[TUHS] If not Linux, then what?

Adam Thornton athornton at gmail.com
Thu Aug 29 08:48:43 AEST 2019

It probably was the partition/slice confusion that, well, confused me,
then.  My experience, such as it was, was from the DOS world.

Although the period I am thinking of was way pre-slackware.  You had a boot
floppy and a root floppy and that was about it, I think.  I think the
kernel had MFM/RLL disk drivers for an ISA bus interface?  I remember that
I could boot the thing on the MCA machines in the lab but not actually
install it (even had I been allowed to), and I think installation was
pretty much fdisk/mkfs, extract the tarball...I don't remember how you
installed the bootloader...which I guess was already LILO at that point?
Probably just dding the bootsector to the first physical sector of the
disk?  Version 0.08 or so, maybe?

It was quite a while ago, and I was drunk for most of college, so....memory
is imprecise at best.

On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 3:28 PM Clem cole <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:

> Not true 386BSD used fdisk.  It shared the disk just fine.  In fact I
> liked the way it sliced the disk much better than Slackware in those days.
> Sent from my PDP-7 Running UNIX V0 expect things to be almost but not
> quite.
> On Aug 28, 2019, at 4:27 PM, Adam Thornton <athornton at gmail.com> wrote:
> I was an ardent OS/2 supporter for a long time.  Sure, IBM's anemic
> marketing, and their close-to-outright-hostility to 3rd-party developers
> didn't help.  But what killed it, really, was how damn good its 16-bit
> support was.  It *was* a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than
> 3.11fW.  So no one wrote to the relatively tiny market of 32-bit OS/2.
> I fear that had Linux not made the leap, MS might well have won.  It's
> largely the AOL-fuelled explosion of popularity of the Internet and Windows
> ignoring same until too late that opened the door enough for Linux to jam
> its foot in.
> Hurd was, by the time of the '386 Unix Wars and early Linux, clearly not
> going to be a contender, I guess because it was about cool research
> features rather than running user-facing code.  I kept waiting for a usable
> kernel to go with what Linux had already shown was a quite decent
> userspace, but eventually had better things to do with my life (like chase
> BeOS).  It was like waiting for Perl 6--it missed its moment.
> Plan 9 and Amoeba were both really nifty.    I never used Sprite.  Neither
> one of them had much of a chance in the real world.  Much like Unix itself,
> Linux's worse-is-better approach really worked.
> I have a hypothesis about Linux's ascendance too, which is a personal
> anecdote I am inflating to the status of hypothesis.  As I recall, the
> *BSDs for 386 all assumed they owned the hard disk.  Like, the whole
> thing.  You couldn't, at least in 1992, create a multiboot system--or at
> least it was my strong impression you could not.  I was an undergrad.  I
> had one '386 at my disposal, with one hard disk, and, hey, I needed DOS and
> Windows to write my papers (I don't know about you, but I wanted to write
> in my room, where I could have my references at hand and be reasonably
> undisturbed; sure Framemaker was a much better setup than Word For Windows
> 1.2 but having to use it in the computer lab made it a nonstarter for me).
> Papers, and, well, to play games.  Sure, that too.
> Linux let me defragment my drive, non-destructively repartition it, and
> create a dual-boot system, so that I could both use the computer for school
> and screw around on Linux.  I'm probably not the only person for whom this
> was a decisive factor.
> Adam
> On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 1:08 PM Christopher Browne <cbbrowne at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> On Mon, 26 Aug 2019 at 19:14, 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 can make a firm "dunno" sound :-)
>> Some facts can come together to point away from a number of
>> possibilities...
>> - If you look at the number of hobbyist "Unix homages" that emerged at
>> around that time, it's clear that there was a sizable community of
>> interested folk willing to build their own thing, and that weren't
>> interested in Windows NT.  (Nay, one should put that more strongly...  That
>> had their minds set on something NOT from Microsoft.)  So I think we can
>> cross Windows NT off the list.
>> - OS/2 should briefly come on the list.  It was likable in many ways, if
>> only IBM had actually supported it...  But it suffers from something of the
>> same problem as Windows NT; there were a lot of folk that were only
>> slightly less despising of IBM at the time than of Microsoft.
>> - Hurd was imagined to be the next thing...
>> To borrow from my cookie file...
>> "Of course 5  years from now that will be different,  but 5 years from
>> now  everyone  will  be  running  free  GNU on  their  200  MIPS,  64M
>> SPARCstation-5."  -- Andrew Tanenbaum, 1992.
>> %
>> "You'll be  rid of most of us  when BSD-detox or GNU  comes out, which
>> should happen in the next few months (yeah, right)." -- Richard Tobin,
>> 1992. [BSD did follow within a year]
>> %
>> "I am aware of the benefits  of a micro kernel approach.  However, the
>> fact remains  that Linux is  here, and GNU  isn't --- and  people have
>> been working on Hurd for a lot longer than Linus has been working on
>> Linux." -- Ted T'so, 1992.
>> Ted has been on this thread, and should be amused (and slightly
>> disturbed!) that his old statements are being held here and there, ready to
>> trot out :-).
>> In the absence of Linux, perhaps hackers would have flocked to Hurd, but
>> there was enough going on that there was plenty of room for them to have
>> done so anyways.
>> I'm not sure what to blame on whatever happened post-1992, though I'd put
>> some on Microsoft Research having taken the wind out of Mach's sails by
>> hiring off a bunch of the relevant folk.  In order for Hurd to "make it,"
>> Mach has to "make it," too, and it looked like they were depending on CMU
>> to be behind that.  (I'm not sure I'm right about that; happy to hear a
>> better story.)
>> Anyway, Hurd *might* have been a "next thing," and I don't think the
>> popularity of Linux was enough to have completely taken wind out of its
>> sails, given that there's the dozens of "Unix homages" out there.
>> - I'd like to imagine Plan 9 being an alternative, but it was "properly
>> commercial" for a goodly long time (hence not amenable to attaching waves
>> of hackers to it to add their favorite device drivers), and was never taken
>> as a serious answer.  Many of us had admired it from afar via the Dr Dobbs
>> Journal issue (when was that?  mid or late '90s?) but only from afar.
>> - FreeBSD is the single best answer I can throw up as a possibility, as
>> it was the one actively targeting 80386 hardware.  And that had the big
>> risk of the AT&T lawsuit lurking over it, so had that gone in a different
>> direction, then that is a branch sadly easily trimmed.
>> If we lop both Linux and FreeBSD off the list of possibilities, I don't
>> imagine Windows NT or OS/2 bubble to the top, instead, a critical mass
>> would have stood behind ... something else, I'd think.  I don't know which
>> to suggest.
>> --
>> When confronted by a difficult problem, solve it by reducing it to the
>> question, "How would the Lone Ranger handle this?"
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