An Insiders Take

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2003-10-31 Print this article Print

Software consultant (and Linux & Open Source Center reader) Brian Masinick writes:
    Ive been a regular Unix user since 1982, and I dabbled with it on and off even before that. In 1982, I worked on a project to assess the applicability of minicomputer and PC technology for massive use in the software-development community at GM. We needed to complement our software development process, which was being completely done on mainframe computer systems. It was expensive, for one thing, and any outages at all would completely knock about 500 developers off schedule.

    We looked at Unix with interest, both as a technology, in and of itself, and as a conduit of communications between PC systems in various groups and somewhat larger groups of systems. We anticipated PCs becoming the tool on everyones desk, but felt we needed more connectivity, particularly with the extremely limited connectivity between PCs and anything else back in 1982.

    NCR had an interesting minicomputer tower system based on Motorolas relatively new 68000 chipset. About a year later, we got our hands on a relatively new system from another vendor (now very familiar, Sun Microsystems). Both of these companies ran Unix software on Motorola based systems. Both had software that included BSD-based Unix implementations. It looked promising, but neither were well polished at that point in time. But I looked and learned with great interest.

    A few years later, in 1985, I had the opportunity to leave GM and join Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC). They, too, had been working with Unix, mostly because of their large customer base at AT&T and the recently divested Bell Operating Companies (called BOCs, later Regional Bell Operating Companies or RBOCs). These companies often insisted on using Unix, but generally insisted on using AT&T Unix System V. Digital quietly wrote drivers for these companies and sold them to the companies, which already had their own AT&T source code, but to other customers, Digital had been establishing customer interest in a university-developed version of Unix known as BSD Unix. Digital developed its own proprietary version and called it ULTRIX. Years later, Digital developed a hybrid version of Unix and called it Digital OSF/1, renamed it to Digital Unix, and then changed it again to Tru64 Unix, just around the time that Compaq acquired the company.

    Because of this background, Ive probably used BSD-based Unix systems much more than I have anything else, but I also worked with the telecommunications industry, so I also had quite a bit of contact with Unix System V Release 2, much older than the current Unix System V Release 4 (SVR4).

    Given that background, when I started to actively pursue an interest in trying out PC based Unix systems for personal use, I intended, from the beginning, to try out BSD based software, along with GNU/Linux software.

    As I started along this path, I ran into hardware compatibility issues. I found many of my issues stemmed from the fact that I had a Compaq Presario system, so I moved to a Dell Dimension 4100, a custom built (but aging) AMD 400 MHz system, and an equally aging CyberMAX 400 MHz Celeron system. Once I did that, I found that I was able to use both BSD and Linux systems. But by that time, I actually got to install and use much more desktop Linux software than BSD software.

Next Page: How BSD is lagging behind Linux.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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