Eric Raymond’s Reply to Lanier

Lynne Kiesling

So then I go check out Eric Raymond’s reply to Jaron Lanier, and his critique of Lanier focuses on two aspects that I wanted to use as follow-up posts. The first is Liebowitz and Margolis’s “Fable of the Keys” argument:

The essay continues with a vulgar error about technology lock-in effects. I yield to few in my detestation of Microsoft and all its works, but S.J. Leibowitz and Stephen E. Margolis exploded the lock-in myth quite definitively in “The Fable Of The Keys” and their followup book Winners, Losers, and Microsoft. Vendor “lock-in” cannot survive the end-stage of lock-in success in which the monopolist, having achieved market saturation, must push prices forever upwards on its fixed-size customer base to maintain the rising returns that Wall Street demands. Eventually the expected cost to customers will exceed their cost to transition out of the technology, and the monopoly will melt down. This is why TCP/IP is king today and proprietary networking technologies only fading memories. It has already happened to Microsoft in the financial-services sector and the movie industry, and the handwriting is on the wall elsewhere.

Note how this argument rests on the crucial characterization of “natural monopoly” as a transitory phenomenon in a dynamic economy with contestability, as I mentioned in the prior post.

The second is Neal Stephenson’s essay, In the Beginning Was the Command Line. Stephenson takes, as Raymond puts it, “a more humane” perspective on command-line-based operating systems. Indeed: perhaps text-based systems are one form of a heuristic that humans can grasp intuitively as we try to impose structure on the world around us. Is it really the case that text-based and command-line-based structures limit creativity? I could argue otherwise: think of the command line as an analogue to simple, transparent institutions that leave a lot of room for individual creativity and productivity, as long as it whatever you create can interoperate with the simple infrastructure.

More as the discussion evolves.


3 thoughts on “Eric Raymond’s Reply to Lanier

  1. You HAVE to be kidding. There is no way that the average computer user in this day and age can deal with a command line. For computers to have evolved past their 640Kb/ 8088/ Dual floppy drive origins it was ESSENTIAL that a Windows style OS be developed.

    Remember when you’d list the files in a directory and they would flash by so fast that you couldn’t read them? Yeah, that was with a 386. Some of the new Pentiums are 1000 times as fast! New hard drives have as much as 5000 times as much space as a floppy.

    A command line interface just doesn’t work for me in such a fast, resource laden computer. Of course, I’m not a fricken geek like most Linux/ IT freaks that still use the command line, so what do I know.

  2. Yes and no. Are there really that many more files or are they just a lot bigger? Audio and now video are gigantic. Email still fits on a floppy.

    find and grep still work much better than Microsoft’s search feature (which mysteriously leaves some files out of the search even when you say “*”)

    Google desktop works even better – there is no reason it couldn’t be command line.

    Just being Devil’s Advocate, though. I ssh into my web server for maintenance but there is no way I’d use lynx for posting this.

  3. Yes and no. Are there really that many more files or are they just a lot bigger? Audio and now video are gigantic. Email still fits on a floppy.

    find and grep still work much better than Microsoft’s search feature (which mysteriously leaves some files out of the search even when you say “*”)

    Google desktop works even better – there is no reason it couldn’t be command line.

    Just being Devil’s Advocate, though. I ssh into my web server for maintenance but there is no way I’d use lynx for posting this.

Comments are closed.