Talking about his mainframe background and roots in computing. He played a lot on the big iron and sorta "missed" the PC revolution. He wasn't terribly interested in PCs for quite a while. Then he got to play with one of the very first Apple II computers. But he liked the mainframe hardware yet.

In 1980, he began working with Unix and started to understand and appreciate the design of Unix.

In the old days, your OS came from your hardware vendor. It was all about lock-in. If you let them interoperate, they might switch to another vendor. Hide the internals. Make it a bit of a pain to deal with--but not too much. The OS was specific, often designed for a particular market and task.

The hardware was very big and expensive (of course). There was no portability. They were always multi-user and the displays were dumb terminals.

Lots of talk about Unix history, AT&T, and Berkely.

Berkeley added long filenames, virtual memory, curses, vi, job control, UFS filesystem, and so on. SunOS and DEC Untrix came along. The wars started when AT&T and Sun got together. The others started the Open Software Foundation (OSF). OSF1 vs. SysV. Yuck. SysV vs. BSD too.

BSD ended up under a "legal cloud" for quite a while.

Nobody wrote portable software. Everyone was pissed at each other. They all created their own windowing/desktop systems. Intel didn't rule the CPU space yet, so the world was very fragmented on the architecture front. That's why there's so much portability and ./configure stuff floating around today.

Then came the GUI wars. Sun had NeWs, which was based on Postscript. But it lost to X. So they created OpenLook, which battled with OSF's Motif. That made Unix softwrae more expensive, and Unix lost the desktop war long ago as a result. Windows was unified but Unix was not. CDE vs. OpenView vs. ... Ugh.

Every vendor tried to differentiate themselves with desktops. So most software vendors just went to Windows.

X is the reason that Unix lost the desktop war. It was a system by engineers, for engineers. Text and font handling sucked (and still does). No printing support. No multi-media support. The APIs are all very low-level. Everyone had to write their own printing engine.

Now you know why we have Qt vs. Gtk vs. whatever. It should have been decided long ago.

Unix users are often averse to solving "big picture" problems. Unix was assumed to be user-unfriendly. The only real API, libc, was very low-level. Folks had to write their own APIs. Again, look at Qt vs. Gtk. Everyone wanted to own the standard, so nobody did.

But Unix remained alive. Why?

The underlying tool-building philosophy is a Good Idea. Open systems are very compelling. There are some very smart people in the Unix community. Unix was open to inspection and extension.

Unix has risen again. Why?

The Internet. Unix TCP/IP kicks ass. It all started on Unix and still happens first on Unix. Unix handles load, so it works on servers well. And there was always an installed based in the science and tech communities. Open Source broke the vendor lock. And Linux Torvalds as a poster child has done a great job. He beat the odds. The BSD lawsuit finally went away. BSD was freed.

Unix and BSD both made a comback. It's now a good word in the IT circles again. It became a foundation for the next layer: Perl, Apache, Python, Emacs, GCC, other GNU stuff.

But what about the desktop?

It had been lost to Microsoft. Until Apple came along and tried to fix that with OS X. Mach microkernel, threading, power management (for portables), ease of use, etc. To get the developers back, they've gotta provide great APIs. That's what Cocoa is all about. And the Java implementation works very, very well. They haven't sacrificed multimedia support either. Their internationalization support it world-class.

Quartz is cool. Finally solves the font/bitmap/display/printing problems on Unix. Makes good rendering and printing work well. It's all built-in. OpenGL for industry standard 3D and it works out of the box correctly. That's important for the game industry. Quartz Extreme unified 2D and 3D and makes good use of the GPU. (I guess that's important when your CPUs are still slower than Intel's?)

Great video support, including QuickTime 6.

Putting all that together, now Unix desktops are getting the media apps they only dreamed about before. Apple has done it *and* commoditized it too. It's not like paying SGI prices anymore.

And, if you still want X, you can get X. It's there for those who want it. The XFree86 project has done a great job.


Mac OS X can help try to win (some of) the desktop back. It is getting the critical mass necessary to get ISVs back building software for it. And the cool hardware and tools is bringing back many developers too.

And, well, it's NOT Windows. :-)

Now for the panel discussion.

Posted by jzawodn at October 02, 2002 09:34 AM

Reader Comments
# Dan Isaacs said:

OS X gets the desktop back only when it runs on commodity hardware.

on October 2, 2002 10:51 AM
# rdancer said:


Then rm this comment, please.

on October 31, 2004 04:55 AM
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