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The true secret behind the X

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Dorothea linked to a power house web site tonight: Women in Linux. You all should print this out on pretty paper, put a bow on it and give it to the Alpha Man in your life.

Seriously, though, Dorothea, I’m finding that this straight forward, honest, and out in the open approach just isn’t effective. I mean, I dabbled a bit with the book, Unix Power Tools, and I still can’t convince people that I know how to turn a computer on, much less work with Unix.

In my experience, every time a woman gets involved in Linux User Groups, or tries to work with Unix in the office, some guy’s going to come along and throw some esoteric stuff at her, making her feel inadequate. And then the dude will walk away, triumphant in the knowledge that he’s prevented women from accessing the secrets of Unix yet again.

So I came up with a plan — a way for women to learn Unix without guys knowing. I told my plan to one of the industry’s leading technologists, and we called the plan Operation X, for the fact that women have two X chromosomes, while men only have one.

Except that when the plan was released, Steve released it as OS X.

And the story goes…

I called on Steve at his home one morning and I started talking to him about the problems women have with learning Unix. I described the put-downs, the deliberate and exclusionary geek talk, the difficulty entering a room full of men and being the only woman present. I could tell Steve was sympathetic, but also distracted. When I pointed this out to him, he apologized, and I asked him what was up.

“Well, Shelley, the point is that Apple isn’t doing that great at the moment. We keep losing business market share to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and the geeks think the Mac is a frivolous operating system that’s far too pretty and friendly and helpful to be taken seriously.”

“Wow, Steve. I didn’t know things were that rough.”

“Yeah. I’m down to my last few billion.”


“Yeah. Bummer”

Then I had this epiphany! Excited, I turned to Steve and said, “Steve! I have a great idea!”

“Shelley, I’m sorry but I’ve told you before — I’m not going to incorporate RDF/XML into AppleScript.”

“No Steve, not that idea. A new one!”

“What is it?”

“Well, you say you want to attract geeks, right?”


“But I imagine you don’t want to go with Linux or something like that cuz that’ll scare the corporate types, right?”

“You got that right. I can imagine going into Citicorp with Linux of all things.”

“Sure, sure. I know what you’re saying Steve. But what if you hid the Unix?”

Steve was puzzled. I could tell. Most people couldn’t, but I could tell.

“Come again?”

“Well, Steve, you use Unix for the base of a new operating system, but you put the old, familiar, less intimidating Mac stuff on top to hide it. With this, you can sell the OS to the corporate types — see no geeky Unix hacker shit — but still attract geeks because underneath all that puff lies a Real Operating System.”

As I was talking I could see Steve warming up to the idea. He said, “That’s a great idea! Shelley, that’s an incredible idea!”

He started pacing about, gesturing excitedly with his hands.

“We could develop new, flashier graphics — call it ‘clouds’, or ‘glitter’, or something with marketing clout like that. And we could incorporate bits of open source in with our commercial stuff and the uber-geeks would get off our butts about proprietary hardware.”

Steve rambled on for a while, fleshing the idea out. Finally, he started to wind down, and turned to me sheepishly.

“Shelley, you really saved my butt, but you came to me for help and I haven’t helped you at all.”

“But Steve you have”, I answered. “Once the new operating system hits the street women will be able to learn Unix, finally, without men knowing about it.”

“How come?”

“Here’s the scenario: a woman is working away in the Terminal, typing ‘nix command after ‘nix command, but then a guy comes up and asks what they’re doing. The woman quickly collapses the terminal, hiding what they’re doing, and shows the guy their drawing, or graphic, or letter, or whatever they’re working on. Non-threatening stuff.”

Steve’s quick, because he responded with, “Learning Unix with stealth technology. I like it!”

So we hashed it around, coming up with the name and all. Later, as he was seeing me out, I happened to notice a laptop computer by the door and asked Steve what it was.

“Oh, it’s a new computer case we’re working on. It hasn’t been painted yet because we’re trying different types of paint to see which works the best.”

“I don’t know, Steve. I kind of like the bare metal look myself.”

And there you have it. The truth behind OS X.

Really, really.

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