[TUHS] If not Linux, then what?

Theodore Y. Ts'o tytso at mit.edu
Thu Aug 29 09:19:52 AEST 2019

On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 04:07:39PM -0400, Christopher Browne wrote:
> - Hurd was imagined to be the next thing...
> To borrow from my cookie file...
> "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.

That's "Ts'o" :-), and that quote wasn't my arguing that Hurd would be
the next thing.  It was people had been working on the Hurd for
*years* (starting 1984) and it still wasn't real.  If it wasn't going
to be real after eight years, another eighty probably wouldn't have

And a lot of this was because was because RMS was hard to work with,
and he was a purist.  Pretty much very *definition* of the perfect
should always be the enemy of the "good enough".

In fact, at one point Thomas Bushnell, one of the senior Hurd
developers pushed to have the Hurd switch to using BSD 4.4-Lite, and
Stallman refused[1].

   “RMS was a very strong believer, wrongly, I think, in a very greedy
   algorithm approach to code reuse issues,” Thomas Bushnell later

   “My first choice was to take the BSD 4.4-Lite release and make a
   kernel. I knew the code, I knew how to do it. It is now perfectly
   obvious to me that this would have succeeded splendidly and the
   world would be a very different place today. RMS wanted to work
   together with people from Berkeley on such an effort. Some of them
   were interested, but some seem to have been deliberately dragging
   their feet: and the reason now seems to be that they had the goal
   of spinning off BSDI. A GNU based on 4.4-Lite would undercut BSDI.”

   As Bushnell describes it, Stallman came to the conclusion that
   “Mach is a working kernel. 4.4-Lite is only partial. We will go
   with Mach.”

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20121228225905/http://www.linuxuser.co.uk/features/whatever-happened-to-the-hurd-the-story-of-the-gnu-os

That's probably one of the other things that may have hampered BSD.
The BSD license made it easier (or at least made easier business
models) for monetizing BSD, and some of the most talented people went
off to make a buck off of BSD.  BSDI, Sun, NetApp, Wasabi Systems, etc.

Nothing wrong with that of course, and if people like Bill Joy were
able to make bank based on BSD, more power to them.  But it probably
removed from the leadership pool people who might have had better
leadership, and technical architect skills who might have led one of
the *BSD's to greater success.

The GPL makes it harder to monetize Linux --- although, as we've seen,
certainly not impossible --- and if you take a look at the most of the
senior technical people at Linux, none of us have made off as well as,
say, Bill Joy.  I'm still a working stiff, and don't have enough to
retire.  (That's OK; I'm perfectly happy being part of the 99%.  :-)

> 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.

Given who called the shots (and it wasn't the key people actually
doing most of the technical work, such as Bushnell) I actually think
it's not very likely Hurd could have succeeded.  RMS actually tried to
recruit me to work on the Hurd as well, and I refused, because of
project leadership concerns.  (Again, feel free to hate on Linus's
management style, but there were far worse ones in the open source OS
world at the time.)

					- Ted

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