[TUHS] If not Linux, then what?

Christopher Browne cbbrowne at gmail.com
Sun Sep 1 02:58:00 AEST 2019

On Wed, 28 Aug 2019 at 19:19, Theodore Y. Ts'o <tytso at mit.edu> wrote:

> On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 04:07:39PM -0400, Christopher Browne wrote:
> >
> > - Hurd was imagined to be the next thing...
> >
> > To borrow from my cookie file...
> >
> > "I am aware of the benefits  of a micro kernel approach.  However, the
> > fact remains  that Linux is  here, and GNU  isn't --- and  people have
> > been working on Hurd for a lot longer than Linus has been working on
> > Linux." -- Ted T'so, 1992.
> That's "Ts'o" :-), and that quote wasn't my arguing that Hurd would be
> the next thing.  It was people had been working on the Hurd for
> *years* (starting 1984) and it still wasn't real.  If it wasn't going
> to be real after eight years, another eighty probably wouldn't have
> helped.

Thanks, patched!  :-)  And yes, I agree that you weren't arguing for the
impending relevance of Hurd.  Nevertheless, at the time, there were
people making the argument that Hurd would Real Soon Now make
Linux irrelevant.

> And a lot of this was because was because RMS was hard to work with,
> and he was a purist.  Pretty much very *definition* of the perfect
> should always be the enemy of the "good enough".
> In fact, at one point Thomas Bushnell, one of the senior Hurd
> developers pushed to have the Hurd switch to using BSD 4.4-Lite, and
> Stallman refused[1].
>    “RMS was a very strong believer, wrongly, I think, in a very greedy
>    algorithm approach to code reuse issues,” Thomas Bushnell later
>    remembered.
>    “My first choice was to take the BSD 4.4-Lite release and make a
>    kernel. I knew the code, I knew how to do it. It is now perfectly
>    obvious to me that this would have succeeded splendidly and the
>    world would be a very different place today. RMS wanted to work

   together with people from Berkeley on such an effort. Some of them
>    were interested, but some seem to have been deliberately dragging
>    their feet: and the reason now seems to be that they had the goal
>    of spinning off BSDI. A GNU based on 4.4-Lite would undercut BSDI.”
>    As Bushnell describes it, Stallman came to the conclusion that
>    “Mach is a working kernel. 4.4-Lite is only partial. We will go
>    with Mach.”
> [1]
> https://web.archive.org/web/20121228225905/http://www.linuxuser.co.uk/features/whatever-happened-to-the-hurd-the-story-of-the-gnu-os

I haven't seen reference to Bushnell in a long time; looks like he has
shifted to ecclesiastical matters.  He was up to some interesting
software things, once upon a time.

The tales of Stallman being stubborn are not rare.

It's interesting that perhaps BSDI was a reason for GNU avoiding 4.4-Lite.
That points to why the "what might have been" is very troublesome to track
down.  Alternatives always interact with one another...

> That's probably one of the other things that may have hampered BSD.
> The BSD license made it easier (or at least made easier business
> models) for monetizing BSD, and some of the most talented people went
> off to make a buck off of BSD.  BSDI, Sun, NetApp, Wasabi Systems, etc.
> Nothing wrong with that of course, and if people like Bill Joy were
> able to make bank based on BSD, more power to them.  But it probably
> removed from the leadership pool people who might have had better
> leadership, and technical architect skills who might have led one of
> the *BSD's to greater success.
> The GPL makes it harder to monetize Linux --- although, as we've seen,
> certainly not impossible --- and if you take a look at the most of the
> senior technical people at Linux, none of us have made off as well as,
> say, Bill Joy.  I'm still a working stiff, and don't have enough to
> retire.  (That's OK; I'm perfectly happy being part of the 99%.  :-)
> > Anyway, Hurd *might* have been a "next thing," and I don't think the
> > popularity of Linux was enough to have completely taken wind out of its
> > sails, given that there's the dozens of "Unix homages" out there.
> Given who called the shots (and it wasn't the key people actually
> doing most of the technical work, such as Bushnell) I actually think
> it's not very likely Hurd could have succeeded.  RMS actually tried to
> recruit me to work on the Hurd as well, and I refused, because of
> project leadership concerns.  (Again, feel free to hate on Linus's
> management style, but there were far worse ones in the open source OS
> world at the time.)
>                                         - Ted

Yeah, there's dysfunction everywhere :-).

Over the years, I have heard BSD folk blasting Linux over Linus' occasional
lack of tact; that is very much a road MORE travelled by a great many
projects.  Hurd's challenges starved it of staff, definitely unhelpful.
BSD had both amicable as well as ridiculously non-amicable forks.

It's not at trivial to get the right balance and plenty easy for missteps
to lead to disaster.

As vast overgeneralizations of the extremes, pure diplomats don't get
anything done, whilst jerks don't get enough help to support upgrading to
the next generation of motherboards/disk drives/graphics cards.  Successful
systems fall somewhere in between.
When confronted by a difficult problem, solve it by reducing it to the
question, "How would the Lone Ranger handle this?"
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