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

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Wed Feb 7 11:54:30 AEST 2018

On Tue, Feb 6, 2018 at 8:23 PM, Dave Horsfall <dave at horsfall.org> wrote:

> On Tue, 6 Feb 2018, Dan Cross wrote:
>> Also, on a less martial track, one of the things I vividly remember about
>> the NT introduction were the many dire predictions that this spelled the
>> imminent death of Unix. [...]
> I remember when Pick was going to be the imminent death of Unix...  And
> wasn't BeOS going to be, too?  I've been mucking about with Unix since
> Edition 5, and I've seen all the predictions.
> Unix may not be recognisable in the future, but it's here to stay.

Oh, certainly "NT Takes Over the World!" didn't happen, and in retrospect
it seems somewhat naive that anyone ever thought that it would; let alone
that it would put Unix into the grave. But those doomsday predictions
seemed very much to be the order of the day.

Interestingly, I saw a lot of what was left of the minicomputer
infrastructure around the campus I haunted (but bear in mind I was in high
school at the time so had a weird perspective as an outside-insider) as
well as a lot of mainframe stuff get replaced by NT. The Unix folks
(especially those at the centralized computing facility) pretty much had
the attitude that, "well, we're next..." but that never came to pass. But
much VMS, whatever HP minicomputer stuff was floating around (MPE?) and all
VM/CMS (I guess it was actually VM/ESA by that time) disappeared;
VAXstations, serial terminals and 3179G's were all replaced by PCs running
Windows and the users were replaced by these smiling robots. It was weird.

Somehow, most of the Unix people managed to escape. I wonder why? Part of
my sense is that by and large the Unix people were more technically adept
than the minicomputer and mainframe people, though to this day one of *the*
most technically astute hackers I've ever seen was a diehard VMS guy. He
came from TOPS-10 on the PDP-10, though, so maybe that's why. But certainly
the median level of technical "clue" was higher amongst the Unix folks than
the other communities. I wonder if that wasn't one of the primary factors
that enabled folks to stay outside of the NT gravitational pull.

I wonder, too, if Unix networking didn't play a major role. I have this dim
sense that NT was designed for a world in which it was still assumed that
the OSI suite was going to win the networking wars. When, almost to
everyone's surprise, the Internet ended up taking off Unix was already
well-positioned to respond and NT had to play catch up.

I remember going to lunch one afternoon (I guess it was the summer because
I didn't have school) and everyone was sitting around complaining about how
horrible Microsoft was. One of the older sysadmins said something like,
"you know, I can remember saying the exact same things about IBM 15 years
ago. Now it's Microsoft. They won't last." I was rather incredulous that
the enemy was not being recognized, let alone actively resisted. But in the
end, he was absolutely right, and in retrospect it makes perfect sense: the
price of hardware is being asymptotically driven to zero; given that,
software cost becomes significant, giving rise to things like Linux as
commercially viable alternatives to proprietary software. Given that, MS
never stood a chance of long term dominance. Of course, as software cost
goes to zero than the maintenance and other ongoing costs (space, power,
etc) tend to dominate, giving rise to the cloud, etc.

        - Dan C.
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