[AUUG-Talk]: Proprietary Unixes (Dead?)

Con Zymaris conz at cybersource.com.au
Fri Oct 5 07:46:35 EST 2007

On Fri, Oct 05, 2007 at 02:28:23AM +1000, steve jenkin wrote:


> A 'mono-culture' of any sort is undesirable.
> Competition lifts everyone's game.  BillyG once espoused that, now
> repudiates the notion.

Competition is indeed King. It's the only thing that pushes proprietary
platforms along. Everyone remember the following cautionary tale, which
exemplifies what markets can do to proprietary vendors when they believe
they've no need to compete? Irony incarnate, no less. ;-)

- - - 


In 1988, UUNET was a small startup specializing in providing commercial
email connectivity using UUCP. UUNET installed points of presence in
as many large cities as it could, where users could dial up and exchange
email.  UUNET was not the only group doing this; PSI and a couple of the
other regional NSFnet members were also beginning to provide this form
of public access. Prior to this, in order to exchange email, you
connected to a university on the Internet, or to a sequence of other
sites that would eventually get you to a well-connected site, a process
that usually involved long-distance calls. If I wanted to send email to
someone in Europe, it went first to a UNIX system in Mountain View, then
to Sun Microsystems, then to a server operated by AT&T in Chicago, then
to Europe. In other words, I paid only for the long-distance call to
Mountain View (from San Francisco), with Sun and AT&T paying the bulk of
the fees. When AT&T announced that it was putting a stop to the
freeloading, Rick Adams, the sysadmin at a large UUCP relay site
(seismo), founded UUNET.

UUNET ran TCP/IP connections over leased lines to connect their POPs.
UUNET also connected to the Internet, and soon to Europe, so it was
possible to get email almost anywhere. The competitors to UUNET, past
regionals, were also connected to the Inter- net, so while it was
possible to send email between these networks, it was technically
illegal, that is, against the “Acceptable Use Policy” of the Internet,
which prohibited commercial access. In 1991, these companies agreed to
cooperate by tying their net- works together in northern Virginia, and
the commercial Internet was born.

Okay, so where does free software come into this? UUNET was using SunOS
on the servers that sat in the POPs and ran the banks of modems. UUNET
was not very happy with Sun, because they once waited 16 months to get a
bug fixed that caused panics in a serial-driver routine almost daily. So
when the Computer Science Research Group at the University of California
published the Net2 release containing the operating system and utilities
that had been written as part of BSD, UUNET saw a great opportunity.
They could perhaps create a “free” version of BSD, one that did not
require a license from Unix System Laboratories (USL). This also
happened in 1988 (I believe), the same time that OSF was getting funded
with millions of dollars.

UUNET funded Berkeley Software Design, Inc., which initially was totally
distributed and subsequently had its main office in Rob Kolstad’s house
in Colorado Springs. (Both have since moved). BSDi hired Bill Jolitz to
write the memory manager, one of the few missing pieces in Net2 required
to have a complete, working operating system for the Intel platform.
Jolitz’s code was published in Dr. Dobb’s and eventually became part of
the code in the finished kernel for BSD/386, BSDi’s first operating
system release, as well as the core for FreeBSD and NetBSD.

Suddenly, USL’s SVR4 had a serious, if poorly funded, competitor. BSDi
was promising to port BSD to one of the Sparc platforms (Sun
workstations and servers may share the same architecture, but not their
memory management or buses), was based on the much more popular BSD
(instead of System V), and would likely run faster than would SVR4 on
the same hardware. Faced with real competition, USL did the only thing
it could do – had its lawyers file a lawsuit against BSDi.

Con Zymaris <conz at cyber.com.au> Level 4, 10 Queen St, Melbourne, Australia 
Cybersource: Australia's Leading Linux and Open Source Solutions Company 
Web: http://www.cyber.com.au/  Phone: 03 9621 2377   Fax: 03 9621 2477

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