[TUHS] Why Linux not another PC/UNIX [was Mach for i386 ...]

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Wed Feb 22 14:28:42 AEST 2017

On Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 10:38 PM, Clem Cole <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:
> On Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 9:25 PM, Steve Nickolas <usotsuki at buric.co> wrote:
>> I started screwing around with Linux in the late 90s, and it would be
>> many years before any sort of real Unix (of the AT&T variety), in any form,
>> was readily available to me - that being Solaris when Sun started offering
>> it for free download.
> See my comment to Dan. I fear you may not have known where to look, or
> whom to ask.‚Äč As I asked Dan,  were you not at an university at time? Or
> where you running a Sun or the like -- i.e. working with real UNIX but
> working for someone with binary license, not sources from AT&T (and UCB)?

Clem, I think this is a great way to put it, and that you're fundamentally
right, but bear in mind the following, below:

I really am curious because I have heard this comment before and never
> really understood it because the sources really were pretty much available
> to anyone that asked.  Most professionals and almost any/all
> university students had did have source access if they ask for it.  That is
> part of why AT&T lost the case.   The trade secret was out, by definition.
>   The required by the 1956 consent decree to make the trade secrets
> available.   A couple of my European university folks have answer that the
> schools kept the sources really locked down.   I believe you, I never saw
> that at places like Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburg, Darmstad or other places I
> visited in those days in Europe.   Same was true of CMU, MIT, UCB et al
> where I had been in the USA, so I my experience was different.

The universities you are mentioning here are top-tier for CS. But please do
bear in mind that if you were not at one of those institutions (for
whatever reason), asking for that code might well have gotten you the hairy
eyeball from folks you didn't want giving you a furry look. If you were in
an institution better known for Mech E than CS, even if you had access, the
folks who you would ask to get it wouldn't necessarily know to give it to
you. By the time I was a student, I didn't much care as I was more
interested in pure math than computers, but hey.

The key that by definition, UNIX was available and there were already
> versions from AT&T or not "in the wild."  You just need to know where to
> look and whom to ask. The truth is that the UCB/BSDi version of UNIX - was
> based on the AT&T trade secret, as was Linux, Minix, Coherent and all of
> the other "clones"   -- aka look-a-likes and man of those sources were
> pretty available too (just as Minix was to Linus and 386BSD was to him also
> but he did not know to where/whom to ask).
> So a few years later when the judge said, these N files might be tain'ted
> by AT&T IP, but can't claim anything more.  The game was over.  The
> problem was when the case started, techies (like me, and I'm guessing
> Larry, Ron and other ex BSD hackers that "switched") went to Linux and
> started to making it better because we thought we going to lose BSD.
> That fact is if we had lost BSD, legally would have lost Linux too; but we
> did not know that until after the dust settled.  But by that time, many
> hackers had said, its good enough and made it work for everyone.
> As you and Dan have pointed out, many non-hackers did know that UNIX
> really was available so they went with *Linux because they thought that
> had no other choice, *when if fact, you actually did and that to me was
> the sad part of the AT&T case.
> A whole generation never knew and by the time they did have a choice but a
> few religion began and new wars could be fought.
> Anyway - that's my thinking/answer to Noel's original question.
> Of why Linux over the over the PC/UNIX strains... I think we all agree
> that one of the PC/UNIX was going to be the winner, the question really is
> why did Linux and not a BSD flavor?

Small anecdote: I got access to NetBSD fairly quickly (but it still had
this feeling of not *really* being Unix, for some odd reason). I suppose I
must have installed 0.8. I switched to FreeBSD once I realized one could
install via FTP instead of a myriad of floppies. I ran Linux on one machine
but some folks I regarded gave me guff about it and I switched to the
publicly available BSD stuff shortly thereafter.

As someone once said, BSD is what you get when Unix folks port to the PC;
Linux is what you get when PC folks build a Unix. Most local folks were
running Suns or RS/6000s and the PC-based stuff was regarded as something
of a toy. A couple of years later, someone pointed out the Wintel economics
and it was hard to refute.

        - Dan C.

(PS: A self-deprecating anecdote. When I started gaining access to the
local Unix culture, access to USENET came along with that and, of course,
discovery of the local flame newsgroup. Not knowing anything, I posted
something; I was immediately flambeed and told to post my SAT score. a) I
hadn't yet taken the SAT, and b) I had no idea how to respond to a posting
and quote what I was responding to, so I just "played it cool" by
responding with single-word posts saying likes what, "Whatever." or
"Loser." This apparently gained me something of a reputation as a savvy
participant as it drove some of the regulars batty, but really, it was
entirely due to my own ignorance of how [not] to use an NNTP client. The
SAT thing was apparently a matter of local lore and had to do with a
particularly verbose community participant who was sufficiently impressed
with his SAT score that he kept posting about it, eventually prompting a
flood of tongue-in-cheek replies about standardized test scores....)
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