[K12OSN] OT: News article

Les Mikesell les at futuresource.com
Thu May 11 13:48:21 UTC 2006

On Thu, 2006-05-11 at 03:40, Martin Woolley wrote:
> On Thursday 11 May 2006 02:33, Doug Simpson wrote:
> > "There's no innovation that we've seen come out of - at least Linux,"
> > Ballmer said Tuesday. "Linux is a clone of a 30-years-old operating
> > system (called Unix)."
> I reckon M$ has stifled innovation.  When I started working in computing in 
> 1979, I worked on IBM 370s and ICL 2900s, which were common machines.  Ten 
> years later, I was working with PCs running Windows and the big irons were 
> all but consigned to history.  Another 15 years on and I am still working 
> with PCs running Windoze.  I think the PC came out in 1983 and Windows was 
> launched in 1985; ie it's 20 years old.  Linux (1992) is really the fresh 
> faced kid on the block. 

You are missing a large and painful chunk of history here. The
PC's of the 80's ran MSDOS which does next to nothing and what
displaced the mainframes was a set of unrelated and innovative
applications like visicalc, wordperfect, and dbase.  This was
all driven by pricing compared to mainframes and the other
potential competitor which was unix.  The PCs back then did
not have enough power to run unix and didn't do too well
with windows either until the mid-90's.  Networking was
mostly Novell netware because it took less client memory
than the competing IBM PC-NET which was the original netbios
that grew into windows networking.  But even before
the PC, Radio Shack/Tandy was shipping something that
would: http://oldcomputers.net/trs80ii.html and it became
at one point the largest installed unix (xenix) base. It
was really horrible hardware though and didn't evolve
very well. An assortment of other companies had much more
expensive unix boxes but price-wise they couldn't compete
with PCs.  The turning point came when PCs became capable
of running either windows or unix.   The 386 sort-of worked
and the 486 wasn't bad although still not great at X and
graphics especially with the amount of memory you could
afford then.  The problem then was that AT&T owned unix and
was selling it for about $1,000 per machine. They didn't
quite get the concept of one (or more) machines per
user - and it was configured to only work with their own
overpriced hardware. Around 1993/4, Dell sold a nice version
of SysVr4 Unix that worked with most generic hardware - still
in the $1,000 range for the OS, but it made a nice server.
Then when Windows95 was released, this version mysteriously
went away.  If you read any of the transcripts of the
vendor testimony from the Microsoft antitrust trial you
can probably guess why.  Then when windows NT came out at
$3-400 per server the fact that it barely worked didn't matter,
it was so much cheaper that there wasn't any choice.  Linux
was around by then, but so buggy that it wasn't a reasonable
option.  FreeBSD was also around but in the middle of an
AT&T lawsuit about their right to distribute it.  AT&T
later lost but that gave Linux its lead over the *bsd's.
So, Linux may appear as the new contender, but it is the
applications that count and application development
really has been continuous across the versions of unix
and linux.  Unlike your transition from the mainframe through
msdos and various versions of windows, anything you had
written in C, shell, or perl in the 80's under unix could
be running virtually unchanged today on linux.   I've always
believed that if there had been a version of commercial
unix priced reasonably for personal use (perhaps like
OSX today) and it had been allowed to survive Microsoft's
anticompetitive activities, application development would
have had a gracefully evolving base over the last several
decades instead of the disruptive turmoil it has been though.

  Les Mikesell
   les at futuresource.com

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