In The Beginning ... Was The Command Line
Been rereading this Neal Stephenson essay from a few years ago. Showing its
age in spots, but still some insightful comments to be found. Like this:
We like plain dealings and straightforward transactions in America. If
you go to Egypt and, say, take a taxi somewhere, you become a part of
the taxi driver's life; he refuses to take your money because it would
demean your friendship, he follows you around town, and weeps hot tears
when you get in some other guy's taxi. You end up meeting his kids at
some point, and have to devote all sort of ingenuity to finding some way
to compensate him without insulting his honor. It is exhausting.
Sometimes you just want a simple Manhattan-style taxi ride.
But in order to have an American-style setup, where you can just go out
and hail a taxi and be on your way, there must exist a whole hidden
apparatus of medallions, inspectors, commissions, and so forth--which is
fine as long as taxis are cheap and you can always get one. When the
system fails to work in some way, it is mysterious and infuriating and
turns otherwise reasonable people into conspiracy theorists. But when
the Egyptian system breaks down, it breaks down transparently. You can't
get a taxi, but your driver's nephew will show up, on foot, to explain
the problem and apologize.
Microsoft and Apple do things the Manhattan way, with vast complexity
hidden behind a wall of interface. Linux does things the Egypt way, with
vast complexity strewn about all over the landscape. If you've just
flown in from Manhattan, your first impulse will be to throw up your
hands and say "For crying out loud! Will you people get a grip on
yourselves!?" But this does not make friends in Linux-land any better
than it would in Egypt.
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