The following is from the August '86 issue of the DEC Professional.
Unix is Dead! Wanna Fight??
John C. Dvorak
Summer is over and a plague of UNIX programmers is upon us. College kids,
wet behind the ears; greenhorns, rubes. They pour out of various campuses
talking about ROFF and ED and pipes and paths, and they look for work. They're
impressed with themselves. After all, they've learned the language of a
secret society. If they're from Berkeley, they've learned the secret language
of a secret society.
They all program in C, and wherever they go they change the prompts on whatever
computer they get their hands on so it resembles a UNIX machine. They creative
ones go into whatever operating system they have to use and find a symbol
or token table; then they change the commands to look like UNIX. The *more*
creative ones customize the commands further so they are even more cryptic
and weird than UNIX. Whether these people ever do any real work is a mystery.
"Yes, weeell, to list my files I merely type P; MJOI."
"P; MJOI?? What they heck does that mean?"
"It just so happens that if I put my coffee cup on the keyboard and
rock it a certain way, that's what it will type; so, I do that to list my
While it's good to see these kids doing something other than wasting quarters
on endless games of Pole Position, I'm not so sure UNIX dabbling is much
better for society.
I feel this way, not so much because UNIX is an old-fashioned OS that has
a special place reserved in hell, but because its time has passed. UNIX
is dead, but no one bothered to claim the body. It lives like a zombie on
college computers and serves as a gateway to all sorts of weird networks.
UNIX haunts marketing men, too. I remember when Fortune Systems was getting
started. That's about the time that a bumper crop of college-bred UNIX drones
was dumped like mulch into the marketplace. They all were singing the praises
of UNIX to the low end of the market.
So, I went to this strategy demonstration given by one of the vice presidents
of Fortune Systems. These guys surely were ahead of their time, and it was
a perfect example of having too much bad information. The Fortune 16:32
(or was it 32:16? In either case it looked like a biblical reference...)
said unto us: "Come to me for thine microprocessor and spend, spend,
spend!" it was the first camel of microcomputers. Like a horse designed
by committee (aka camel), the Fortune was preceded by too much market research.
A lot of this was skewed by the hordes of UNIX maniacs running through the
valley waving the UNIX flag.
First of all, I was shown a slide that clearly showed the Motorola 68000
as the world's greatest microprocessor.
The 68000 beat everything. Personally, I can't remember what it was pitted
against -- probably the 8080, the 6502 and a 4004. Whatever, this was the
chip to use.
Then the company did some market research and, because writers, pundits,
researchers, secretaries, publishers, and programmers all said that UNIX
was the next hot operating system, they chose it for their own little machine.
The UNIX community yelled, "Yea!" But, they continued to use free
university-provided time, and none of the UNIX hackers bought the little
UNIX boxes. Well, that was okay, it was intended to be a business machine,
Ooops! Gee, it seems that the businessmen couldn't cope with UNIX and "$
ls /bin/pr -p -t" or any other such nonsense. So they had to build
a performance-sapping shell around the system, code name: SLOW. So much
for the UNIX world takeover. I figured that would be the last I heard of
No so. Last week, a guy walked up to me as I was writing this column on
a portable computer in a San Francisco bistro. he had been reading it through
binoculars from across the room. "So, you don't like UNIX, huh, Dvorak?
What's better, MS-DOS?? Hahahaha!"
"IBM's VM is the happening operating system," was my quick rejoinder.
"VM doesn't run on minis and micros. It's just a shell, anyway,"
he shot back.
He took a swing at me and I caught him a good one in the stomach. We punched
each other for a good 15 minutes. All of a sudden he stopped and yelled,
"Hey, what's going on here? Where am I? Wow, I remember my name! What
"We were fighting about UNIX," I said.
"UNIX? I was fighting about UNIX? My God...I was hypnotized!"
So, try snapping your fingers in the face of one of these UNIX maniacs next
time he flies off the handle.
See what happens.