Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Reading

It has nothing to do with Christmas, but I enjoyed reading In the Beginning Was the Command Line, by Neal Stephanson. I was sent to it by Alan Jacobs on one of his blogs. It's a great combination of history (of technology), polemic, and literature (it definitely expanded my vocabulary). It's also somewhat of a time capsule, as a technology book published in 1999.

One of my favorite parts is his allegory of operating systems as vehicles. Windows sells clunky station wagons, Apple sells sleek, expensive Euro-style sedans, and a motley group of hackers (Linux) offers free tanks by the side of the road . . .

The group giving away the free tanks only stays alive because it is staffed by volunteers, who are lined up at the edge of the street with bullhorns, trying to draw customers' attention to this incredible situation. A typical conversation goes something like this:

Hacker with bullhorn: "Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!"

Prospective station wagon buyer: "I know what you say is don't know how to maintain a tank!"

Bullhorn: "You don't know how to maintain a station wagon either!"

Buyer: "But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to elevator music."

Bullhorn: "But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!"

Buyer: "Stay away from my house, you freak!"

That accurately captures my feelings about Linux, although I've started to use a few free/GNU programs like the GIMP (which I used to create the effect on our Christmas card photo) and Notepad++.

1 comment:

beau said...

I now have a free tank partitioned on my hard drive. I can't wait for it to start working. The bullhorns apparently take Christmas off . . .

"You don't know how to maintain a station wagon either."