A book about the command line for humans.
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  1. 7. the command line as as a shared world
  2. ========================================
  3. In an earlier chapter, I wrote:
  4. > You can think of the shell as a kind of environment you inhabit, in much
  5. > the way your character inhabits an adventure game.
  6. It turns out that sometimes there are other human inhabitants of this
  7. environment.
  8. Unix was built on a model known as "time-sharing". This is an idea with a lot
  9. of history, but the very short version is that when computers were rare and
  10. expensive, it made sense for lots of people to be able to use them at once.
  11. This is part of the story of how ideas like e-mail and chat were originally
  12. born, well before networks took over the world: As ways for the many users of
  13. one computer to communicate on the same machine.
  14. Says Dennis Ritchie:
  15. > What we wanted to preserve was not just a good environment in which to do
  16. > programming, but a system around which a fellowship could form. We knew from
  17. > experience that the essence of communal computing, as supplied by
  18. > remote-access, time-shared machines, is not just to type programs into a
  19. > terminal instead of a keypunch, but to encourage close communication.
  20. Times have changed, and while it's mundane to use software that's shared
  21. between many users, it's not nearly as common as it once was for a bunch of us
  22. to be logged into the same computer all at once.
  23. -> ★ <-
  24. In the mid 1990s, when I was first exposed to Unix, it was by opening up a
  25. program called NCSA Telnet on one of the Macs at school and connecting to a
  26. server called mother.esu1.k12.ne.us.
  27. NCSA Telnet was a terminal, not unlike the kind that you use to open a shell on
  28. your own Linux computer, a piece of software that itself emulated actual,
  29. physical hardware from an earlier era. Hardware terminals were basically very
  30. simple computers with keyboards, screens, and just enough networking brains to
  31. talk to a _real_ computer somewhere else. You'll still come across these
  32. scattered around big institutional environments. The last time I looked over
  33. the shoulder of an airline checkin desk clerk, for example, I saw green
  34. monochrome text that was probably coming from an IBM mainframe somewhere
  35. far away.
  36. Part of what was exciting about being logged into a computer somewhere else
  37. was that you could _talk to people_.
  38. -> ★ <-
  39. _{This chapter is a work in progress.}_