[TUHS] Why BSD didn't catch on more, and Linux did

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Wed Feb 7 11:29:27 AEST 2018


On Tue, Feb 6, 2018 at 6:02 PM, Theodore Ts'o <tytso at mit.edu> wrote:

> On Tue, Feb 06, 2018 at 02:13:51PM -0800, Dan Stromberg wrote:
> > 2) I think the main reason BSD nearly died, was the AT&T lawsuit.  At
> > the time, Linux appeared to be a safer bet legally.
>
> At the time of the AT&T lawsuit, most of the people who would be
> interested in using a Un*x-like system on their personal x86 systems
> probably wouldn't have been worried about their own personal legal
> liability.  The decision of corporations to use Linux was well *after*
> the AT&T lawsuit was resolved.
>>

​Ted, I pretty much agree with everything you have said except for one
thing.  I don't think it was ever about person liability.

As you pointed out, we all just wanted something to work on hardware that
we owned.   In fact, like Linus, I had also purchased Minux for $75 from
the book publisher before BSD/386 came out and ran it on my PC.   I think
many people wanted that.  Linus himself is on record, if he had known about
BSD/386 - he would have used it.  But he got Minix and did not support that
we wanted.

As I point out in the paper, Unix originally ran on hardware that cost
between $50-250K in 1975 dollars,  So the Unix users did not own that
hardware themself - their school or employer did.  But the PC
changed situation that pretty dramatically.  And just as we wanted UNIX at
work on PDP-11s (and later vaxen) we wanted it on our personal machines too.

BSD/386 was a UNIX implementation for the hardware that I owned.   And many
like minded people to myself who did have access to BSD/386, saw the law
suit in the light of ``if BSD was in violation of the AT&T Copyrights''
(and I thought it was BTW) - there was an issue,  It would mean it would
mean the only 'UNIX' for my PC was Minix (which ran without the MMU, small
address space etc.).  So here is an alternative -- Linux -- that's not
perfect, but sure beats Minix.  Ok, its not BSD and does not have
networking, no graphics/window manger, and it crashes but ... well we can
fix that.  People added networking, ported X over etc...

Like you I started with the bits from Linus and it was a little difficult -
 lot of DIY - column A, tab B, update this.  Then I discovered the first
full ``distro'' that seemed to make sense (Slackware) - which in fact was
similar to BSD at the time (used V7/BSD conventions) and it mostly worked.
IIRC, Networking came shortly their after, and Linux starts getting better
and better.  I would not say it was fun, I was grumbling because I had
already seen BSD/386 - but I pushed on because I was worried BSD/386 was
not going to be available to me on my home system.

In fact, BSD/386 at that point had a better install and that would get even
better after the suit ended with the fork that Jordan Hubbard and Co did,
but I think that was good.  As the 386 installs for a BSD got better, it
pressured the Linux guys to make their stuff even better.  And by that
time, Linux pretty much had parity on the kernel side, if not started to
get the lead [Linux supported modules early on, which I think was a
technological development that is overlooked but was huge in making Linux
flexible when it needed to be].

BTW: lets not forgot the larger issue.   At this point the
'better' kernel technology is in Solaris, Tru64 et al.. but that's not
running on PC technology.  Few people can afford such a machine for
themselves. [BTW: I had proposed that OSF/1 try to market their system
directly around then for $100 - but the OSF sponsors were all selling
hardware and none saw the need].   But at the same time, BSD/386 is now
unclear what is going to happen.   And most importantly this new market of
users for their personal systems, does not care that PC and Linux is not as
good the 'best' - like Solaris/Tru64/Aix --
 i.e. The Christensen disruption is complete -- the worse technology, found
a new user base that can (and does) grow (grew) incredible fast.   Soon the
'worse' technology surpasses the sustaining one.



But then it comes out, the suit was not about copyright, but trade
secrets.  We all had been 'mentally contaminated' by the AT&T IP at our
respective colleges and universities.  So the court does do the right
thing, and AT&T loses the case.  By that time, enough people had made Linux
work.  It was a different comparison and I think the momentum had
shifted.  Also,
I think you are absolutely right about the fighting between the commercial
vendors and then later the different *BSD folks.   And I think that
fighting helped to carry the day - personal users just did not want to mess
with it.

Linux was (is) an excellent solution.  I use it everyday.   It helps to pay
my salary.   But I do think it would have been some flavor of BSD/386 that
would be doing that if the law suit had not occurred.  To me, the law suit
is what moved people that wanted a UNIX on a PC and once they moved from
BSD/386 or just discovered Linux, they was (is) not real reason to switch
or go back.  The suit was certainly what scared a lot of us -- the issue
was not liability - it was the risk of losing access to UNIX technology for
systems that we owned.

And that was/is huge.

Clem
ᐧ
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