Doghouse – The Year of *x

Tempus fugit

Article from Issue 211/2018

Maddog gives a brief history of the last (almost) half century of *x, plus a call for spreading the love.

A favorite expression of mine is ``Time flies when you are having fun.'' I usually save it for those few times when things are not going the way I hoped they would.

However, next year is 2019, and that is a very special year in my life. For in 2019, I will have been programming for 50 years ... or as I like to say it, ``a half century,'' which I think sounds more impressive than merely saying ``50 years.''

I learned to write my first program in Fortran on an IBM 1130 computer (with punched cards), through a correspondence course sponsored by the Western Electric Company, the manufacturing arm of the Bell System. I was an electrical engineering co-op student at Drexel University, and through this one course, I became ``hooked'' on programming.

At the same time, in a laboratory in New Jersey, two people, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, started a project that eventually became Unix. Over time, the Unix system spread throughout Bell Labs, then the rest of the world. Dennis later created a new language called C, and C became a standard language that has outlived many other languages. Eventually the philosophies and major design considerations flowed into various commercial operating systems and various flavors of BSD, GNU/Linux, xOS, iOS, and other operating systems.

In 1969, the United States Government funded a project called ARPANET to create a communications system that could withstand natural disasters and other disruptions. This network evolved into the Internet of today.

In Helsinki, Finland, little recognized at the time except by his proud parents, Linus Torvalds was born. (We will see more of him later.)

The year 1969 was very special for technology. We first put humans on the moon, and the whole world stopped for a couple of days to watch that feat, but equally important were the other things happening ... we just did not recognize them at the time.

Fifteen years later, Richard Stallman (in 1984), who liked looking at the source code of computer systems, started the GNU project. In the same year, the X Window System was started at MIT.

Fast forward five more years, and the World Wide Web (WWW) was created by Tim Berners-Lee, and the Internet started moving into people's homes. Therefore, in 2019 the WWW will be 30 years old.

Another five years brought about version 1.0 of the Linux kernel, and in May 1994, I met Linus Torvalds (then 25 years old) and saw Linux for the first time, so in 2019 I will have been using GNU/Linux for a quarter century.

Many distributions sprang into being after version 1.0 of the kernel was released. A few distributions had started the year before, and some of those are still around, but many were released in 1994 using the first ``stable'' kernel. These events did not happen by magic. A lot of people thought, wrote code, learned, rethought, and rewrote code.

I am telling you all of this, almost nine months before the first day of 2019, because I want to give us all a chance to plan some really fantastic anniversary celebrations. A half century of Unix, a quarter century of GNU/Linux, and all the other triumphs (and tragedies) that happened along the way.

Take the time in 2018 to look at the last 50 years of computer science that was definitely shaped by the operating systems that started with Unix and have morphed into the mainstay of the computer industry today. Perhaps you will choose one concept of Unix or Linux and understand it really well, so that you can explain it to someone else.

In 2018, learn about one pioneer in computer science such as Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, Howard Aiken, Maurice Wilkes, or Alan Turing and what their lives were like, as well as the contributions they made.

Pick one modern-day computer scientist (please, do NOT choose ME) and learn about them. Make a presentation about their lives and contributions (please do not choose me!).

Become active in a local computer science club and help them plan a Software Freedom Day for 2019 that will be spectacular.

Read two books on how to make money with Free and Open Source Software, so in 2019 you can explain to people, ``yes, there are billionaires that made their money with FOSS.''

Prepare to visit one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school to talk to their computer club. Fire their imaginations! Life was not always iPhones and iPads.

Start a project that makes someone's life better using FOSS.

Learn why you love Unix (whatever flavor) and spread the love.

Let's make 2019 the year of *x.

P.S. One last thing ... 1969 was the last year I ever shaved.


Jon ``maddog'' Hall is an author, educator, computer scientist, and free software pioneer who has been a passionate advocate for Linux since 1994 when he first met Linus Torvalds and facilitated the port of Linux to a 64-bit system. He serves as president of Linux International®.

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