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Operating Systems Unix BSD Linux

Andrew Tanenbaum On Minix, Linux, BSD, and Licensing 480

Posted by timothy
from the factors-converge-to-define-reality dept.
An anonymous reader points out an interesting, detailed interview with Andrew Tanenbaum at Linuxfr.org; Tanenbaum holds forth on the current state of MINIX, licensing decisions, and the real reason he believes that Linux caught on just when he "thought BSD was going to take over the world." ("I think Linux succeeded against BSD, which was a stable mature system at the time simply because BSDI got stuck in a lawsuit and was effectively stopped for several years.")
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Andrew Tanenbaum On Minix, Linux, BSD, and Licensing

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  • Denial... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Junta (36770) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @09:49AM (#38116200)

    I don't understand how one can say BSDI suit could do anything much for Linux. The suit did not preclude the creation of FreeBSD/NetBSD and thus Linux and BSD both had opportunity. If the claim is that BSDI lent some sort of credibility/support, during that time Linux had none of that either (Red Hat didn't even technically have an offering until 94, and I would say it wasn't worth taking seriously until '97 or so).

    Whatever went 'right' for Linux and 'wrong' for BSD had nothing to do with that suit.

  • Re:Disagree (Score:5, Informative)

    by vlm (69642) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @09:55AM (#38116238)

    Yes, for only $995 at least in early '94. Complete non-starter. Its like asking why IBM zOS isn't taking over the world of computing today...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 20, 2011 @10:01AM (#38116278)

    The *BSD community has been painted as being "elitist" for well over 20 years now. But that's just not the case. It's a merely a community that's built around a meritocracy. They don't care who you are, or where you're from, or what your experience is, just as long as you have skill. That's all they ask for, and that's actually quite reasonable. That's why the *BSD operating systems are so damn solid; they're built by very talented developers who know exactly what they're doing.

    Those who call them "elitist" are often people who asked what are in fact very, very stupid or basic questions. These are the sort of questions that are answered in FAQs, or in the software's documentation, or these days easily found using a web search.

    If you have a legitimate question, the *BSD community will be very eager and very quick to help you out. They take the quality of their software very seriously, so if you've found a legitimate problem, then they will work their asses off to resolve it. But you not knowing that "cd" is the command used to change directories isn't such a problem. If you ask that, then you should expect to be mistreated, because you are being ignorant, and you're wasting their time. They could be looking into a real problem or creating some important new functionality, rather than answering your question (which you could easily look up the answer to yourself in less time than it took you to ask the question in the first place).

  • When you came to BSD in 1996 you were five years late to the party, since 386BSD came out in 1991, and didn't support FDISK labels, preventing users from dual-booting. Indeed, early versions of FreeBSD and NetBSD, both of which grew from 386BSD, shared this lack. Linux used fdisk from the start (Linus not seeing a need for eight confusingly-identified partitions) which permitted dual-booting if you had partition slots free.

    So you're being elitist, but ironically, not elitist enough to know what you are talking about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 20, 2011 @10:23AM (#38116408)

    The question is not why Linux succeeded, but why Minix failed.
    The answer is simple, Tanenbaum refused to develop a 386 version,
    claiming bizarrely that there were so many 286's in the world
    that people would always use them.

    If he had brought out a 386 version of Minix
    I doubt if Linux would have taken off.

    My impression at the time was that he got bored with Minix,
    and wanted to move on to other things.

    But the way in which Minix has been written out of the Linux story
    is very strange, in my opinion.
    In its origins, Linux was simply a fork of Minix.
    Admittedly Torvalds had to re-write everything,
    but that was just because Tanenbaum had a veto
    on Minix development, and only allowed a tiny handful
    of devotees to add code.

    Torvalds was infinitely better at getting a team
    to co-operate with him.
    That was the secret of his success.

  • Re:Disagree (Score:5, Informative)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:23AM (#38116800) Journal

    Because Tanenbaum has hated Linus and Linux for twenty years. He and his supporters started no small number of flamewars in their day with all sorts of obnoxious claims, especially after Linus poo-pooed on the idea of microkernels.

    But it's all pretty irrelevant now. The fact remains that guys like me picked up Linux in those early years in no small part because everyone looked on Minix as a toy and BSD didn't have the hardware support to allow it to run on almost all 386 and 486 machines you could pick up, from IBMs to home-built jobs. Not only that, but when hardware came out that was problematic, there were guys out there who would literally write up a device driver in a few days or weeks. There was, and still is, very much a "make it work" attitude out there.

  • by naasking (94116) <naasking@gmail. c o m> on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:27AM (#38116834) Homepage

    Truth be told, if one of your drivers crashes, there's little hope of maintaining a useful system and you'll likely want to reboot anyway.

    Except this isn't true of microkernel systems like Minix. And this is the point: microkernels enforce protection boundaries between components so failure and recovery become feasible. That simply isn't possible in a monolithic kernel without resorting to proof-carrying code of some sort.

  • by next_ghost (1868792) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:32AM (#38116874)

    In its origins, Linux was simply a fork of Minix.

    Oh come on. How many people still believe this Ken Brown nonsense? Even Tanenbaum himself said this is complete nonsense [cs.vu.nl].

  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@nOSpaM.barbara-hudson.com> on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:35PM (#38117314) Journal
    Linus Torvalds himself says the same thing - that if it weren't for the BDSI lawsuits, he would have just used BSD. [citation [gondwanaland.com]]

    "If 386BSD had been available when I started on Linux, Linux would probably never had happened."

    Read the current article, then the one linked to another interview with Linus. It will become clear.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:43PM (#38117376)

    I remember that I installed some early Linux version because BSD did only support SCSI disks and not IDE. So I was waiting until I could afford to put SCSI disks (and a controller) in my 386 computer. I don't remember why I didn't switch to BSD later, but it was more a case of inertia, and of course no space on my disks for a practical dual boot.

  • by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:51PM (#38117436) Journal

    You're going to great lengths to dig up reasons for BSD operating systems to be bad.

    Not "bad", but so elitist and cliquish that they fell way behind Linux for reasons other than "lawyers". Easier to blame that gang of non-techies over there rather than cleaning up your own house, isn't it?

    to cobble together an OS

    Don't let your bias shout too loudly. Also, why the disdain for groups which actually try to build an OS for the applications rather than for the benefit of their own ego? MS knows who they need to cater to and so does Linus.

    Why would I write a network card for FreeBSD? The vast majority of manufacturers of such cards write their own drivers.

    You're missing the point entirely. Linux kernel developers have made it much easier than BSD developers for others to write drivers - whether "the vast majority of manufacturers" or interested third parties. There's still the problem of API stability vs Windows but this is more an engineering decision (GPL v2 allows for a community to keep things agile rather than relying on legacy bloat) than a personality one (BSD's "if you aren't already core or protege then you should be able to divine from the source what counts as part of the stable public API and any changes we make, so fuck you!").

    This argument is academic: the different philosophies and the resultant success of Linux have been played out magnificently over the past two decades. BSD is where it is only through inertia and a few first class isolated projects (e.g. openssh).

  • by Sits (117492) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @03:02PM (#38118342) Homepage Journal

    To the best of my knowledge, the ath5k/madwifi drivers are the only Linux drivers to be ported from the BSDs (OpenBSD/FreeBSD) to Linux. Which other drivers out of the 56 Linux wifi drivers [linuxwireless.org] were ported from the BSDs to qualify the "large number of WiFi drivers were written for FreeBSD or OpenBSD and then ported to Linux" statement?

    Linux has had its own 802.11 stack called mac802.11 since the 2.6.22 kernel four years ago [kernelnewbies.org] which was developed by Devicescape. The only driver I know of that carried a (Net)BSD 802.11 stack over to Linux was madwifi which had net802.11, was never mainline and was superseded by ath5k... The madwifi driver never went mainline, nor did its net802.11 stack. Why do you think that the 802.11 stack from a BSD needs copying into a Linux driver when mac802.11 exists?

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@lynx. b c .ca> on Sunday November 20, 2011 @04:13PM (#38118974) Journal

    In 1992, the ability to put Linux on its own partitiion and have it coexist with DOS on a single physical drive was the *ENTIRE* reason why I originally decided to go with Linux instead of 386BSD, which was also freely available at the time, even though BSD offered considerably more functionality than Linux during that period.

    It had absolutely squat to do with lawsuits.

  • by turbidostato (878842) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @04:55PM (#38119242)

    "The question is not why Linux succeeded, but why Minix failed."

    Well.. then I would one to question where exactly Minix failed.

    It was not intended as a hobbyist system, it was not even intended to be usable and Tanenbaum even explicitly stated so, so it's no wonder it did became neither usable nor a hobbyist system.

    On the other hand, Minix was intended as an educational tool to learn the basics of an OS. For this it should remain simple and true to its intention. Well, I think Linus himself said to have learned quite a bit from Minix as a lot of other engineers too, so again, how exactly did Minix fail?

    "In its origins, Linux was simply a fork of Minix."

    True, only for the little fact of being false.

    "Admittedly Torvalds had to re-write everything,
    but that was just because Tanenbaum had a veto
    on Minix development"

    Admittedly Tanenbaum restricted Minix license out of his own reasons but Linus did *not* "rewrote" Minix because of the license; he *wrote* Linux from scratch for the pleasure of doing it, because he was a hacker and he had a shinny new 386 on his desk.

  • by tyme (6621) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @09:27PM (#38120580) Homepage Journal

    I can say, with some authority, that Linux succeeded on it's own merit, mostly because it supported a broad range of commodity hardware. It got a boost because everyone started buying 386s, which were the first competent hardware for the IBM PC. There were lots of options back in the late eighties, all vying for some kind of position, but most of them had big problems of community: Coherent, MINIX, xinu, Xenix, Apple A/UX, netBSD, OS/2, OS-9, QNX, Lynx, etc. I looked at all of them as reasonable alternatives to the laughable PC operating systems of the day (MS-DOS and Macintosh System 7). NetBSD was a reasonable competitor right up through the mid-nineties, but Linux hardware support eventually blew it out of the water. By 1995 it was clear that Linux and the open source development methodology had won handily.

    Yes, licensing had something to do with all of this, but so did Linus' management style: people wanted to work on Linux, and Linus did not turn them away: he welcomed them. I wouldn't want to say anything bad about Dr. Tanenbaum, I have the greatest respect for him and his work, but other than netBSD, none of the other free and open OSs of the day were making any attempt to take the general market, MINIX included. I remember looking at MINIX and rejecting it because of it's limitation to academic use (the limitation to the 286 wasn't that much of a concern, though it probably should have been).

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday November 20, 2011 @10:37PM (#38120890) Homepage Journal

    Smalltalk has no goal to be cross-platform - Java does.

    I can't speak to the rest of your opinions, but you're outright wrong about this. The current implementation of Smalltalk is Squeak, and Squeak is cross-platform, implements a virtual machine which is ostensibly the same across platforms just as Java is ostensibly the same across platforms, et cetera.

  • by cas2000 (148703) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:18PM (#38121118)

    In its origins, Linux was simply a fork of Minix. Admittedly Torvalds had to re-write everything,

    Nope. That's called a clone or a re-implementation, not a fork. A fork is based on the original project's source code. Since Linus wrote everything from scratch, it wasn't not a fork.

    IMO, Linux was successful where Minx & *BSD were not, for three main reasons:

    - Linus himself - makes a near-ideal benevolent dictator for his project
    - The GPL - guaranteed other devs that their work would always be Free Software
    - Support for 386 and later 486 chips - a major itch that needed scratching

    There were numerous secondary reasons too, but IMO the above are the main ones. In order of importance

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