[TUHS] Mach for i386 / Mt Xinu or other

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Wed Feb 22 14:07:20 AEST 2017

On Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 10:11 PM, Clem Cole <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:

> [snip: I think we're mostly in agreement here, Clem]
>> I think there's a network effect that blinds a lot of folks to this
>> reality. Most of the folks on this list had access to Unix source and, with
>> no disrespect intended, it's easy to lose sight of what a big deal that
>> was. But unless you were in a position to already have access to it, it was
>> remarkably difficult to come by.
> ​Actually, I always found that a strange statement.  I hear you and no
> disrespect intended, but  I fear that people that make that claim just
> did not know where to look.  It was ignorance (not stupidity mind you) -
> just lack of knowledge that is was available.
> I'm going to ask Dan, were you not at an university at time?  Most schools
> in the US and Europe had BSD licenses.  If you working, I can understand it
> somewhat.   Many people's first UNIX experience was on a Sun Workstation so
> those folks did not have UNIX source licenses.   But if you were at a
> either a University or commercial enterprise with a AT&T and BSD license,
>  All it took was making sure you university had one and sending and email
> to the UCB folks (which many of us on this list were some of the folks that
> might have read it).​ They reply (I if I got searching through old email I
> might even have a copy of some where) basically was the url of the blind
> ftp address to pull the iso off the ucb ftp site.  It was incredibly easy
> to get but you did have to have ftp access (and know the magic path - which
> if you asked was easy to get).   Even with the first ISO, at one point, I
> seem to remember the bazillion *BSD floppies showed up on the one of the
> netnews channels and clogging up the dial-up links for a few days.

So I was in high school, but I was affiliated with a major university (one
that, yes, did have a Unix source license) because I held a part-time
sysadmin job. For the curious, it was Penn State University; not a huge CS
powerhouse like, say, MIT or CMU, but it held it's own as a large research
university (they have, for instance, hands-down the best Acoustics
department in the world. Also, while it may seem quaint, they hands-down
have the best agriculture department in the world: kind of important for
that whole food thing. :-)). I didn't go there as a student, but lived in
the town during high school and cut my teeth on their computers.

I can say from first-hand experience that it was NOT easy to get access to
Unix source code there. The cadre of university system administrators that
formed something of a cabal did not hand it out lightly, and it took
significant time to gain the sort of trust that would result in you getting
access to it. I strongly suspect that if a random CS student had written to
UCB asking for access to the BSD source code, and that had gotten back to
the aforementioned cabal, it would not have gone well for the student. Lots
of intrusive questions would have been asked; angry letters written and
placed into files. Uncomfortable meetings with academic advisors and the
university computer security officer would have taken place. Questions of
academic malfeasance or expulsion may have come up, etc.

Was any of that justified? No, not really. I suspect much of it came from
an outsized sense of trying to protect the university from potential
litigation should a poorly-secured student machine on the dorm network be
compromised with AT&T proprietary material/trade secrets on it, etc. As
became clear a few years ago, perhaps that energy should have been spent
looking into the school's football program, but of course the local
sysadmins had nothing to do with that. Anyway, for what it's worth, as a
student/low-level staff in the early- to mid- 90s? No, you weren't going to
get access to Unix code using the site license -- even from Berkeley --
unless you were on a first-name basis with a number of folks in the local
computing community. And that wasn't going to happen for the majority of
students for logistical reasons if nothing else.

The point was if you were at all in the community, it was pretty easy to
> find the BSD code.

Please see above. It may have been easy, but that didn't mean there
wouldn't be consequences due to misunderstandings or what have you.

Which brings me to my point... many developers abandoned it - and most of
> them certainly know how to get it.  They why I think the incorrect belief
> that legal entanglement (miss guided as it turned out) where not there with
> Linux.
> By the time the legal case was settled, the developed had "completed
> enough" of what was missing in Linux from *BSD that many folks never went
> back.   And the newbie never knew any better.

The point I was trying to make was that the newbie didn't know any better
but didn't want anything else, even if s/he did know any better. Plan 9 was
available after 2000 gratis, but by then no one wanted it (more's the pity,
IMHO). If I think about the systems that were interesting in the research
sphere in the late 80s early 90s, they were V, Chorus, Minix and Xinu for
education, Mach, NeXTSTEP, etc: again, no one really wanted them. They
wanted Unix a la SunOS 4/System V instead. As you noted, BSD's future
looked dubious, so they got Linux instead: it was the next closest thing
that didn't look like it might result in a trench-coated G-man breaking
down your door.

Linux filled a gap that a lot of people were looking to have filled.
> ​Agreed..​ but that gap would not have been there if the AT&T legal case
> had not clouded it all.   Imagine that if the case had no occurred, the
> hackers were already working with *BSD.
> So then the question comes which Larry raises, was the UNIX personalities
> and/or the licensing what would have caused Linux to rise.
> I don't think so, because BSD had too much of a lead - already had
> networking, windowing, and in fact had a "better" installer on a PC/386.
> The first stuff "distro" that was at all reasonably easy t install was a PC
> was slackware and that was partly because they pulled a bunch of stuff from
> the stuff Jordan had created.
> But they problem was that FreeBSD et al was starting under a legal cloud,
> I know I was worried.  I ran it on two of my systems, but was working on
> Linux on another to hedge my bet.  I was not sure BSDi/UCB would win, so I
> started helping make Linux work better too.

I think you are absolutely right. It's kind of sad, in a way. Oh well.

        - Dan C.
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