The More Things Change

Once upon a time back in 1991 there was only Linus. After writing a small bit of what was to become Linux, he made the code freely available on the Internet. People all over the world started working together to make it into the best OS it could be.






by Adam Goodman


Pub Statement 01 (Nov99)
Joy to the World: Bill Joy reflects on the Unix world he helped create.

Once upon a time back in 1991 there was only Linus. After writing a small bit of what was to become Linux, he made the code freely available on the Internet. People all over the world started working together to make it into the best OS it could be.

Of course, before there was Linux, there was Unix. Unix developers have always had a “let a thousand flowers bloom” attitude, and Linux was very much imbued with that same spirit of diversity.

But there has always been a difference between Linux and the Unixes that came before it. The traditional commercial Unix market was never able to find a common ground to stand on. A thousand flowers really did bloom, and they were all incompatible with each other.

Linux is different. There has really only ever been one Linux kernel — Linus’– and Linux companies and developers have always been passionate about keeping it that way.

This month, we had the opportunity to interview Bill Joy. Bill is one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, and is also the person who wrote most of the original version of Berkeley Unix. For those who need a refresher on Unix history, Unix was originally written at Bell Labs in 1969. Because Bell Labs was part of AT&T (which was a government regulated monopoly), it had to give away the source code for Unix to researchers and universities. A copy of Unix found its way to the University of California at Berkeley where Bill Joy began working on it.

That’s when all the fun began. Berkeley’s strain of Unix diverged from AT&T’s, and the history of incompatible Unix was born.

In many ways, Linux represents an opportunity to rectify the mistakes of Unixes past. Traditional Unix vendors created all of these incompatible strains of Unix in an effort to gain a competitive advantage over one another. The Linux market looks very different in contrast. There is always a sense of competition among vendors, but there is also a strong sense of shared history and community.

Some might say that the world is different today than it was in the late 1970s, because of Microsoft’s aggressive business tactics and monopoly lock on the software market. I don’t believe that’s true. Twenty years ago, people would have said the same thing about IBM.

We asked Joy if he thought Microsoft might try to instigate the fragmentation of Linux. He responded, “The enemy in terms of fragmentation is usually yourself.” I think he’s right. We shouldn’t focus on Microsoft, we should focus on working together. One thing that hasn’t changed since Linux’ inception is the common goal of its community: to create the best possible operating system. This common focus is what got Linux to where it is, and community will be what gets us where we are going. See you next month.

Adam Signature

Adam M. Goodman

Editor & Publisher

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