[TUHS] If not Linux, then what?

William Pechter pechter at gmail.com
Thu Aug 29 09:01:28 AEST 2019

On 8/28/2019 6:48 PM, Adam Thornton wrote:
> It probably was the partition/slice confusion that, well, confused me, 
> then.  My experience, such as it was, was from the DOS world.

As was mine mostly 8-) I remember it from the PITA it was to translate 
in my head.  Unix folks looked at partitions as /dev/dsk/0s0->0s7 (I 
think 7 was the SVR2 maximum.  The "Unix" partitions fit inside the 
FDISK partition or dos slice... The dos guys looked at it kind of like 
the fdisk space disk0 partition 3 (for example) was the partition and 
then the BSD folks broke that in to /dev/sd0a /dev/sd0b /dev/sd0c etc.

I did a little SunOS and SysV along with Dos and Windows and could make 
them coexist as long as there was an open primary dos partition.

> 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?

Sounds like SLS -- Soft Landing System -- which later was pretty much 
replaced with Slackware.  I used the early MCA stuff on PS/2's at IBM 
for a while.  Most of the PS/2 stuff we had was SCSI.  The boot loader 
was lilo.  It could go in the partition space or disk mbr.  

> 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 
> <mailto: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
>     <mailto: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 <mailto:cbbrowne at gmail.com>> wrote:
>>         On Mon, 26 Aug 2019 at 19:14, Arthur Krewat
>>         <krewat at kilonet.net <mailto: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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