[TUHS] SunOS vs Linux

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Tue Jan 10 03:40:47 AEST 2017

On Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 11:08 AM, ron minnich <rminnich at gmail.com> wrote:

> At the same time, I think some sort of GPL'ed kernel was inevitable for
> any number of reasons.
> Also, I worked closely with one of the principals in Linux back then (i.e.
> 1991) and his experience was that the linux community was way more open to
> his contributions than the bsd community. Not surprising, linux was pretty
> much a clean sheet. I expect that was a factor as well.

I'll second this. Larry mentioned earlier the USENIX "in-crowd" and I think
that was a real thing (USENET cabal, anyone?). I was near a major American
university at the time, kind of a student, and I couldn't easily get access
to Unix source code (nor could any of the undergrad or grad students I
knew). As I recall, no one had copies of the old stuff anymore (32/V and
prior) and access to BSD source code was tightly controlled; we had an
academic site license for SunOS source, but it was strictly on a
"need-to-know" basis. You had to be part of the local "in-crowd" to get
access to that code, and students weren't members of the "in-crowd." It
wasn't particularly easy to build up the sufficient credibility to get into
the club without access to source either, and they certainly weren't
handing it out to everyone who asked. Further, my sense was that system
administrators in big institutions were often hawks about things like that.
There could be real academic consequences for trying to buck the system in
this area, particularly for undergrads (or in my case, high school students
taking courses).

The ever-accurate Wikipedia says that 386BSD wasn't available until 1992
(and then not really usable until July of that year). But Torvalds had
already announced his Linux project (by which point he had a running kernel
and had ported a significant number of programs over) in August of 1991 and
put it on an FTP server by September; nearly a full year before a usable
version of 386BSD was available.

The thing I wonder is why Linux didn't die off due to lack of networking
once 386BSD came onto the scene: Linux didn't get TCP/IP until September of
1992 and then it was under heavy development until December, by which time
386BSD 0.1 was generally available (and would of course already have had
networking). I suspect by that point two factors were at play: a) Linux had
gathered significant momentum and b) USL v BSDi cause people to shy away
from the BSD source base and embrace Linux as an unencumbered alternative.

By '93ish, when NetBSD and FreeBSD were both real, there wouldn't have been
a need for Linux, but by that time, it had had two years of exciting
activity for a number of people: it's unlikely anyone just walked away from
it because a technically better alternative came along.

        - Dan C.
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