[TUHS] If not Linux, then what?

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Tue Aug 27 11:17:38 AEST 2019

On Mon, Aug 26, 2019, 7:14 PM Arthur Krewat <krewat at kilonet.net> wrote:

> https://linux.slashdot.org/story/19/08/26/0051234/celebrating-the-28th-anniversary-of-the-linux-kernel
> Leaving licensing and copyright issues out of this mental exercise, what
> would we have now if it wasn't for Linux? Not what you'd WANT it to be,
> although that can add to the discussion, but what WOULD it be?
> I'm not asking as a proponent of Linux. If anything, I was dragged
> kicking and screaming into the current day and have begrudgingly ceded
> my server space to Linux.
> But if not for Linux, would it be BSD? A System V variant? Or (the
> horror) Windows NT?
> I do understand that this has been discussed on the list before. I
> think, however, it would make a good late-summer exercise. Or late
> winter depending on where you are :)

This is an interesting question, though of course impossible to actually
answer in a meaningful way, as hypotheticals always are. But assuming one
could hold all else constant and just erase Linux from the picture, it
seems pretty obvious that some kind of BSD variant would have been "it."

I think a more interesting question, however, might be: had Linux not
happened, would that have opened the space for serious consideration of
alternative system architectures, either along Unix derivative lines, or
completely different? For example, perhaps something like plan 9 would have
had greater penetration into the market.

I saw a talk a couple of months ago that attributed the diversity of
systems in the 60s and 70s to the idea that people were trying so many
different things because no one knew _how_ to build systems. That may be at
least partially true, but I was wondering thinking about that very thing
this morning and realized that we're certainly swirling around the toilet
bowl converging on some central set of things we think work pretty well
(files! processes! threads!). But as time marches on and we see the
environment changing around us, we don't often go back and revisit these
sorts of fundamental assumptions. More's the shame, I'm afraid.

One wonders what's next. People now talk about Linux with the sort of
reverent tones they once discussed Windows and before that the mainframe.
Too big to fail, the Last System, etc. But there are cracks there: Fuchsia
is a different architecture, because that Unix model isn't going to
accommodate all contemporary use cases: the security model seems to be a
big driver here. Will they succeed? It'll be at least interesting to watch
and see.

        - Dan C.
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