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Rob Pike on the state of Unix March 5, 2007

Posted by sdpurtill in Google, Technology.

Rob Pike is a Google Research Scientist. He was on the team that built the original Unix OS in the 1970’s. Now he works on their server operating system, which serve the fastest pages in the world. I just read through the presentation (pdf) that he gave in celebration of the 1 billionth second on the Unix clock. These two parts of the presentation really stood out to me:

The success of PCs is in large part due to the fact that, by making all hardware equivalent, good software enabled bad hardware.


1. What is the best thing about Unix?
A: The community.

2. What is the worst thing about Unix?
A: That there are so many communities.

I loved reading through that presentation, because Rob was able to identify and admit that they made mistakes in building Unix. Most people are unable to come to terms with their mistakes, especially in such a large project as this one. People are always shifting the blame to other people who weren’t “as smart” as them. Even though I am a hardcore Capitalist, I really like the personalities of these Open Source guys. Not only are they open with their code, but they are open about their mistakes. A company like Microsoft or Apple would try to brush these mistakes under the table as fast as someone could identify them (and for MS, that happens… daily…).

He even states in the presentation that the reason Microsoft beat them was because there is only one Microsoft. There is a ridiculous amount of Unix variants available these days, and 37signals is so right:

Less is more.

And I am officially SWITCHING TO MAC!! I will be getting my MB Pro within the next 2 months. I am fed up with Windows, but that will be another very long blog post.



1. DR Pleau - March 5, 2007

why not move to (or try) linux?

2. sdpurtill - March 6, 2007

I am buying a Linux box this weekend, but only to use as a server. As much as I’d like to use Linux (Ubuntu in particular), it doesn’t make sense for me to get a laptop with Linux installed on it. I’d rather have a plug n play laptop that just works instead of worrying about all the details of the computer. That’s one of the reasons why I’m switching to OSX, I’m tired of wasting time on details that I don’t need to see.

3. Andy Piper - March 9, 2007

Good choice, I bought a MacBook Pro about 3 weeks ago, and it is a fantastic machine 🙂

4. Christopher E. Stith - March 22, 2007

The idea that Open Source is counter-capitalist is oft-repeated, but not entirely true.

People make money off of their changes initially (because they are paid to make them, or because using the software makes them more productive), and then give the source of them to the community. That’s not counter-capitalist, that’s just sharing. No reason to charge a license (and have to keep track of who’s using it, etc) when licensing the software isn’t your business focus.

Other people do the programming as a hobby, and work regular capitalist day jobs.

People do share their changes in accordance to the GPL license of projects that shared with them first. That’s not counter-capitalist, though. IBM and Microsoft have had cross-license plans. AMD and Transmeta have, too. Think of the GPL as a cross-license with a huge group. If it’s mutually beneficial, that’s consideration enough for some transactions even though there’s no cash up front. It’s a foolish capitalist who can’t see that things making or saving money in the future are as valuable as things making money now (unless the company fails for temporary cash flow issues in the meantime).

Picking up a low-cost or no-cost resource and using it to keep costs lower than a competitor is very capitalist indeed. If you own land with oil on it, why buy oil? If you own a building, why rent (other than that you could sell, lease back, and reinvest the sales price, for example)? If you can use Linux instead of SCO or HP/UX, that can mean lower costs for you. If you can use Apache instead of IIS or the GIMP instead of Photoshop, so much the better there too.

Richard Stallman isn’t asking for a portion of every dollar you make using GPLed software. Software authors are using their very right to individual and group ownership of property to keep GPLed software from being used counter to their desires.

Sure, certain people in the software world think all property rights are bunk, but there are leftists everywhere. Many people use public collaboration because it’s much more efficient than reinventing wheels everywhere. Modern Capitalism (big c) is largely about maximizing return on labor through efficiency.

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