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

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Thu Feb 23 01:36:08 AEST 2017

Dan & Larry thank you -- this helps me understand and I'm going reply you
both in line hopefully without screwing up either of your messages as I

On Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 11:28 PM, Dan Cross <crossd at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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.
​Unfortunately, I can see that.   Sad, but probably a reality.​  Again, "he
who has the gold, rules."  Funny thing about gatekeepers.  Larry's closing
comment about Bill Shannon walling off the Research kernels was the same
thing, and IT folks often seem to be like that too.   My wife likes
referred this behavior just this AM at breakfast, she calls "can't" a
"magic button word" for me.  I hate it when providers say things like
that.  Pisses me off and something go off to prove otherwise. ;-)

> ​....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.
​FYI: I ran them both in the early days.   @ the time, *BSD was more
"finger ROM" compliant(still is).  I  preferred Slackware for Linux​
because it was more BSD-like, and seemed a little less hackneyed but as you
say the floppy distro just sucked.

> 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.
I love it, never heard that and in fact that helps with Noel's original
question, I think.   It all comes back to the Christiansen disruption

> ​...
>  A self-deprecating anecdote.
​I had to laugh a little when I read all that.   I'm going to reply to
something Larry said in a minute and this all related.   Yeah, Larry's
right, places like CMU, MIT, UCB are elite schools and yes, I have too
solid board scores *etc*.  As I like to say I have "the usual degrees from
the usual institutions" - *i.e*. I have my union card.  But I'm nothing
special.  You're from Penn State or UWisc (aka "UC Madison"  - a lot of my
class from UCB is the core of the faculty there).  Hey,  I believe Seymour
Cray did his undergrad at St. Olaf's, a school better know for music - i.e.
a small liberal arts school in Northfield, MN.

I've never really cared where you went to school, what your score were,
what your degrees are etc.  I'm a hacker, and proud of being that.   The
schools, as you and Larry correctly point out, gave me opportunity and
access.  So I have network from them.  But its what you do with it that
matters to me.

Two stories about me.   First, I have always said, the greatest gift I was
ever given was *not* getting a scholarship to MIT.  I would have gone there
and likely been "The nerd down the hall" - either that or flunked out.  Who
knows, as I later got to know folks that went there, it would not have been
a good match for me as an undergrad.  CMU (as screwed up as it was at time)
was a better match for my personality.

The fact is, I did not know know enough about the MIT culture when I was in
HS (I was a faculty brat - *i.e.* scholarship student -- from a
Philadelphia prep school - my Sr year in college 7 of the 7 Ivy League
Squash Captains are my classmates from said prep school).  That HS pushed
me to MIT because I wanted to an engineer and that's all they knew.  I did
not even know about CMU until it was suggested by a family friend who was
professor in the B School there.   But in the end, it was about $.   CMU
offered me a scholarship, MIT did not and tricky Dick wanted to put a gun
in hand.  It was an easy choice.   What was lucky for me was it a
reasonably good culture match...  mostly because of the close friends I
made there ...  out side of the EE, Math and CS Depts (two weekend ago I
was a party with some of them that has occurred for 40 years on the same
weekend since).  Point is, I got lucky...

Second, the proudest moment for me was watching my children pick colleges.
Unlike me, I swore they would know about the culture of the schools and
make darned sure that where they went matched their personalities and not
rely on luck (and I'm very pleased to say that worked well with my daughter
and seems to be working with my son).  So to me, what the school you one
too says about you is the network you have, who are your friends and the
culture you learned.  It tells me a little about how I can expect you to
have been versed as a starting point, but I'm really much more
interest want you do, have done.

It's sad, that Penn State and UWisc had walled areas like both described.
Sadly I saw the same thing at UCB, certainly of the undergrads.   I have
nothing but respect for the young folks that did an undergrad at UCB,
because it was definitely different as a grad student.   To me that's about
respect for the individual and helping them grown up to be their best -
creating opportunity.  But I fear you are right.   If things like UNIX
access were walled off at places like that, then as you both point out,
people we search for it where they could find it, *what is sad is that BSD
UNIX was available at the time Linux was available.  *The problem was that
too few knew it, although many did  (more in a minute).

On Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 11:17 PM, Larry McVoy <lm at mcvoy.com> wrote:

> ...  Yup, source was there.  Access was restricted, you had to get a login
> on slovax, and you had to be
> "somebody" to get that login.  I don't remember how I got access, I just
> knew I wanted it.  So I probably just begged and eventually one of the
> admins took pity on me?  Dunno.
Fair enough... that's me...   I don't take no for answer either ;-).

> I can easily imagine that the CMU CS department let all
> their students have access to the source if they wanted it.

Sort of...  when you took the OS course, since we used V6, everyone signed
a "sub-license" from the CMU lawyers saying you were bound by the same
rules as CMU, subject to being drawn and qtr'ed or otherwise
severely admonished.

> I don't think that was anywhere near as common as Clem thinks it was.

I have to accept that, as strange as it seems to me.   But I can see it

> My guess is that Clem interacted with a bunch of people who were his peers
> (aka
> pretty elite people) and all those guys had source access.

Maybe...   I accept that view, but I don't think it was intended that way
by the >>developers<<.  Security by obscurity more than intent I actually
think.  But people that >>owned<< the computers, did tend to put up the
walls.  I saw that.  The problem was that the cost of those systems was
very high, so making the available to "anyone" was a hard thing to
"justify."  Only pretty "enlighten" folk knew it was in their self interest
to do so.  Places like CMU, MIT and Stanford where the computing was pretty
available to anyone who asked, were probably fewer than place like what two
have described... sigh.

> Us unwashed masses had to work a lot harder to get it.
Fair enough - on the other side, you could not tell the difference and I'll
grant that.  But I don't think it was intended.  In fact, just the opposite
was intended I think.  If you look at the core of things like the GNU
project for the 386BSD / Jolitix it was all about trying get a code
available to anyone.  The "hacker philosophy" really was of science and
computing for all.

> Once 386BSD came out, yeah, source was easy.  Not before.
Maybe...  As I said, the ftp address to download the original Jolitz 386
stuff (before the BSDi) split, was a poorly kept secret.
I think I can date this sketch because as I remember it, it happened very
near the time I was about to leave for my honeymoon.  So that would have
made it sometime in 2nd qtr of 1990.  But around that time, I was
consulting for NCR and during that gig, I was helping Bill with the disk
driver for what would be BSD for the PC/386 (Bill references in the DDJ
article BTW).

Because of my working NCR, I had access to the documentation for the WD
disk controller used in the PC/AT.  Jollitz had tried to write the driver
by reverse engineering the AT BIOS ROMS.   But since I had access to the
actual docs, I was able to tell what board was supposed to be doing, so I
was able fix the driver to work correctly.  I also think I added the
original SCSI support of the WD7000 which they had just released and NCR
was using (which is pre CAM BTW).  Anyway, I remember trying to upload a
new copy of the driver to the UCB ftp server and having issues, and i
wanted to get it done before I left and was not available for a month.
 IIRC, Bostic told me that earlier that week the reason I was having
issues, was the path for the ISO download for "hidden" 386 bits had been
posted on Netnoise or the like and hehe ftp server was getting slammed.

The point is that the* if you knew* where to look, the BSD UNIX was out
there and people that were listening were finding it.   And that was before
Linus released Linux (or BSDi was forked or the court case etc...).

But as I said, after the case, those of that wanted a PC/UNIX switched to
Linux because we were worried we were going to lose the BSD base and Linux
was good enough to get us going.   That was my point.

I think your counter point is that while I believe folks like yourselves or
Linus could have gotten BSD UNIX if you had tried to find it it was
available and folks like Keith and Bill were trying to get it out the door,
but  have suggest that you don't think so.   You think the walls were too
high, the access was only for the "chosen few" and a difference was the
Linux really was available to what Larry referred to as the great unwashed.

To that I say, fair enough.   You could be right, I do hope you are not.  I
don't think that was the intention/theory - but in practice, it seems

As I said -- thanks.

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