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From: Clem Cole <>
To: Computer Old Farts Followers <>
Cc: The Eunuchs Hysterical Society <>
Subject: Re: [COFF] [TUHS] 386BSD released
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2021 11:01:58 -0400	[thread overview]
Message-ID: <> (raw)
In-Reply-To: <>

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Sigh ... Warren I am going to ask for your indulgence once here on TUHS as
I try to get any *new* discussion moved to COFF, but I guess it's time to
renew this history as enough people have joined the list since the last
time this was all discussed ...  I'll do this once -- please take any other
discussion off this list.  It has been argued too many times.   Many of the
actors in this drama are part of the list.  Sadly we have lost a few,
sometimes because of the silliness of the argument/trying to give people
credit or not/person preferences, etc.

If you want to comment, please go back and read both the TUHS and COFF
archives and I suspect your point may have already been made.   *If you
really do have something new, please move to COFF.*

On Wed, Jul 14, 2021 at 4:21 AM Angus Robinson <>

> Looking at a few online sources, Linus actually said when "386BSD came
> out, Linux was already in a usable state, that I never really thought about
> switching. If 386BSD had been available when I started on Linux, Linux
> would probably never had happened".
A number of us, such as Larry and I have discussed this a bunch both online
and in person.   What would become 386BSD was actually available as early
as 1988, but you needed to know the public FTP address of where to get it
at UCB (which the UCB licensees had access to that FTP server).  Bostic was
still working on what would become the 'NET' release, but this tarball
offered a bootable system and did have things in it that later AT&T would
require UCB to remove.  In fact, this system would have X10 ported to it
and was a reasonably complete 'distro' in today's terms.

By formal definition, the tarball and the rest of UNIX from Research is and
always has been, '*Open Source*' in the sources were available.  *But they
were licensed*.  This was fairly typical of much early software BTW.  The
binary nature only came about with the minicomputers.

The tarball in question was fairly easy to find in the wild but to use the
sources as a system, you technically needed an AT&T license.  An
practically you needed access to a BSD box to rebuild them, which took a
license - although by then SunOS was probably close enough - although I do
not know anyone that tried it.

The sources in the tarball were not '*Free and Open Source*' -- which
becomes the crux of the issue.  [Sadly the OSS folks have confused this
over the years and that important detail is lost].   Many people, such as
myself, when the AT&T suite began got worried and started hacking on  Linux
at that point as the not nearly as mature but sort of works version without
networking or graphics had appeared [386BSD had both and a real installer -
more in a minute]

FWIW: Linus could have had access to the BSD for a 386 tarball if we had
asked in the right place. But as he has said later in time, he wanted to
write his own OS and did not both ask the right folks at his University, or
try to get permission.   Although he has said he access to Sun3 and has
said that was his impetus for his work.   This is an important point that
Larry reminds us of, many institutions kept the sources locked away like
his U of Wis.   Other places were like liberal about access.  IIRC Larry
sometimes refers to it as the "UNIX Club."

In my own case, I was running what would become 386BSD on my Wyse 32:16 box
at home and on an NCR 386 based system in Clemson as I was consulting for
them at the time.  I also helped Bill with the PC/AT disk driver[WD1003 and
later WD7000/SCSI controllers], as I had access to the docs from WD which
Bill did not.  I think I still have a photocopy of them.

What basically happened is as BSDi forked and that begets a number of
things, from hurt feelings to a famous law suite.   A number of us, thought
the latter was about copyright (we were wrong it was about trade secret).
We were worried that the AT&T copyright would cause UNIX for an inexpensive
processor to disappear.   We >>thought<< (incorrectly) that the copyright
that Linux was using, the GPL, would save us.  Turns out >>legally<< it
would not have, if AT&T had won, at least in the USA and most NATO Allies -
the trade secret applied to all implementations of Ken, Dennis, and the
rest of the BTL folk's ideas.  All of the Unix-like systems were in
violation at this point.  BSDi/UCB was where AT&T started.  The problem is
that while the court found that AT&T did create and own the >>ideas<< (note
ideas are not the source code implementation of the ideas), they could not
call the UNIX 'IP', trade secrets since the AT&T people published them all
both academically in books like Maury Bach's, much less they had been
forced by the 1956 consent decree to make the license available, they had
taught an industry.  BTW:  It's not just software, the transistor 'gets
out' of AT&T under the same type of rules.

In reality, like PGP, since there was lots of UNIX-based IP in other
places, it hard to see in practice how AT&T could have enforced the trade
secret.  But again -- remember Charlie Brown (AT&T CEO) wants to go after
IBM, thinking the big money in computers in the mainframe.  So they did
believe that they could exert pressure on UNIX-like systems for the higher
end, and they might have been able to enforce that.

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COFF mailing list

       reply	other threads:[~2021-07-14 15:02 UTC|newest]

Thread overview: 28+ messages / expand[flat|nested]  mbox.gz  Atom feed  top
     [not found] <>
     [not found] ` <213a4c11-3ab2-4b4a-8d6b-b52105a19711@localhost>
     [not found]   ` <>
2021-07-14 15:01     ` Clem Cole [this message]
2021-07-14 17:40       ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-14 17:50         ` Larry McVoy
2021-07-14 18:28         ` Clem Cole
2021-07-14 20:03         ` John Cowan
     [not found] <>
     [not found] ` <>
2021-07-15  6:33   ` Michael Kjörling
2021-07-15 20:44     ` Derek Fawcus
2021-07-15 15:07   ` Clem Cole
2021-07-15 19:33     ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-15 20:30       ` Clem Cole
2021-07-16  1:58         ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-16  2:14           ` George Michaelson
2021-07-16 18:02           ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-17  4:09             ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-18  3:29               ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-18  3:42                 ` David Arnold
2021-07-18  4:01                   ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-19 13:41                     ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-19 14:50                       ` Clem Cole
2021-07-19 17:38                         ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-19 19:33                           ` John P. Linderman
2021-07-19 20:21                             ` Clem Cole
2021-07-20  1:05                             ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-19 20:08                           ` Clem Cole
2021-07-20  0:55                             ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-18  6:44                   ` Andy Kosela
2021-07-16 16:11         ` Jonathan Corbet
2021-07-15 23:02       ` joe mcguckin

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