On Tue, Feb 6, 2018 at 6:02 PM, Theodore Ts'o <tytso@mit.edu> wrote:
On Tue, Feb 06, 2018 at 02:13:51PM -0800, Dan Stromberg wrote:
> 2) I think the main reason BSD nearly died, was the AT&T lawsuit.  At
> the time, Linux appeared to be a safer bet legally.

At the time of the AT&T lawsuit, most of the people who would be
interested in using a Un*x-like system on their personal x86 systems
probably wouldn't have been worried about their own personal legal
liability.  The decision of corporations to use Linux was well *after*
the AT&T lawsuit was resolved.

​Ted, I pretty much agree with everything you have said except for one thing.  I don't think it was ever about person liability. 

As you pointed out, we all just wanted something to work on hardware that we owned.   In fact, like Linus, I had also purchased Minux for $75 from the book publisher before BSD/386 came out and ran it on my PC.   I think many people wanted that.  Linus himself is on record, if he had known about BSD/386 - he would have used it.  But he got Minix and did not support that we wanted.

As I point out in the paper, Unix originally ran on hardware that cost between $50-250K in 1975 dollars,  So the Unix users did not own that hardware themself - their school or employer did.  But the PC changed situation that pretty dramatically.  And just as we wanted UNIX at work on PDP-11s (and later vaxen) we wanted it on our personal machines too.

BSD/386 was a UNIX implementation for the hardware that I owned.   And many like minded people to myself who did have access to BSD/386, saw the law suit in the light of ``if BSD was in violation of the AT&T Copyrights'' (and I thought it was BTW) - there was an issue,  It would mean it would mean the only 'UNIX' for my PC was Minix (which ran without the MMU, small address space etc.).  So here is an alternative -- Linux -- that's not perfect, but sure beats Minix.  Ok, its not BSD and does not have networking, no graphics/window manger, and it crashes but ... well we can fix that.  People added networking, ported X over etc...

Like you I started with the bits from Linus and it was a little difficult -  lot of DIY - column A, tab B, update this.  Then I discovered the first full ``distro'' that seemed to make sense (Slackware) - which in fact was similar to BSD at the time (used V7/BSD conventions) and it mostly worked.  IIRC, Networking came shortly their after, and Linux starts getting better and better.  I would not say it was fun, I was grumbling because I had already seen BSD/386 - but I pushed on because I was worried BSD/386 was not going to be available to me on my home system.

In fact, BSD/386 at that point had a better install and that would get even better after the suit ended with the fork that Jordan Hubbard and Co did, but I think that was good.  As the 386 installs for a BSD got better, it pressured the Linux guys to make their stuff even better.  And by that time, Linux pretty much had parity on the kernel side, if not started to get the lead [Linux supported modules early on, which I think was a technological development that is overlooked but was huge in making Linux flexible when it needed to be]. 

BTW: lets not forgot the larger issue.   At this point the 'better' kernel technology is in Solaris, Tru64 et al.. but that's not running on PC technology.  Few people can afford such a machine for themselves. [BTW: I had proposed that OSF/1 try to market their system directly around then for $100 - but the OSF sponsors were all selling hardware and none saw the need].   But at the same time, BSD/386 is now unclear what is going to happen.   And most importantly this new market of users for their personal systems, does not care that PC and Linux is not as good the 'best' - like Solaris/Tru64/Aix --  i.e. The Christensen disruption is complete -- the worse technology, found a new user base that can (and does) grow (grew) incredible fast.   Soon the 'worse' technology surpasses the sustaining one.

But then it comes out, the suit was not about copyright, but trade secrets.  We all had been 'mentally contaminated' by the AT&T IP at our respective colleges and universities.  So the court does do the right thing, and AT&T loses the case.  By that time, enough people had made Linux work.  It was a different comparison and I think the momentum had shifted.  Also, I think you are absolutely right about the fighting between the commercial vendors and then later the different *BSD folks.   And I think that fighting helped to carry the day - personal users just did not want to mess with it.

Linux was (is) an excellent solution.  I use it everyday.   It helps to pay my salary.   But I do think it would have been some flavor of BSD/386 that would be doing that if the law suit had not occurred.  To me, the law suit is what moved people that wanted a UNIX on a PC and once they moved from BSD/386 or just discovered Linux, they was (is) not real reason to switch or go back.  The suit was certainly what scared a lot of us -- the issue was not liability - it was the risk of losing access to UNIX technology for systems that we owned.

And that was/is huge.