Remembering Unix Desktops – and What We Can Learn From Them

“As important as its historically underhanded business dealings were for its success, Microsoft didn’t have to cheat to win,” argues a new article in the Register.

“The Unix companies were doing a great job of killing themselves off.”

You see, while there were many attempts to create software development standards for Unix, they were too general to do much good — for example Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX) — or they became mired in the business consortium fights between the Open Systems Foundation and Unix International, which became known as the Unix wars.

While the Unix companies were busy ripping each other to shreds, Microsoft was smiling all the way to the bank. The core problem was that the Unix companies couldn’t settle on software standards. Independent Software Vendors (ISV) had to write applications for each Unix platform. Each of these had only a minute desktop market share. It simply made no business sense for programmers to write one version of an application for SCO OpenDesktop (also known as OpenDeathtrap), another for NeXTStep, and still another one for SunOS. Does that sound familiar? That kind of thing is still a problem for the Linux desktop, and it’s why I’m a big fan of Linux containerized desktop applications, such as Red Hat’s Flatpak and Canonical’s Snap.

By the time the two sides finally made peace by joining forces in The Open Group in 1996, it was too late. Unix was crowded out on the conventional desktop, and the workstation became pretty much a Sun Microsystems-only play.
Linux’s GPL license created an “enforced” consortia that allowed it to take over, according to the article — and with Linus Torvalds as Linux’s single leader, “it avoided the old Unix trap of in-fighting…

I’ve been to many Linux Plumbers meetings. There, I’ve seen him and the top Linux kernel developers work with each other without any drama. Today’s Linux is a group effort… The Linux distributors and developers have learned their Unix history lessons. They’ve realized that it takes more than open source; it takes open standards and consensus to make a successful desktop operating system.
And the article also points out that one of those early Unix desktops “is still alive, well, and running in about one in four desktops.”

That operating system, of course, is macOS X, the direct descendent of NeXT’s NeXTSTEP. You could argue that macOS, based on the multi-threaded, multi-processing microkernel operating system Mach, BSD Unix, and the open source Darwin, is the most successful of all Unix operating systems.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

OSnews Decries ‘The Mass Extinction of Unix Workstations’

Anyone remember the high-end commercial UNIX workstations from a few decades ago — like from companies like IBM, DEC, SGI, and Sun Microsystems?
Today OSnews looked back — but also explored what happens when you try to buy one today> :
As x86 became ever more powerful and versatile, and with the rise of Linux as a capable UNIX replacement and the adoption of the NT-based versions of Windows, the days of the UNIX workstations were numbered. A few years into the new millennium, virtually all traditional UNIX vendors had ended production of their workstations and in some cases even their associated architectures, with a lacklustre collective effort to move over to Intel’s Itanium — which didn’t exactly go anywhere and is now nothing more than a sour footnote in computing history.

Approaching roughly 2010, all the UNIX workstations had disappeared…. and by now, they’re all pretty much dead (save for Solaris). Users and industries moved on to x86 on the hardware side, and Linux, Windows, and in some cases, Mac OS X on the software side…. Over the past few years, I have come to learn that If you want to get into buying, using, and learning from UNIX workstations today, you’ll run into various problems which can roughly be filed into three main categories: hardware availability, operating system availability, and third party software availability.

Their article details their own attempts to buy one over the years, ultimately concluding the experience “left me bitter and frustrated that so much knowledge — in the form of documentation, software, tutorials, drivers, and so on — is disappearing before our very eyes.”

Shortsightedness and disinterest in their own heritage by corporations, big and small, is destroying entire swaths of software, and as more years pass by, it will get ever harder to get any of these things back up and running…. As for all the third-party software — well, I’m afraid it’s too late for that already. Chasing down the rightsholders is already an incredibly difficult task, and even if you do find them, they are probably not interested in helping you, and even if by some miracle they are, they most likely no longer even have the ability to generate the required licenses or release versions with the licensing ripped out. Stuff like Pro/ENGINEER and SoftWindows for UNIX are most likely gone forever….

Software is dying off at an alarming rate, and I fear there’s no turning the tide of this mass extinction.
The article also wonders why companies like HPE don’t just “dump some ISO files” onto an FTP server, along with patch depots and documentation. “This stuff has no commercial value, they’re not losing any sales, and it will barely affect their bottom line.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

OpenBSD 7.1 Released with Support for Apple M1, Improvements for ARM64 and RISC-V

“Everyone’s favorite security focused operating system, OpenBSD 7.1 has been released for a number of architectures,” writes long-time Slashdot reader ArchieBunker, “including Apple M1 chips.”

Phoronix calls it “the newest version of this popular, security-minded BSD operating system.”
With OpenBSD 7.1, the Apple Silicon support is now considered “ready for general use” with keypad/touchpad support for M1 laptops, a power management controller driver added, I2C and SPI controller drivers, and a variety of other driver additions for supporting the Apple Silicon hardware.
OpenBSD 7.1 also has a number of other improvements benefiting the 64-bit ARM (ARM64) and RISC-V architectures. OpenBSD 7.1 also brings SMP kernel improvements, support for futexes with shared anonymous memory, and more. On the graphics front there is updating the Linux DRM code against the state found in Linux 5.15.26 as well as now enabling Intel Elkhart Lake / Jasper Lake / Rocket Lake support.

The Register notes OpenBSD now “supports a surprisingly wide range of hardware: x86-32, x86-64, ARM7, Arm64, DEC Alpha, HP PA-RISC, Hitachi SH4, Motorola 88000, MIPS64, SPARC64, RISC-V 64, and both Apple PowerPC and IBM POWER.”
The Register’s FOSS desk ran up a copy in VirtualBox, and we were honestly surprised how quick and easy it was. By saying “yes” to everything, it automatically partitioned the VM’s disk into a rather complex array of nine slices, installed the OS, a boot loader, an X server and display manager, plus the FVWM window manager. After a reboot, we got a graphical login screen and then a rather late-1980s Motif-style desktop with an xterm.
It was easy to install XFCE, which let us set the screen resolution and other modern niceties, and there are also KDE, GNOME, and other pretty front-ends, plus plenty of familiar tools such as Mozilla apps, LibreOffice and so on….

We were expecting to have to do a lot more work. Yes, OpenBSD is a niche OS, but the project gave the world OpenSSH, LibreSSL, the PF firewall as used in macOS, much of Android’s Bionic C library, and more besides…. In a world of multi-gigabyte OSes, it’s quite refreshing. It felt like stepping back into the early 1990s, the era of Real Unix, when you had to put in some real effort and learn stuff in order to bend the OS to your will — but in return, you got something relatively bulletproof.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.