[TUHS] What was your "Aha, Unix!" moment?

Adam Thornton athornton at gmail.com
Wed Oct 23 16:19:41 AEST 2019

I can't remember an epiphanal "a-ha!" moment.

I remember that by 1999 I had migrated from OS/2 to Linux as my primary
computing environment, and I've never really left; I ran Linux for a bunch
of years, and then slid over to OS X, where I've mostly remained--the host
OS on most of the modern stuff I own is either OS X or Linux, with other
Unixes usually running under emulation (I have a NeXTStation and three
Sparc machines of varying vintage, all running period-appropriate Unixes,
when I fire them up, but they don't stay running; the MicroVAX comes
frustratingly close to running but doesn't quite, and I haven't even
powered up the VAX 11/730 I got a couple months ago to see how close it is
to usable).  Turning back the clock farther...

In 1998 I remember someone saying, with a mixture of awe and horror, "I've
never seen anyone use a GUI as just a place to stash a bunch of terminal
windows before."  I also remember screwing with dialup scripts to run PPP
on my Linux machine at home, which must have been '96 or so?  So that early
I was clearly living in it at least enough that I didn't want to leave to
fire up another OS (although I also remember learning far too much about
PPP on OS/2), and spending enough time connected to the Internet that I
wanted a network stack running all the time.

I remember Cygwin on NT and ... EMX, I think it was? ... to let me use and
build Unixy-feeling things on NT and OS/2 respectively, which suggests that
while I was still using them in the mid-to-late 90s I kinda hated them.
(That's not quite fair; OS/2 had some nice points.)

In 1992 or 1993 I remember fiddling with definitions inside kernel include
files to make my soundcard, my parallel port, and my modem all work at the
same time (again on Linux), and not finding that a big deal (I had some
nonstandard IRQs set up to get everything to play nice together, IIRC).  I
guess that was also about when I was hand-editing my partition table to
multiboot a 386DX/25 of my very own so it could run Linux and DOS/Win3.11
off the same drive.

I remember some very early Linux experiences (late '91 or early '92) as my
first exposure to bash (the Sun workstations at school ran SunOS and my
environment, at least, was csh, which was certainly less unpleasant than
/bin/sh) and realizing how vastly much more I liked using bash than csh, as
well as the difficulty my muscle memory had transitioning from
esc-completion to tab-completion.  I remember that I didn't really speak C
at that point.  Though come to think of it I didn't really get _fluent_ at
C until the late-ish 90s.

The first Unix system I used was something, probably Xenix, on a Dell '386
in a physics lab at UT Austin in the summer of '89, and while I didn't
really "get" Unix at that point, I knew I liked it better than DOS, and it
let me access Usenet, which was a huge deal.  That was the same summer and
same lab where I discovered the flight simulator on the SGI IRIS.  I'm sure
that hardware was expensive and used to do complex nonlinear dynamic
simulations for people, but it was also certainly used for flying pretend
planes in what seemed then like an astonishingly realistically rendered 3-D
world.  That summer was when I made the choice between Emacs and vi, and
that choice has stuck with me for 30 years.  In two more years the core of
my .emacs file (which I inherited, obviously) will be old enough to be


On Tue, Oct 22, 2019 at 10:14 PM Gilles Gravier <gilles at gravier.org> wrote:

> Hi!
> Mine was more of an "oh oh" moment... when, back in 1994, I needed to
> clean up /tmp on the company Data General Aviion that I was
> administering... and I typed "sudo rm -rf /tmp /*"
> Notice the involuntary space between /tmp and /* ... hence the "oh oh..."
> moment when I started seeing this take long... and when I typed Ctrl-C and
> started seeing some things like "/bin/ls not found" when I looked for the
> files in / ...
> Gilles
> Le ven. 11 oct. 2019 à 00:55, Warren Toomey <wkt at tuhs.org> a écrit :
>> All, we had another dozen TUHS suscribers to the list overnight. Welcome.
>> A reminder that we're here to discuss Unix Heritage, so I'll nudge you
>> if the conversation goes a bit off-topic.
>> So I'll kick off another thread. What was your "ahah" moment when you
>> first saw that Unix was special, especially compared to the systems you'd
>> previously used?
>> Mine was: Oh, I can:
>>   + write a simple script
>>   + to edit a file on the fly
>>   + with no temporary files (a la pipes)
>>   + AND I can change the file suffix and the system won't stop me!
>> I was using TOPS-20 beforehand.
>> Cheers, Warren
> --
> *Gilles Gravier*  - Gilles at Gravier.org
> GSM : +33618347147 and +41794728437
> Skype : ggravier | PGP Key : 0xA610DB098DE6D026
> <http://pgp.mit.edu:11371/pks/lookup?search=0xA610DB098DE6D026&op=index>
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