Legends of operating system development

Thinking about the history of Linux, maddog sheds light on why there are so many different flavors of operating systems.

Perhaps because I had been reminiscing about the 30 years of Linux kernel development, or perhaps because of a recent discussion over whether the GNU project or the Linux kernel was the most significant part of the system that most people call “Linux,” I began pondering how many people think about software creation as if it were being done today instead of how it was done 40 or 50 (or more) years ago. This kind of thinking often creates “urban legends” about software that are passed on from person to person.

Take the conspiracy theory about how system companies created all these different operating systems to “lock in their customers.” I have been in the computer field for over 50 years and participated in many engineering meetings about new functionality. Not one time did I ever hear customer lock-in as a reason for creating new functionality.

If you remember (or maybe you were not around then, so just trust me on this), computers had relatively small amounts of memory (even mainframes) measured in kilobytes (not gigabytes or even megabytes) and slow, single-core CPUs with slow disk drives.


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