Command Line Interface - Terminal window in Linux Mint [photo: Henrik Hemrin]

I have read In the Beginning was the Command Line, by Neal Stephenson 

I read about this essay book in Linux Journal, July 2019, in the article "In the End Is the Command Line" by Doc Searls. I decided I want to read this classic book myself!

For many years I had a SUN UNIX computer as my job tool. Many designers at Ericsson were also using Unix. So we at Component Technology, who worked closely with the designers, decided to be working in the same environment. I think it must have been Solaris operating system, one variant of Unix. I recall we talked about that Unix was built for computers in networks, while Windows was for PC - Personal Computer - which means Windows was for stand alone machines. Unix was more robust and reliable. I was never good at the Unix language, but I learned some commands, and the type of language/words you use in a Command Line Interface (CLI). For example I thought the command "kill" was a colourful language. Kill is used to kill a process for some reason, in general an application that has stopped working. But there was not just kill, it is about different levels of killing, and I think in Unix/Solaris "kill -9" that was the most severe level of killing (the kill command is not only in Solaris, but this is how I recall it from when I first met it, in the Unix/Solaris environment).

I came to think about my Unix years when I now have read the book "In the Beginning was the Command Line", by Neal Stephenson. The book was written 1999, which falls into the period when I was using my Sun work station. It was also around these years I first heard about Linux, and friends tried Linux. I came so far at that time that I bought a book with CD about Linux Red Hat, but I never installed it. It's not until lately I've started to explore Linux (see my list of Linux related articles).

I do not understand all of the English words in the book, and its references to books, stories, drilling tools and more. But enough to enjoy the book!

The book was written 1999, it was when Apple used an older operating system than today. The current macOS can be described as a Linux sibling, although (definitely) not an open source.

Operating systems (OS) is central in the book. It compares Microsoft, which focus on selling the OS software (and other software), and Apple, which focus on selling hardware with software attached to it. Which means Windows can be run on "any" computer, which drives the harware prices down, while macOS only can be used on Apple products. And I think that distinction between them has its relevance also today. The book discuss why so many go to those two "car dealers", not seeing the cars (operating systems) on the other side of the street; operating systems which mainly are Open Source and free.

He tells about using the Linux distribution Debian. And not at least he talks about Be OS, a not free OS but which he says costs a nominal fee, he thought was very promising. Be OS is now gone, but Haiku is a successor of it, under some development and listed at DistroWatch.

The GUI, Graphical User Interface versus the CLI, Command Line Interface, is also a theme in the book.

So, to read the book brought back memories to me about the operating systems and computers from the time when it was written, both at work and at home. It also gives me learning about Unix, Linux, Open source, CLI and more, which is interesting and useful when I right now am in the phase of exploring Linux.

I downloaded the essay as a free book from internet as a text file. I converted it to epub-format with the open source free software Libre Office. But I must admit, I did it on macOS, and read it on an iPad. So I haven't fully given up those purchased cars and walked over to the other side of the street for the free and cars. Today I go to both sides of the street, maybe one day I will stay more on the other side

The book is enjoyable for any interesting in computers and computer history, written as a literary essay.

Henrik Hemrin
26 July 2019

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