[TUHS] TUHS Digest, Vol 32, Issue 8

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Sat Jun 10 14:40:56 AEST 2006

Larry McVoy scripsit:

> There are two classes of people: those who derive answers and those who
> memorize them.  As Mark Twain said, the latter group is much larger than
> the former.  My claim is that Unix appeals to the first group - you can 
> guess what it is going to do and you'll be right most of the time.
> Windows appeals to the other group.  They don't have the ability to derive
> any answer and they are comfortable with a system that mostly works but
> has "no there there".  They can't tell the difference.

'Sfunny, but it seems just the other way about to me.  Unix, especially
Olde Worlde Unix, is all about memorizing stuff.  Creat(2) has no final e.
The option to set the field delimiter is -t, except in cut(1) where it's
-d and in awk(1) where it's -F.  You dump a file to standard output with
cat(1); yeah, you can remember the name if you learn the word "catenate",
but most of us don't know that word, and it's no easier to memorize
"catenate" than "cat" (more fun, but no easier).  We all find all this
very natural, it ripples off our fingers because we've been doing it
for 10 or 20 or 30 or nearly 40 years, and none of the inconsistencies
can be fixed because if they were it would break all of our muscle
memory and then it wouldn't be so easy at all.

Windows folks can't deal with all that memorization.  They want it
laid out for them: menus dialogs wizards with tabs that make all the
options visible, or if not all visible at once, at least easy to see
how you can make them visible.  And all consistent, or reasonably
so.  With Windows programs you really can guess what they re going
to do, and you will be right most of the time.  Unix utilities aren't
like that.  Even X programs aren't -- indeed, less so than the utilities,
unless they use a Windows-mimicking toolkit, which most of them do

No, what makes Unixicians sont droit et Windowsites sont tort
is that Unix lets you make up your own stuff out of existing pieces,
and Windows does not.  The Windows utilities just do what they do, and
if it's not what you want, it's back to the drawing board, so people
create TMA-1 monoliths.  This tendency is infecting Unix too nowadays,
as lots of people have discovered how much easier it is to create
TMA-1s on Unix than on Windows, and so they do, and the native tradition
of coarse-grained dataflow gets almost lost against the background
surviving only in the memories of the Old Farts here gathered.

Our tradition's dying unless we do something to keep it alive.
What's that going to be?

I don't know half of you half as well           John Cowan
as I should like, and I like less than half     cowan at ccil.org
of you half as well as you deserve.             http://www.ccil.org/~cowan

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