT&T in the early 70s? The word "AT&T" appears only once in the book, briefly cited as something that Stallman was reacting against. The dark side of Unix's corporate past - the fact that Unix originally was a proprietary operating system under AT&T, and that AT&T completely missed the point of Unix and sold the license to Novell, who also blew it - would have fit right in with Stephenson's argument. Basically, for Stephenson, Unix IS Linux. There is no description whatsoever of the rich Unix tradition that precedes the founding of the Free Software Foundation, nor of the contributions that commercial Unixes like SunOS and Solaris have made, such as NFS, NIS, etc., nor of academic contributions like BSD or X. Stephenson lauds XWindows but makes it seem as if it too were a product of his open-source, hacker utopia - and not of the MIT X Consortium. These traditions were direct antecedents of today's hacker community, and Stephenson gives them short shrift.
Finally, there is Stephenson smugly chiding us on how GUIs make us into sheep led by a corporate shepherd. But he undermines his own argument by detailing (pretty factually) the time and sweat of installing and using Linux. So we are supposed to like this better than Microsoft? For the uninitiated, it sucks just as much - maybe more! If you are a programmer and a professional, Linux/Unix is the best route to go down. For the rest, people want something that turns on quickly, that doesn't wreck their stuff, and is easy to use. Windows isn't that - but neither is Linux. Stephenson is missing out on the real story: the imminent destruction of the personal computer as we know it. Someday very soon, small, highly-networked, specialized devices will replace the generalized, complicated computer. People will only pay for what they need. And what they get will be appliances, things that require neither a $95 per call help line (Microsoft) nor a descent into the depths of hacker message boards (Linux), to fix. Something like a TV set. Probably Linux or its descendant will be the operating system that these things will run on, but most people besides programmers won't need to care.
It's a fun ride, and you'll certainly finish knowing more than you did when you started. If I had to do it over, I'd buy and read this book again. But there is much more than this.
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Initial post: Aug 5, 2010 1:53:56 PM PDT
Genevieve Taylor says:
wow, seems like he had a bead on what has happened since then! It is 2010 - and he is exactly right about how things evolved. Interesting review.
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