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Computer historian?

Computer historian?

Posted Mar 23, 2007 17:47 UTC (Fri) by landley (subscriber, #6789)
In reply to: Computer historian? by man_ls
Parent article: The road to freedom in the embedded world

> You consider yourself a historian?

It's a hobby, and your argument here seems to be that there were perhaps
a half-dozen low-volume examples about 18 months before the turn of the
decade. I knew about this. That was the "to speak of" part.

> > Back in the 1970's there _was_ no proprietary software market to
> > speak of.
>
> In 1978 Microsoft had 11 employees, all doing proprietary software. It

Yup. Which they sold to hardware manufacturers for bundling with their
product, because selling directly to end users was not a commercially
viable option. Right at the end of the 1970's the bespoke software
development market finally started to scale.

Microsoft big customers were computer manufacturers like Mits and IMSAI,
their sales to end-users sucked badly enough to prompt the famous "letter
to hobbyists" in 1976. Microsoft's big cash cow as late as 1980 was its
contract for TRS-80 ROM images, which Gates talks about at some length in
this 1980 audio interview:

http://landley.net/history/mirror/ms/gates.mp3

According to the book "On the Edge"
(http://www.amazon.com/Edge-Spectacular-Rise-Fall-Commodor...)
Microsoft sold commodore unlimited rights to ROM BASIC for a one time
payment of $10K, and went on to sell it to Radio Shack for $20k. (This
was something like 1979, I'd double check and cite a page number but the
book's at home and I'm not.)

I already mentioned that Paul Allen's day job was at Mits, not HP. This
is off the top of my head, I'm mostly not checking references for this
thread.

> DRI was hardly the first; by 1974 (the year DRI was founded) several
> companies were successfully selling business software.

For mainframes and minicomputers, sure. I mentioned the bespoke bit
where you comission very low volume software at extremely high per-unit
costs?

> By 1980 Apple had 1000 employees

Selling hardware.

> was the year when WordStar was published,

http://www.wordplace.com/ap/ does a decent job of covering that (starting
in chapter 3), but again: volume in the toilet back on CP/M.

> and VisiCalc was soon to follow.

Which I mentioned.

> But this is just in the microcomputer area; a fledging 1970s market saw
> the birth of such companies as Compuware (1973), Computer Associates
> (1976), SAS Institute (also 1976) or Oracle Corporation (as SDL, 1977);
> meanwhile Software AG had been founded in 1969 in Germany; and in 1972
> in the US. I would hardly call that "no proprietary software market".

This was the bespoke market I mentioned. Each copy of that software sold
for a year's salary of programmer time, because the total number of
machines it could run on was so limited. With a setup like that, each
copy is essentially tailored to that customer.

> According to Levenez, by 1983 there were already several commercial
> Unix variants, including Microsoft's Xenix and HP-UX. Presumably AT&T
> were making money from it, which counts as "commercializing" IMHO.

I've read his chart and exchanged email to the guy. Xenix was
commissioned in 1979 (SCO did the implementation as a two-person
consulting shop, and that was founded in 1979). And this gets us back
to "software bundled with a hardware purchase" again.

And AT&T were _forbidden_ from making money from it due to their 1959
antitrust consent decree. They were a regulated monopoly and could not
diversify out of the telephone business. They agreed to be broken up in
1983 (the breakup was in 1984 but the judgement was in 83) to get out
from under that antitrust decress so they could diversify into things
like the computer industry. (Bell labs came out with the transistor, the
laser, and unix, and all they could do with any of it was upgrade their
phone switches.)

> > And the first complete reimplementation of Unix (BSD, again predating
> > the GNU manifesto) still has several forks active today.
>
> As has been mentioned before, not true: Coherent and a few other
> independent variants existed before BSD itself was independent.

BSD was clearly started before coherent, but coherent was finished first,
therefore it's "first". GNU was started before Linux. GNU still hasn't
been finished. Therefore GNU is first.

Pick one, will you?

> By the time I got acquainted with Solaris in 2000, the first thing
> everyone did to accomplish anything useful was to download several GNU
> packages such as Bash or GNU tar; not to speak about GCC. I am certain
> that GNU's popularity was not because it provided "FTP space".

In that case it's because Ed Zander decided to unbundle the compiler (and
other things) from Solaris so he could charge extra for it, and this made
gcc the de-facto compiler of Solaris. I mentioned this in another post.

(Personally I lump Solaris in with Desqview and OS/2 as "of only
historical interest", but I realize there remains a vocal minority who
will defend it for years to come. Just as OS/2 had.)

> GCC has not stagnated;

The original development line did. Cygnus forked egcs and took over the
name, and these days the driving force behind it seems to be
CodeSourcery.

I mentioned this.

> Unverifiable and biased statements are not (or should not be) the modus
> operandi for a historian.

I'm not currently trying to write an article with citations, I'm saying
I've done a lot of research here and this is what I remember off the top
of my head, away from my references and not spending time to look things
up for a simple message thread.

Historian isn't my day job. Programming is, and has been for years. (I
was offered a book contract once for a history of Linux, but didn't have
time.)

(P.S. Citing wikipedia to back anything up is hilarious. It's pretty
much the modern definition of "non-authoritative reference". A secondary
source at best.)


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Computer historian?

Posted Mar 26, 2007 13:02 UTC (Mon) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

Cygnus forked egcs? Almost the entire development community forked it (even the original maintainer, kenner, participated in both forks for a while, until the pace of development on egcs forced abandonment of the original fork). The fork was done with RMS's agreement, as an experiment.

That doesn't seem like a unilateral one-company fork to me.


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