In the Beginning … Was the Command Line

Off the Bookshelf

In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line

by Neal Stephenson

Avon Books, 151 pp., $10 (paper)

Intended for readers wanting to get in touch with their inner geek, In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line is a metaphor-strewn hacker rant that is often contradictory (Stephenson can't seem to decide whether Bill Gates is a demon or an angel) and repetitive. Stephenson's admittedly "snotty" comments about the dog-eat-dog world of the computer-software industry can be illuminating to the just-barely computer-literate caucus, although the absence of a geek-speak glossary indicates that Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) knows he's preaching to the converted. The good news here is Stephenson's notion that the planet would be a neater place if operating systems like Microsoft's Windows in its various incarnations were made available to the public for free. The solution to padding Bill Gates' bank account is for all of us to download and install the already free alternative Linux system. Yet IBM's recent announcement that it is adopting the Linux system, and thereby making all of their software and hardware compatible with it, comes very close to making Stephenson's point moot. Although it may be hard for the run-of-the-mill computer user to get worked up about a lot of Stephenson's concerns, the author does at least present his case effectively. At the end, he gets cosmic on us, describing the universe as a gigantic software program with a demiurge hacker punching code: The Big Geek in the Sky, as it were. All of which is a fascinating read and which made me curious about Linux, but not curious enough to take the trouble to install it in my hard drive.

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