[TUHS] System Economics (was is Linux "officially branded UNIX")

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Thu Mar 16 13:36:34 AEST 2017

On Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 8:45 PM, Clem Cole <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:

> [...]
> In the end, definition does not change the status of what Unix was.   It
> was the definition of Open Systems -- it was published and I do stand
> behind that.   And in the end, it could not be claimed as trade secret
> because it was ->> by definition<<- open and known. But traditional Unix
> from AT&T was never >>free<< and that fact is not going to change either.
> It may some how in the future, but that past is true and as a result, Linus
> and other did an end-around and created and awesome >>free<< solution.

Hmm, this is quite interesting, but I had different impression of the
definition of "open" at the time: it seemed like what people were saying
when they said that Unix was "open" was much less about the source code,
but rather about the interfaces and APIs; in particular especially after
the standards bodies got together and starting writing down how things were
supposed to work. This led to vendor independence (to some extent, anyway)
and was a distinction from closed systems which were defined by a single
vendor who controlled everything about them (though presumably modulated by
customer demand), including the OS (since this was usually written in-house
for each platform. This even makes historical sense: Unix was written by a
third party who didn't design the hardware).

Consider DEC: In 1981, they had at least three hardware platforms intended
for the timesharing market, each running multiple operating systems: PDP-11
running RSX-11*, RT-11, RSTS/E and Ultrix-11 (Unix); PDP-10 running TOPS-10
and TOPS-20; VAX running VMS and Ultrix-32 (Unix). And this isn't to
mention any of the other stuff they were selling/supporting (PDP-8's, etc).
Of those software systems it's easy to see what Ultrix-11 and Ultrix-32
have in common; one has a reasonable shot at getting software written for
one running on the other. Contrast with RT-11 and VMS, or even RT-11 and
RSX. Similarly with IBM, CDC, HP, GE, etc.

In other words, the "openness" in "open systems" wasn't about code *for the
system itself*; it was about freedom from software lock-in to a particular
hardware vendor. Or, perhaps, openness to multiple system vendors
supporting the same customer-written code. "Open" in a sense closer to what
we now call "open source" (meaning the source was available for inspection)
came much later.

        - Dan C.
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