[TUHS] If not Linux, then what?

Adam Thornton athornton at gmail.com
Thu Aug 29 09:09:24 AEST 2019

This was pre-SLS as well.  I remember vividly how excited I was when it
came out in mid-92 and how much like cheating it was.  A little googling
and I'm sure I used the HJ Lu diskettes.  I don't actually remember
hand-editing the MBR but, well, I probably did.


On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 4:01 PM William Pechter <pechter at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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.  See:
> https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/l-bootload/index.html
> 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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