[TUHS] Windows roots and Unix influence (was Re: Happy birthday, Ken Thompson!)

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Sun Feb 4 10:37:32 AEST 2018

On Sat, Feb 3, 2018 at 5:59 PM, Dave Horsfall <dave at horsfall.org> wrote:

> On Sat, 3 Feb 2018, Arthur Krewat wrote:
>> I would imagine that Windows wouldn't be what it is today without UNIX.
>> Matter of fact, Windows NT (which is what Windows has been based on since
>> Windows ME went away) is really DEC's VMS underneath the covers at least to
>> a small extent.
> I thought that NT has a POSIX-y kernel, which is why it was so reliable?
> Or was VMS a POSIX-like system?  I only used it for a couple of years in
> the early 80s (up to 4.0, I think), and never dug inside it; to me, it was
> just RSX-11/RSTS-11 on steroids.

The design of the original NT kernel was overseen by Dave Cutler, of VMS
and RSX-11M fame, and had a very strong and apparent VMS influence. Some
VAX wizards I know told me that they saw a lot of VMS in NT's design, but
that it probably wasn't as good (different design goals, etc: apparently
Gates wanted DOS++ and a quick time to market; Cutler wanted to do a *real*
OS and they compromised to wind up with VMS--).

It's true that there was (is? I don't know anymore...) a POSIX subsystem,
but that seemed more oriented at being a marketing check in the box for
sales to the US government and DoD (which had "standardized" on POSIX and
made it a requirement when investing in new systems).

Now days, I understand that one can run Linux binaries natively; the
Linux-compatibility subsystem will even `apt-get install` dependencies for
you. Satya Nadella's company isn't your father's Microsoft anymore. VSCode
(their new snazzy editor that apparently all the kids love) is Open Source.

Note that there is some irony in the NT/POSIX thing: the US Government
standardized on Windows about two decades ago and now can't seem to figure
out how to get off of it.

A short story I can't resist telling: a couple of years ago, some folks
tried to recruit me back into the Marine Corps in some kind of technical
capacity. I asked if I'd be doing, you know, technical stuff and was told
that, since I was an officer no, I wouldn't. Not really interested. I ended
up going to a bar with a recon operator (Marine special operations) to get
the straight scoop and talking to a light colonel (that's a Lieutenant
Colonel) on the phone for an hour for the hard sell. Over a beer, the recon
bubba basically said, "It was weird. I went back to the infantry." The
colonel kept asking me why I didn't run Windows: "but it's the most popular
operating system in the world!" Actually, I suspect Linux and BSD in the
guise of iOS/macOS is running on a lot more devices than Windows at this
point. I didn't bother pointing that out to him.

Would VMS become what it was without UNIX's influence? Would UNIX become
>> what it later was without VMS?
>> Would UNIX exist, or even be close to what it became without DEC?
> I've oft wondered that, but we have to use a new thread to avoid
> embarrassing Ken :-)

The speculation of, "what would have happened?" is interesting, though of
course unanswerable. I suspect that had it not been for Unix, we'd all be
running software that was closer to what you'd find on a mainframe or RT-11.

        - Dan C.
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