Rethinking Unix-like systems

Matthew Dillon, founder of DragonFly BSD, discusses the past, present, and future of BSDs.

It’s easy to forget that Linux is only one member of a whole family of Unix-like systems, especially the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). Among the many BSDs, one of the most interesting is DragonFly BSD (featured on this month’s DVD). DragonFly BSD has a history of rethinking Unix-like subsystems and processes in a never-ending effort to make them more efficient. Matthew Dillon, the founder of DragonFly BSD, learned his craft in AmigaOS and remains active today in the Dragonfly project. Dillon offers an expert’s view of not only BSD but of Linux and open source as well.

Linux Magazine: Tell us a bit about how you became involved in BSD.

Matthew Dillon: In the early days (and now I’m talking about the 1980s), open source was far more personal, and individuals could put together and sell wonderful programs via shareware, as well as give away code. I wrote DICE for the Amiga, for example. DICE is a full 68000 compiler – editor, preprocessor, C compiler, assembler, and linker – the whole thing. I sold that back in the 1980s as shareware, but I also included the full and complete sources to the whole thing. Many young programmers thanked me, even decades later, for being able to mess around with that source code. And for the Amiga, I contributed lots of really useful programs like DME (an editor) and DMouse (a mouse accelerator), and a few other things. In the 1990s, I leveraged my experience to start (along with three other founders) one of the first real Internet ISPs in the South Bay area (California), called BEST Internet. We started with SGI platforms but later switched to BSDi, and eventually to FreeBSD. That is how I really got involved with FreeBSD, because we had lots of panics and I was running a business so I had to fix them. And of course I began submitting the fixes at a furious pace.

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