From Chapter Four: The Unix and Open source Culture

Introducing the Unix culture - part one of the fourth chapter in BIT.

This is the 37th excerpt from the second book in the Defen series: BIT: Business Information Technology: Foundations, Infrastructure, and Culture

About this grouping (1)

The cost, performance, and software availability consequences of the basic Unix commitment to openness and communication have made Unix, including variants like BSD and Linux, the dominant academic computing environment essentially since its release to Universities in 1974. As a result nearly all major research and development in the sciences, engineering, and computing takes place first under Unix.

In business, Unix is usually mis-managed at all levels. Most large companies, for example, administer Unix via Microsoft Windows telnet or secure shell and thereby cripple their own ability to use it properly while perpetuating the self destructive myth that Unix looks like this image.

In reality, Microsoft's rather incomplete emulation of a 1981 DEC VT102 only provides limited command line access and acts like a time machine, warping the user's view of Unix back to the state of the art in 1982.

Sun introduced SunView, the first widely used Unix GUI, in mid 1983, and experimented with the Postscript based Network Environment Windowing System (NeWS) in 1984. Every non Intel Unix for use outside the embedded products market since then has had at least an X-windows based graphics interface with many products also providing full display postscript.

Today's MacOS X, which sets the world standard for graphical interfaces, runs on Unix. HTML and most of the related web protocols were developed on Unix -specifically on NeXtStep.

CDE (the Common Development Environment) has long been the standard GUI on large server systems as well as on most high end technical workstations while the Linux and BSD operating systems for smaller, Intel based, machines typically come with both KDE and Gnome -illustrated below.

(Images in the book are generally not included here -but Click here for Novell's latest Linux desktop Demo)

One of the side effects of the Unix system's low cost and flexibility is that it doesn't force users to adapt to it -meaning that people can mis-use it as a cheaper mainframe or mini and still achieve significant cost and performance benefit relative to doing the same thing with products from their home cultures.

Consider this depiction of the key cost functions affecting the two groups that are most different. The management methods that evolved in response to the costs and strengths of the 360 architecture simply don't apply to Unix and attempts to forcefully impose those ideas often look like attempts to race a Ferrari by towing it with an RV.

Unfortunately, this is not only possible, but will seem perfectly reasonable to those whose expectations are circumscribed by RV performance.

Some notes:
  1. These excerpts don't (usually) include footnotes and most illustrations have been dropped as simply too hard to insert correctly. (The wordpress html "editor" as used here enables a limited html subset and is implemented to force frustrations like the CPM line delimiters from MS-DOS).
  2. The feedback I'm looking for is what you guys do best: call me on mistakes, add thoughts/corrections on stuff I've missed or gotten wrong, and generally help make the thing better.Notice that getting the facts right is particularly important for BIT - and that the length of the thing plus the complexity of the terminology and ideas introduced suggest that any explanatory anecdotes anyone may want to contribute could be valuable.
  3. When I make changes suggested in the comments, I make those changes only in the original, not in the excerpts reproduced here.