[AUUG-Talk]: 40 years of Unix

David Newall auug at davidnewall.com
Sat Jun 28 18:32:22 EST 2014

On 28/06/14 15:44, Dave Horsfall wrote:
> Unix was a design that "just worked" because K&R simply got it right,
> right from the start.
> It'll never go away.

I'm a UNIX bigot and agree with Dave that K&R got the UNIX design right, 
but, honestly, it had warts.  I cite ioctl and the tty subsystems as 

As to whether it will ever go away, well, it depends on whether "it" is 
UNIX or the UNIX design.  Although BSD systems are "UNIX", they no 
longer share code with anything that AT&T released.  SCO has died.  
Arguably, UNIX has already gone away.

Even if "it" is the design, never is such a long time that I'm sure it 
will go away.  I believe that the time will come when we have truly 
intelligent, thinking machines.  I doubt they will run anything even 
slightly resembling UNIX.  Perhaps, we'll see toasters and 
light-switches with UNIX-like operating systems; or perhaps not.  
Perhaps toasters and light-switches will be (some of) the "arms" of the 
house's intelligence.

More practically, the design of UNIX is now most prevalent in Linux.  
But I perceive Linux is becoming quite fragile.  The design of its 
memory management is absurd, being based on the notion that, when real 
memory is needed, if it can't be provided, kill processes until it can 
(even, or perhaps especially, processes unrelated to the one needing the 
memory.)  This absurdity is taken to the extreme by the presence of a 
runtime configuration option which causes requests for memory to *never* 
be refused.

Aside from such ludicrous design decisions, Linux seems to have become a 
memory hog.  For example, with 4GB of RAM, Linux (on my notebook) keeps 
running out of memory (and killing apparently random processes) when 
I've got nothing running other than the base OS, with BTRFS, NTFS3G, 
Xorg, XFCE4, SSHd, xfce4-terminal, Firefox and Thunderbird.  Actually, 
Thunderbird seems to be the biggest hog, but the design on Linux's 
memory management is what causes the machine to be fragile.  It's a lot 
of memory for not very much work.

UNIX's leading torch-bearer looks more and more like a flake, and I 
predict we'll reach a point when, suddenly and dramatically, industry 
decides it's unacceptable.  What will happen then?  Perhaps Linux will 
be fixed, but perhaps that's not possible.  The design flaws may be too 
entrenched; the politics may be too extreme. Perhaps Linux will be 
discarded in favour of BSD; that would be sensible.  Yet Linux's 
commercial popularity must be due to the immense amount of hardware 
which it supports.  BSD is not a patch on Linux in that regard.  If 
industry were looking for an alternative to Linux, I fear Windows would 
look attractive.

Will Dave's "it" ever go away?  I see grave danger ahead.

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