[Beowulf] Re: Religious wars

Bob Drzyzgula bob at drzyzgula.org
Tue Jul 22 07:54:47 PDT 2008

On Tue, Jul 22, 2008 at 12:49:22AM -0400, Perry E. Metzger wrote:
> Bob Drzyzgula <bob at drzyzgula.org> writes:
> > This, I find, is a strong dividing line. By and large
> > (not with exclusivity, but IME there is certainly a trend)
> > systems programmers use vi and applications programmers
> > use emacs.
> I've seen more than my share of Unix hackers over the years, and I
> spot no such trends. Generally, it seems to be a question of what you
> learned first.

Well, I did say "IME". This remains a split -- not a
perfect dividing line, but still identifiable -- today
in my office, even among the younger staff that comes
in. Yes, it is always dangerous to extrapolate from such
limited anecdotal evidence. 

Still, even today almost any Linux repair or minimal "live
boot cd" will have vi installed, but rarely will they
have any version of Emacs. It is not even certain that
the default, base install of a Linux system will include
Emacs -- I just checked a couple of Ubuntu 8.04 Desktop
and Server systems I have here; neither have Emacs, and I
did nothing to actively exclude it. Whatever the case,
I believe that it is true that no systems programmer
can work *exclusively* in Emacs, while an applications
programmer typically is able to do so.

> > See, I cut my teeth [1] on a Sun 2/120 with a Multibus SCSI
> > adapter, with a 71MB hard drive and a QIC tape drive. This
> > was running SunOS 1.1 (cf. BSD 4.1),
> Vax 11/750 for me. Before that I hacked on Tops-20, where the editor
> of choice was the original emacs written in teco, thus my brain has
> been wired for Emacs for a quarter century or so. (The stuff I used
> before that was all line editor oriented and didn't stick in my
> brain.)

Well, pre-Unix my experience was card punches, TSO, Wylbur
and ISPF/PDF (a TSO-based full screen environment that
had it's own text editor), pretty much in that order,
so not much of that gave me any initial bias, except
that maybe my expectations weren't all that high. That
first 2/120 was brought in by my Division (actually it
was a long-term loaner from Sun), set down in an office
in a standalone mode, and I pretty much had to figure out
how to use it by myself from the man pages, Kernighan &
Ritchie, Kernighan & Pike, and a one-week class in System
V -- I found no BSD classes available, at least locally.

> > and I can assure you that it didn't have no stinkin' Emacs;
> It most certainly did, you simply didn't install it. :)

Absolutely SunOS 1.1 did not include any version of Emacs.
I didn't have a uucp connection, much less an Internet
connection at that time, or know anyone, other than the
Sun staff, who had access to these resources. Our first
uucp connection was through the a local systems integrator,
around 1987; our first TCP/IP connection was through uunet
a couple of years later (we'd also moved our uucp to them
by then). And thus I was largely limited to what came on
the OS distribution. When we wanted to install mh and
e19, we paid the Rand Corporation a nominal fee to put
the source code on a 9-track tape and mail it to us --
this was a common enough request that they had a standard
price for doing this.

> > Bill Joy ran the OS development for Sun and anyway, James Gosling's
> > Unix/C port of Emacs was just starting to make the rounds [2].

Here I see my memory was somewhat faulty. According to


Gosling wrote his Emacs in 1981, and Unipress Emacs started
shipping in 1983 for $399 per seat. That first 2/120 showed
up in 1984; there was no way at that time that I could
have gotten that kind of money for a text editor when the
OS already included one. And even if I could have gotten
my hands on a copy of Gosling's pre-Unipress code, I'm not
sure what -- given that I was working pretty much just by
myself -- might have driven me in that direction. FWIW,
Stallman didn't start writing GNU Emacs until the same year
-- 1984 -- that SunOS 1.1 was released. It wasn't until we
had a few of these machines around and a few dozen users
that any interest in Emacs started to surface. By that time
the vi firmware had already been loaded into my brain stem.

> By the time of SunOS 1.1, I believe there was Unipress emacs
> around, as you note. In any case, the Suns I used of that vintage had
> Emacs available. (I have a genuine Sun 1 sitting in my mom's garage
> still -- double digit serial number.)

As I mentioned, Emacs was not included in the OS
distribution from Sun. If the Sun systems you were working
on had Emacs, someone went to the trouble of installing
it from some other source.

> > [2] We did at one point buy some licenses for Unipress
> > Emacs (the commercialized version of Gosling Emacs), but
> > only a few hardy souls ever forced themselves to make use
> > of it.
> Where I was, the '20 heads kind of insisted on Emacsen. Unfortunately,
> gosmacs didn't have a real extension language, so Gnu Emacs (which
> arrived quite shortly) was considered a big plus...

IIRC there were maybe three or four of our users who toughed it out
with Unipress, in maybe the 1985-1986 timeframe. It wasn't until
GNU Emacs became available to us that Emacs got any traction in
my office.


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