Intro to the Command Line

Many years ago when I was experimenting with Book Sprints I suggested to the Free Software Foundation that we do a Book Sprint at the LibrePlanet meeting in Boston (2009). The idea was to make a book introducing people to the command line. I asked Andy Oram (friend and editor at O’Reilly) if he would help me put it together and so we announced it and both turned up at the event to make it happen.

The Book Sprint was meant to be an opt-in. So ‘anyone’ who was at the event could come in and write the book. Of course ‘everyone’ wanted instead to go to the presentations! So we had almost no one from the event attend…it felt very lonely for a bit…

Then, a few people turned up online and because they couldn’t participate with the conference they wanted to be part of LibrePlanet and contribute to the book. It was an astonishing thing. More and more people turned up. I remember going to bed on the first night (it was a 2 day Book Sprint) and feeling like all was not lost, waking up the next day and a whole lot more of the book was done. It was amazing.

There were some fantastic contributions and we coordinated it all through online chat (I think it was IRC but can’t remember). I remember in particular having a really lovely chat with one participant – I think their name was ‘Freaky Clown’ but I can’t remember for sure. I remember a sense of solidarity and peer-ness when talking to them about the book and the process. There were a lot of things that made that process special.

Anyways…we produced the book in 2 days and it is quite an amazing work.


It was on offer from FLOSS Manuals (still there –, but more interestingly the Free Software Foundation offered it for sale –

The cool thing about that was (apart from the FSF publishing it which was already pretty cool) that they used their own cover art etc and made it their own… freedom in action.

Apparently the book has been very successful – its used as a textbook, has been reviewed a lot, and seems to get a lot of use – but imagine my surprise when I saw in the LibrePlanet meet of 2018 this program item:

Introduction to the Command Line brainstorming session

We’re updating the popular 150-page Introduction to the Command Line. What do you think should be in the new edition? We’ll be discussing content and process for updating this important work.

A product of a partnership between the FSF and Floss Manuals, this book gives new computer users a gentle, beginner’s window onto Bash, vim, a few scripting languages, and other key tools offered on the Unix/GNU command line. A lot has happened since the book was released in 2009. We want to include new developments without substantially increasing the length of the book.

Pretty cool! Andy hosted the session and I hope it went well… very nice to think these crazy things you are a part of become something and take on a life of their own….

I even found the only image I know of taken at the event (by me) when (on the second day) some folks took pity on us sitting by ourselves and came in and contributed…Andy on far left.


I also found this old blog I did on the FSF site –