Chapter 5. Supporting Workflow with Tools

“We shall neither fail nor falter, we shall not weaken or tire...give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

Winston Churchill

When I was 16, I knew I wanted to play with computers. To access this world of exploration, though, I needed a bundle of what I had precious little of: money. One option was to save, but like many 16-year-olds I was more likely to fly to the moon on a potato than save any lucre.

It wasn’t just hardware at the mercy of money; so was the Internet. Back in those dim, distant days, dial-up Internet access in England was charged at 10 pence a minute. As a blossoming Net junkie, I had a (seemingly reasonable) proposal for my parents. For each minute of Internet access, I would put the requisite 10 pence in a cardboard box next to the computer. At the end of the month when the phone bill came in, the money in the box could cover my usage. Simple. Well, at the end of the month a bill for £190 arrived, and there was six quid in the box. The philosophy of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” didn’t wash with my parents.

Over in the U.S., things were different. Many parts of the country had flat-rate local access and established Internet access at universities. The growth of these cheap networks made it easy for online communities to form. Early on, these communities shared knowledge as text files, packed with ideas, techniques, and recipes to make things. Each text file was shared freely, and people could add ...

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