Split: History of affordable computers and the systems that run them

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    Brian Masinick

    Here is a historical summary of what has emerged in the operating system space during my adult lifetime:

    While we’re on this subject, I want to mention once again that in this sphere of freely available software, especially the ones where all of the source code is available to inspect, use, modify, and adapt to specific uses, the REASON we have SO MANY distributions is PRIMARILY because collectively we have different preferences in the appearance, daily use cases, our former backgrounds, ethnic and ethic preferences, and more, therefore it is HELPFUL to have many different distributions for convenience; that way we don’t have to modify and customize a great percentage of the applications chosen, their behavior and their appearance. At the same time, when we CAN share as much as possible of their underlying technology, tools, and applications, perhaps even the kernel, it benefits us all.

    Not long ago I took a look at the kernel preference settings and characteristics. For as much as antiX and MX Linux (and undoubtedly AV Linux as well), there were STILL quite a few parameters that differed; this is fine. I use both of them, I like both of them. Then there’s Debian. Though Debian wemt along with the Red Hat job and process scheduling approach, the very “controversial SystemD” that so many people here DETEST, this is merely one straightforward difference in an overall ecosystem that STILL SHARES much more in common than in difference.

    Today, though our “arch rival” proprietary operating systems – those of proprietary giants Apple and Microsoft – certainly have significant differences, and the iOS and Android mobile technologies that have used much from the BSD (Apple & iOS) and Linux (Android) systems, all of them actually share a great deal of technology that dates CLEAR back to the sixties, when RCA, Honeywell, General Electric, AT&T, and Xerox, each contributed a great deal to what currently exists as either UNIX or Linux software.

    Xerox created a large percentage (and most of the ideas) that have since become what we recognize as “Graphical User Environments”. AT&T did a LOT of work with research operating systems (as did International Business Machines, a.k.a. IBM). RCA, General Electric, and Honeywell didn’t get very far with commercial systems, nor did Xerox, but they sure made a difference. All of them are either former or current technology leaders. Not all of them knew how to take full advantage of their research and development; in the case of Xerox, they DID know how to license and SELL it, so in the short term, they earned something from their research investment, but did not personally gain all of the advantages or profits. Apple, with their early “MacIntosh” computers, were probably the first to learn and profit. Microsoft was slower off the mark initially, but later created graphical user interfaces; their early small computer systems were “command-based”, created on MSDOS, which began life in a very humble form, based on QDOS – an operating system that Microsoft purchased – “Quick and Dirty Operating System”. Digital Research had much more capable operating systems for small systems, but they also charged a premium for them, and after a while lost any advantage they held.

    So we can criticize Apple and Microsoft all we want, but we have to give them a lot of credit for commoditization of small affordable computer systems. IBM had to “buy in” to the approach, working with Intel and Microsoft to produce an affordable system that ordinary people could use.

    We can thank Tannebaum for creating an academic implementation of Minux, and then an inquisitive, fortunate hobby effort by Mr. Torvalds to create what became Linux, coupled with the rework of UNIX tools and utilities that are the GNU project.

    Of course we love our free software. At the same time, I also appeal to everyone to let each person freely choose whether they want to use free or commercial software. If it’s free software, there are still a huge number of choices. Compared to what was available when I was still a student, this is a great and wonderful thing. Within all of this, we enjoy our light, nimble, efficient software called antiX, or our siblings, MX Linux and AV Linux. Each of these have important roles in allowing people of all types to have access to the information that has literally changed the world.

    Now, for those who truly care, let’s use all of that information and change for good; let’s embrace people with different eyes, hair, skin, spoken language, and realize that we all breathe air, we all ingest food, generate waste, etc. We all bleed the same; let’s start appreciating both what we share in common and what also represents unique differences in each living person. I love that I can communicate, (sometimes through language translation software) with people all around the world. Regardless of our similarities or our differences, my wish is that we collectively share and create more things for our common good.

    Warm greetings to everyone!

    Brian Masinick

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