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This is very difficult to understand for people who are accustomed to thinking of OSes as things that absolutely have to be bought. Many hackers have launched more or less successful re-implementations of the Unix ideal. Each one brings in new embellishments.

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Some of them die out quickly, some are merged with similar, parallel innovations created by different hackers attacking the same problem, others still are embraced, and adopted into the epic. Thus Unix has slowly accreted around a simple kernel and acquired a kind of complexity and asymmetry about it that is organic, like the roots of a tree, or the branchings of a coronary artery. Understanding it is more like anatomy than physics.

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Documentation, under Linux, comes in the form of man short for manual pages. You can access these either through a GUI xman or from the command line man. Here is a sample from the man page for a program called rsh:.

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  5. The man pages contain a lot of such material, which reads like the terse mutterings of pilots wrestling with the controls of damaged airplanes. The general feel is of a thousand monumental but obscure struggles seen in the stop-action light of a strobe. Each programmer is dealing with his own obstacles and bugs; he is too busy fixing them, and improving the software, to explain things at great length or to maintain elaborate pretensions.

    In practice you hardly ever encounter a serious bug while running Linux. When you do, it is almost always with commercial software several vendors sell software that runs under Linux. The operating system and its fundamental utility programs are too important to contain serious bugs. I have been running Linux every day since late and have seen many application programs go down in flames, but I have never seen the operating system crash. Not once. There are quite a few Linux systems that have been running continuously and working hard for months or years without needing to be rebooted. Commercial OSes have to adopt the same official stance towards errors as Communist countries had towards poverty.

    For doctrinal reasons it was not possible to admit that poverty was a serious problem in Communist countries, because the whole point of Communism was to eradicate poverty. Likewise, commercial OS companies like Apple and Microsoft can't go around admitting that their software has bugs and that it crashes all the time, any more than Disney can issue press releases stating that Mickey Mouse is an actor in a suit. This is a problem, because errors do exist and bugs do happen.

    Every few months Bill Gates tries to demo a new Microsoft product in front of a large audience only to have it blow up in his face. Commercial OS vendors, as a direct consequence of being commercial, are forced to adopt the grossly disingenuous position that bugs are rare aberrations, usually someone else's fault, and therefore not really worth talking about in any detail. This posture, which everyone knows to be absurd, is not limited to press releases and ad campaigns. It informs the whole way these companies do business and relate to their customers. If the documentation were properly written, it would mention bugs, errors, and crashes on every single page.

    If the on-line help systems that come with these OSes reflected the experiences and concerns of their users, they would largely be devoted to instructions on how to cope with crashes and errors. But this does not happen. Joint stock corporations are wonderful inventions that have given us many excellent goods and services. They are good at many things. Admitting failure is not one of them.

    Hell, they can't even admit minor shortcomings.

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    While various sources online Wikipedia included say Neal probably won't update the book, his own page on the book says:. This was originally just a set of musings about Graphical User Interfaces GUIs that gradually took on the shape of an essay. On the spur of the moment, the decision was made to post it on my publisher's website. Today we would say that it went viral, but back then we said that it had been Slashdotted. Anyway, the resulting traffic broke the publisher's servers until various readers set up mirror sites to handle the load.

    This essay is in need of an update, which I'm slowly working on, but there is still some material in here that many readers might find interesting. If you want to buy the book, here's the Amazon link. If you want to read the whole thing online, look it up.

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    I count four complete copies in the first page of search results. Contact Doc through ljeditor linuxjournal. Neal Stephenson. In the End Is the Command Line.

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    What's great about Command Line is how well it explains the original virtues of UNIX, and of Linux as the operating system making the most of it: The file systems of Unix machines all have the same general structure. There are many other yummy passages. Here's one example: Documentation, under Linux, comes in the form of man short for manual pages. Here is a sample from the man page for a program called rsh: "Stop signals stop the local rsh process only; this is arguably wrong, but currently hard to fix for reasons too complicated to explain here.

    Nico is what happens when the bloodless wager their minds on the wisdom of the blood and the suicidal make something of their lives.

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    If this be romanticism, give me Matthew Arnold —and gimme shelter. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. London: Orion. Retrieved 20 April Retrieved March 8, — via robertchristgau. Drowned in Sound. Head Heritage. June 15, Retrieved August 15, Drama of Exile Camera Obscura. Hidden categories: Articles with short description Articles with hAudio microformats All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from July Namespaces Article Talk.

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