[Beowulf] Redmond is at it, again

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Wed Jun 2 10:44:27 PDT 2004

At 11:54 AM 6/2/2004 -0400, Robert G. Brown wrote:

>As some Sun Microsystems humans wryly commented to me not so long ago,
>Duke and other Universities are where the future decision makers of
>every company in the world are being trained, today.  If they learn to
>use Sun boxes while at Duke, they'll be likely to use Sun products in
>the future when they are spending real corporate dollars to get them.
>If they learn to use WinXX boxes, that's what they'll want to get on
>exactly the same basis.  If they learn to use Linux boxes, and discover
>that they can (for example) install linux and maintain linux
>transparently and for free from a common repository and that it has all
>the tools that they need to do nearly anything right there at their
>mouse pointertips once they've done so, what do you think that they'll
>favor when THEY are making decisions in five years?

This philosophy, of course, is why IBM had a dominant position (and still 
does in many areas of big-iron computing).  It's also why AT&T essentially 
gave free copies to universities and why much of our programming is in C, 
as opposed to, say, PL/I, Algol, APL, etc.  Can't beat free (as in beer) 
when buying stuff for undergrad introductory classes, and paraphrasing what 
the Jesuits said many centuries ago: "get em when they're young, and 
they're yours for life."  I am old enough to remember when C was considered 
just one of many possible languages, and when the decision about language 
and OS to load on those new cheap minicomputers (especially things like the 
LSI-11/23) came along... Unix and C won (compared to, say, RT-11, RSX-11, 
VAX/VMS, TOPS-10/20 or their DG clones, or FORTRAN G, PL/I H, etc for the 
big iron 360)

>they finally start to break
>into the corporate world -- largely because yes, Universities have been
>graduating students with linux experience and perhaps more importantly
>have been contributing a steady stream of linux-trained sysadmins and
>programmers into the corporate world where they did indeed select what
>they knew to be functional and stable -- is to RAISE PRICES THROUGH THE
>ROOF back to Universities!

Perhaps not "knew to be functional and stable", but "knew" period.  The DEC 
operating systems (RT-11 and RSX-11, in particular) were quite functional 
and stable, and provided most, if not all, of what Unix provided. BUT, they 
weren't free, particularly if you wanted a kernel license or wanted to 
write new i/o drivers.  They were also tied to a particular architecture, 
and not particularly portable to new processors.

Note that other inexpensive popular OS's of the day: CP/M, CP/M-86, 
CP/M-68K were pretty lame (for production use) and not free either; 
although, gettting a bootleg copy to fool with was straightforward; and a 
legal copy wasn't hideously expensive (in the $100 range, to my 
recollection... a tiny fraction of the several kilobucks you spent on the 

The free (to academia) Unix resulted in hordes of 68000 Unix ports back in 
the early 80's, especially when Motorola came out with decent memory 
management hardware.  At that time, the 8086 world was still struggling 
with Intel's OS offerings (ISIS II, MCS-86, etc) and a few real-time OSes 
(e.g, MTOS-86).

AT&T/Bell Labs was very wise (perhaps by accident) in their decision to 
promulgate Unix throughout academia. Of course, that was back in a kindler, 
gentler era of computers where business development ran at a much slower 
pace and with less speculation.

James Lux, P.E.
Spacecraft Telecommunications Section
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mail Stop 161-213
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena CA 91109
tel: (818)354-2075
fax: (818)393-6875

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