George V. Reilly

Review: In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line

In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line
Title: In the Beginning … Was the Command Line
Author: Neal Stephenson
Rating: ★ ★
Publisher: Perennial
Copyright: 1999
Pages: 151
Keywords: sociology, business
Reading period: October 2006—Feb­ru­ary 5, 2007

This is a rather strange, rambling essay about the state of the computer industry, historical accidents, and Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux, favoring Linux. Written in 1999, it has not aged well. Stephenson has a fas­ci­na­tion with the command line and a disdain for GUIs.

By using GUIs all the time we have insensibly bought into a premise that few people would have accepted if it were presented to them bluntly: namely, that hard things can be made easy, and com­pli­cat­ed things simple, by putting the right interface on them.

I agree with that statement, but not with his overall thrust (and I’m a Linux user and an inveterate command-line dinosaur). Good UI design is hard and we need new and better metaphors, but command-line interfaces should not be foisted on the average user.

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