[TUHS] X and NeWS history (long)

Arthur Krewat krewat at kilonet.net
Thu Sep 14 01:16:22 AEST 2017

On 9/12/2017 11:55 PM, Jon Steinhart wrote:
> I look at the systemd problem slightly differently.  In short, I was
> coming into work one night at BTL when Ken was heading out the door for
> his sabbatical at UCB with a stack of mag tapes under his arm.  I see
> that as a pivotal moment in computer history.  Students could learn from
> an actual real computer system; they had source code access.  And, they
> had the ability to modify and contribute to that code.  A lot of students
> from that era went out to do great things.  Years later, the lower cost
> of PCs resulted in students using them for their work.  Not only was MS-DOS
> not as advanced a system as UNIX, but source code access was gone.  Students
> had to learn from contrived projects, and didn't have the ability to play
> with the guts of the operating system that they were using.
Completely agree. To keep beating the dead horse, in high school we had 
access to a PDP-10, a KA10 running TOPS-10 5.06 - later they switched to 
4 KS10s running TOPS-10 6.03

I gained some notoriety as a hacker, and was tasked by the consulting 
firm that ran the things to build a "better" MIC (a batch scripting tool 
that allowed you to run things offline and go back later to look at the 
results). I had exploited the original DEC version to give me access to 
[1,2] ;)

Anyway, during that period, I was allowed to visit the installation, and 
if it was a weekend when students weren't on, to mount the "black" RP06 
pack that had all the TOPS-10 sources on it, and look at or print out 
anything I wanted (look or print, same thing, really, the access was via 
LA120). I learned a lot. Went on to work for the place for a few years.

Somewhere during that time, I was exposed to the IBM-PC and PCDOS. 
Except for my own projects in assembler, the IBM DOS and Technical 
Reference Manuals were all I had access to. HOWEVER - IBM in their 
infinite wisdom actually provided the sources to the BIOS in the manual. 
Still have that manual. That was awesome. I didn't have the DOS sources, 
but it wasn't hard to disassemble them with DEBUG and take a peak 
anyway. Back then, it was all written in assembler anyway, so it was 
only missing the symbols. Nothing was "out of reach".

Now, with C or C++, or worse, higher-level languages being the default 
choices, that optimize everything to death, it's hard to disassemble 
anything and really "see" what it's trying to accomplish, and how. Not 
impossible, I've done some reverse engineering of various OS's, but 
nothing spectacular.

For today's kids, well, it's a much different story. My son has a CS 
degree, but has almost no experience really peaking under the hood of 
any OS - some small ventures into kernels, but nothing huge like UNIX. 
Which brings me to another thing. Linux sources are freely available, 
and yet I don't see anyone really looking at them as an educational 
thing. I might be wrong, my experience in higher education is NONE.

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