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In the Beginning was
the Command Line
by Neal Stephenson
About twenty years ago Jobs and Wozniak, the founders of Apple,
came up with the very strange idea of selling information processing machines
for use in the home. The business took off, and its founders made a lot
of money and received the credit they deserved for being daring visionaries.
But around the same time, Bill Gates and Paul Allen came up with an idea
even stranger and more fantastical: selling computer operating systems.
This was much weirder than the idea of Jobs and Wozniak. A computer at
least had some sort of physical reality to it. It came in a box, you could
open it up and plug it in and watch lights blink. An operating system had
no tangible incarnation at all. It arrived on a disk, of course, but the
disk was, in effect, nothing more than the box that the OS came in. The
product itself was a very long string of ones and zeroes that, when properly
installed and coddled, gave you the ability to manipulate other
very long strings of ones and zeroes. Even those few who actually understood
what a computer operating system was were apt to think of it as a fantastically
arcane engineering prodigy, like a breeder reactor or a U-2 spy plane,
and not something that could ever be (in the parlance of high-tech) "productized."
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Copyright 1999 by Neal Stephenson