[TUHS] history of community help for unix users everywhere

Warner Losh imp at bsdimp.com
Thu Feb 9 06:48:26 AEST 2023

On Wed, Feb 8, 2023 at 12:59 PM Clem Cole <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:

> For those of us outside of BTL, i.e. the Academic users, "Unix News" was
> created - which became ';login" - We started to meet informally at a few
> universities and talk to each other.   Those of us on the ArpaNet that
> email/FTP and the like, started to share patches - but mostly things were
> shared when we got together via magtape. When they were held in NYC, we
> might be lucky and someone from Research might come (and even accidentally
> spill a few bits on the floor that mix fix something).  Eventually, USENIX
> was formed, and we met twice a year formally. That was so popular, USENIX
> started having specialty conferences such as the one for C and C++, LISA,
> Networking, Linux and Free Software, etc. Similarly, with V7, UUCP was
> given to use a USENET was started by Tom Truscott and his famous
> "auto-dialler" that he hacked with a 12v relay, a DR-11C and described at
> the Bolder USENIX conference.   Netnews was not far behind - which sadly
> became net.noise when the signal-to-noise ratio disappeared.

 Yea, reading both the early usenix news letters and the early AUUG
newsletters carefully shows more community action as well. I'm not sure
what netnews was like in the 74-79 time frame before UUCP was wisely
available, so I can't comment on that, but there's reports from names you'd
recognize, and reports about USENIX conferences, reports about local
gatherings... and then all kinds of crazy stuff: letters on university
letter head that had bug fixes in it for this or that problem... Addresses
where you write and send photocopies of AT&T and DEC licenses and get
FORTRAN or MARCO-11 or other such things where people had used their DEC
source license to hack in unix I/O routines into the FORTRAN compiler. And
there were all kinds of 'user shared' programs that ranged from 'trivial
problem, poorly executed' to 'really cool DEC OS emulators' depending on
the era..  The bas.s that is in V6 and V7 (V5 too?) is an early version fo
DEC's BASIC that was hacked for unix and some I/O devices that were
specific to the labs... there were also advice for what versions of unix to
use, and what versions were available to license. References to things that
you can't google for anymore (or if you do all you find is the google index
of the login issues / auus issues). There's also a number of country SIGs
under DECUS that were for unix in the 77 or so time frame that might be
good to search newsletters for... bitsavers has a bunch, but not sure they
are early enough (I didn't come across the references to them until long
after I looked at what bitsavers had).

The community aspect of open source was there in spades as well, with
people helping other people and sharing fixes. But it was complicated by
restrictive license agreements and somewhat (imho) overzealous protection
of 'rights' at times that hampered things and would have echos in later
open source licenses and attitudes that would develop in response. Even
though the term 'open source' wasn't coined until 1998, the open source
ethos were present in many of the early computer users groups, not least
the unix ones. USENET amplified it, plus let in the unwashed masses who
also had useful contributions (in addition to a lot of noise)... then
things got really crowded with noise when AOL went live... And I'm sure
there's a number of other BBS and/or compuserve communities I'm giving
short-shrift here because I wasn't part of them in real time.

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