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

Arrigo Triulzi arrigo at alchemistowl.org
Wed Feb 7 18:51:14 AEST 2018

> On 7 Feb 2018, at 00:02, 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.

As a long-time Unix user (since around 1978) I agree with the above: the lawsuit was definitely not very high in my concerns when I wanted a Unix on a cheap PC, I just wanted it to work and, at the same time, I appreciated the impossible ecosystem which the PC brought along with a gazillion different cards all requiring a special driver (I am thinking, in particular, of the “SuperIO” card which my 386SX had to provide two RS232 ports, a parallel port and a 3 1/2” drive - made in Taiwan, zero documentation, etc.). The Unix machines I had access to via work/study were all “big iron” coming from large manufacturers and totally out of my price range.

> Something to remember is that in early 90's, floppy disks was the only
> affordable way hobbiists to get OS's installed on x86 systems.  Even
> OS/2 as distributed from IBM / Microsoft came on 30+ floppy disks.  In
> 1990, CD-R recording system cost $35,000 (and dollars were bigger back
> then).  In 1992, the price had dropped to $10-12k, and it wasn't until
> 1995 that he first CD-R system under $1000 was available.

It was also really rather easy to share a floppy disk amongst friends whereas copying a CD or a tape was really very expensive for a student/amateur.

> So I would argue that Linux was *easier* to bootstrap than
> NetBSD/FreeBSD during that era.  The fact that we could shrink a
> kernel and a root file system down to two 1.44 MiB floppy disks
> required an on-trivial engineering effort, and it meant that all you
> had to was to download and write half-dozen to a dozen flopy disks,
> and then it was *trivial*.

Absolutely true.

I would have never tried Linux had it been possible to install FreeBSD/NetBSD on the PCs I had access to from a floppy disk. This changed around 1994 when I managed to boot NetBSD from floppy on a Dell 486SX with very specific hardware (network card, etc.) which I had managed to find thrown away by a big bank in the City.

My dream was a Sun but all I could afford was a 2nd hand battered 486SX…


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