Unix as Literature: Revisited

by Rob Flickenger

Related link: http://web.meganet.net/yeti/PCarticle.html

New OS X users are an eclectic mix of long-time Mac users, fed-up and over-licensed Windows refugees, Linux desktop junkies who are tired of defending their "No, it really doesn't suck!" position, and of course, the old school Unix trained techno-luminati, grateful to finally have access to a GUI that isn't XWindows.

While discussing "what makes an OS X user be like that?" around the office, I was reminded of a piece I had seen four years ago by Thomas Scoville, called The Elements of Style: Unix as Literature. I think it is just as relevant now (in a world of iBooks and OS X) as it was in 1998:

"The common thread was wordsmithing; a suspiciously high proportion of my UNIX colleagues had already developed, in some prior career, a comfort and fluency with text and printed words. They were adept readers and writers, and UNIX played handily to those strengths. UNIX was, in some sense, literature to them."

It's difficult to describe why using OS X is any different from using another operating system. I think one of its most beneficial effects is its ability to expose new users to the value of Unix as a system in general, and to freely available tools and APIs in particular.

It is very gratifying to hear longtime Mac users like Derrick Story find new joy in discovering commandline DNS tools like dig and nslookup, and realizing the power that lurks under the flashy dancing interactive cartoon of the Aqua interface.

I find it a very humorous irony that the ultimate tool that will likely bring people back to doing more in a Unix terminal may turn out to be the latest version of MacOS...

If you use OS X for your day-to-day work, what are you trained in? Were/are you a Comp/Sci geek, a Lit major, or something else entirely?


2002-08-21 18:24:04
English Major
"failed" engineer; started reading computer stuff in 1957.

Interested in stories and strange people. SF

Wound up on Macs by accident. Hated them at first (1984) love them now. OS X... a bizarre combination of genius and madness (quoting Jeffrey Zeldman, I think).

Steve Jobs is jumping with his Gods.

Uh... yes I use Macosx in my day to day job.