UNIX Is Dead! Wanna Fight?
From: August, 1986, "The DEC Professional", THE BACK PAGE.
Summer is over and a plague of UNIX programmers is upon us. College kids,
wet behind the ears; greenhorns, rubes. They pour out of various campuses
talking about ROFF and ED and pipes and paths, and they look for work.
They're impressed with themselves. After all, they've learned the language of
a secret society. If they're from Berkeley, they've learned the secret
language of a secret society.
They all program in C, and wherever they go they change the prompts on
whatever computer they get their hands on so it resembles a UNIX machine. The
creative ones go into whatever operating system they have to use and find a
symbol or token table; then they change the commands to look like UNIX. The
"more" creative ones customize the commands further so they are even more
cryptic and weird than UNIX. Whether these people ever do any real work is a
"Yes, weeell, to list my files I merely type P;MJOI."
"P;MJOI?? What the heck does that mean?"
"It just so happens that if I put my coffee cup on the keyboard and rock
it a certain way, that's what it will type; so, I do that to list my files."
While it's good to see these kids doing something other than wasting
quarters on endless games of Pole Position, I'm not so sure UNIX dabbling is
much better for society.
I feel this way, not so much because UNIX is an old fashioned OS that has
a special place reserved in hell, but because its time has passed. UNIX is
dead, but no one bothered to claim the body. It lives like a zombie on
college computers and serves as a gateway to all sorts of weird networks.
UNIX haunts marketing men, too. I remember when Fortune Systems was
getting started. That's about the time that a bumper crop of college-bred
UNIX drones was dumped like mulch into the marketplace. They all were singing
the praises of UNIX to the low end of the market.
So, I went to this strategy demonstration given by one of the vice
presidents of Fortune Systems. These guys surely were ahead of their time,
and it was a perfect example of having too much bad information. The Fortune
16:32 (or was it 32:16? In either case it looked like a biblical reference
...) said unto us: "Come to me for thine microprocessor and spend, spend,
spend!" It was the first camel of microcomputers. Like a horse designed by
committee (aka camel), the Fortune was preceded by too much market research. A
lot of this was skewed by the hordes of UNIX maniacs running through the
valley waving the UNIX flag.
First of all, I was shown a slide that clearly showed the Motorola 68000
as the world's greatest microprocessor.
The 68000 beat everything. Personally, I can't remember what it was
pitted against - probably the 8080, the 6502 and a 4004. Whatever, this was
the chip to use.
Then the company did some market research and, because writers, pundits,
researchers, secretaries, publishers, and programmers all said that UNIX was
the next hot operating system, they chose it for their own little machine.
The UNIX community yelled, "Yea!" But, they continued to use free
university-provided time, and none of the UNIX hackers bought the little UNIX
boxes. Well, that was okay - it was intended to be a business machine,
Ooops! Gee, it seems that the businessmen couldn't cope with UNIX and "$
1s /bin|pr -p -t" or any other such nonsense. So, they had to build a
performance-sapping shell around the system, code name: SLOW. I figured that
would be the last I heard of it.
Not so. Last week, a guy walked up to me as I was writing this column on
a portable computer in a San Franscisco bistro. He had been reading it
through binoculars from across the room. "So, you don't like UNIX, huh,
Dvorak? What's better, MS-DOS?? Hahahaha!"
"IBM's VM is the happening operating system," was my quick rejoinder.
"VM doesn't run on minis and micros. It's just a shell, anyway," he shot
He took a swing at me and I caught him a good one in the stomach. We
punched each other for a good 15 minutes. All of a sudden he stopped and
"Hey, what's going on here? Where am I? Wow, I remember my name! What
"We were fighting about UNIX," I said.
"UNIX? I was fighting about UNIX? My God . . . I was hypnotized!"
So, try snapping your fingers in the face of one of these UNIX maniacs
next time he flies off the handle.
See what happens.