The Unix Heritage Society mailing list
 help / color / mirror / Atom feed
From: Norman Wilson <>
Subject: [TUHS]  Re: UNIX co-creator Ken Thompson is a… what, user now?
Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2023 16:39:52 -0400 (EDT)	[thread overview]
Message-ID: <> (raw)

I must admit I don't see much point in this conversation, even as
humour, since the humour is easily turned mean-spirited or self-

What difference does it make if Ken runs MacOS systems or Raspberry
Pis or just spends his time teaching flying instructors?  When he
started out in computing, writing your own everything was pretty
much the only way to get things that worked.  Now it's a huge amount
of work, because modern storage controllers and network devices and
even CPUs and memory subsystems are so much more complicated, and to
talk to anything else requires supporting complicated network protocols
and interpreting multiple encodings and languages and data formats
and even running stupid little flashy programs.  (How much more
complicated is a web browser these days than an entire operating
system used to be?  How much simpler could you make it and still
render most of what's on the web these days?  And how much work
would all that be, and why bother?)

When I started out in computing, making a computer run reliably and
well still required understanding the hardware and OS software in
some detail, and I found that interesting and pursued that as a
vocation.  I spent much of the 1980s doing that for pay, including
six wonderful years in (not-so-wonderful to me) New Jersey working
with smart people like Ken.

Nowadays I get paid for helping to keep a large computing environment
running.  The point is not to show off my OS-design chops, but to
make things work for a particular user community that needs particular
things.  Things that are far more complicated than I'm up to designing
and writing and supporting, and most of them involving areas of
computing in which I don't have a lot of interest.  There are plenty
of problems that interest me in making it all work, and in designing
system setups and writing tools to help us make it all work better.
I don't see this as a step down from bare-metal OS work, much as I
used to enjoy that, and much as I might enjoy it now should I get back
into it (though it's also possible that modern hardware is such an
undisciplined mess that I'd just find it frustrating).

I used to keep hacking on the old New Jersey Unix system as a hobby.
After a while it wasn't interesting enough compared to other things
I could do with my time, but I kept it going for a while because I'd
made some of my home computing infrastructure depend on it.  Eventually
I mended that.  Maybe I'll get back to it some day, maybe I won't.

I still build my own tools from time to time, both for paid work and
for personal use.  Sometimes I do that because I dislike the existing
tools I can find for the same job, sometimes just because it's a chance
to learn more about some network protocol or file format or whatnot.
But it's no more a sign of virtue to roll my own stuff than it is to
insist on using only stuff someone else wrote (or that was supplied
by a particular company or by someone who subscribes to a particular
political philosophy or whatnot).  In the end it is, or ought to be,
just about getting the damn job done reasonably well within the
current constraints.

Getting the job done within current constraints was, after all,
pretty much what Unix was originally made for.

Norman Wilson
Toronto ON
Neither proud nor sad no longer to be using a
MicroVAX running 10/e Unix as a home firewall

             reply	other threads:[~2023-03-18 20:40 UTC|newest]

Thread overview: 6+ messages / expand[flat|nested]  mbox.gz  Atom feed  top
2023-03-18 20:39 Norman Wilson [this message]
  -- strict thread matches above, loose matches on Subject: below --
2023-03-18 12:51 [TUHS] " KenUnix
2023-03-18 16:21 ` [TUHS] " segaloco via TUHS
2023-03-18 20:39   ` Theodore Ts'o
2023-03-19  3:14     ` James Johnston
2023-03-20  3:11     ` Adam Thornton
2023-03-18 18:51 ` Justin Andrusk

Reply instructions:

You may reply publicly to this message via plain-text email
using any one of the following methods:

* Save the following mbox file, import it into your mail client,
  and reply-to-all from there: mbox

  Avoid top-posting and favor interleaved quoting:

* Reply using the --to, --cc, and --in-reply-to
  switches of git-send-email(1):

  git send-email \ \ \ \

* If your mail client supports setting the In-Reply-To header
  via mailto: links, try the mailto: link
Be sure your reply has a Subject: header at the top and a blank line before the message body.
This is a public inbox, see mirroring instructions
for how to clone and mirror all data and code used for this inbox;
as well as URLs for NNTP newsgroup(s).