RE: Apple saved by Unix?

Joe Barrera (
Thu, 23 Jan 1997 02:02:44 -0800

A well-reasoned defense of Unix as a stable workhorse OS, far from dead.

It would be well-reasoned if it weren't based on lies and FUD.

Yes, Unix is a stable (pun intended??? :-) workhorse OS. But it is not
uniquely capable of performing the services that Dalton requires.

- Jim

- -
Sunday, Jan. 12, 1997 Page B 5 c1997 San Francisco Examiner
- -

Next up for Apple: Saved by Unix?

Venerable OS is still the best around


I had several interesting conversations around the office last week
about the future of Apple. Several people asked me about my opinion,
since I'm the systems guy. I'm as puzzled as everyone else, but I told
them a story about a system they all use but never see.

Over in our network room, there's a computer of modest size sitting on
a metal rack, surrounded by the network hubs and routers. Its monitor
is turned off, and for months at a time, no one even touches it.

It has not been rebooted for 142 days (and has gone for 10 months at a
time without being rebooted in the past), and all that time it has been
working very hard, attending to the following tasks and more:

[ email gateway; web server; firewall; modem server; error logging ]


What kind of computer is this?

It's a Sun, and it's running on the Unix operating system.

Could a Macintosh do this? The idea is laughable.

I'm clearly out of my depth here, but doesn't Apple sell a lot of web
servers? Are they robust only when dedicated to one type of service?

Could Windows 95 do this? Also laughable.
Could Windows NT do this? Not yet, but it's the best hope Microsoft has.

Of course Windows NT can do this! He does not substantiate his claim that
it doesn't. In contrast, Microsoft has a huge database of case studies for
NT (and other products) being used. Check out

The point is, the operating system makes a huge difference. To explain
why, without getting boring, is very difficult, but here's an example:

Those of us who use Macintoshes accept crashes as a daily fact of
life. [...]

What makes the difference? Just one of the many abilities that Unix has
always had and that Apple has never been able to develop: memory
protection. On a Mac, if one program misbehaves, the whole computer
crashes, you have no clue what caused it, and you have to reboot the
computer. [...]

Neither Macintosh nor Microsoft has anything to sell to take the place
of Unix. "Windows NT leapfrogs Unix," says the marketing hype. That is

Windows NT runs all Win32 processes in separate address spaces, using the
MMU to enforce protection.

(Win95 does the same, but it cuts corners in places by using shared data in
DLLs, particularly in the legacy 16-bit system DLLs.)

If "leapfrogs" is referring to sales, then it is becoming true. But
Windows NT is still a juvenile operating system compared to Unix.


It is Microsoft's first true operating system, but it still lacks the
versatility and robustness of Unix. It's vastly better than the pitiful
stuff that Microsoft has sold in the past (like DOS and Windows 3.1).
Many people in my position are willing to give Windows NT to single
users, but we're still hesitant to put it in places where it could hurt
more than one person.

This is demonstrably true - but it is a social/marketing/experience/etc.
issue, not a technical issue. Businesses generally want to get work done
and don't want to be on the bleeding edge. They want proof that NT works. I
presume that's why Microsoft puts so much effort into assembling a library
of case studies.

Microsoft is well aware of this, I might add, and
has brought in some pretty darn good engineers to try to fix it.

Yeah - about nine years ago, when they hired Dave Cutler and friends.

More seriously, again, "this" is a marketing issue more than a technology

Next Software Inc. - recently bought by Apple and brought in to provide
a new OS - is a nine-year-old technology, say some publications
(including Business Week).

Gee, nine years. I thought nine-year-old technology was "juvenile"?

Well, yes. Your eye is pretty old
technology, too, but the age of your eye has to do with evolution, not
with obsolescence. Unix came into the world around 1970, and it was
those incredible old engineers at Bell Labs who created it.

Gee, what was our list of services again? Email gateway; web server;
firewall; modem server; error logging. I didn't realize V6 did all this. In
fact, I didn't realize V6 did networking at all. (I know, I know, he's not
exactly implying that it did.)

Since then, despite its fragmentation after AT&T sold it,

Its fragmentation started long before then, when BSD started adding
services (like, oh, say... networking) that AT&T didn't bother adding until

Unix has evolved, and it still handles newfangled demanding tasks
such as internetworking better than any other operating system.

"Better". Proof? Definition?

[...] That brings us to exactly what Microsoft is good at: If a product is
marketed well and sells well, then software developers will produce
software for it, and the availability of all those many kinds of
software causes hardware sales to grow. Growth cascades, with hardware
sales stimulating software sales and vice versa.

YES! Marketing is important. Ironically, Dalton demonstrates why without
even realizing it. Businesses (people) tend to be conservative. They will
stick with the product they are used to. Simply getting them to look at a
new product (much less getting them to learn enough to make an informed
decision) takes marketing.

The truest thing that anyone ever said about Microsoft is: "Microsoft
is not a technology company. Microsoft is a marketing company."

I think a much truer statement would be, "if Microsoft were headquartered
in Silicon Valley, inflammatory articles like this would not be written."

In other words, superior technology (like Next) often fails in the
marketplace, and causes good companies to go broke. And inferior
technology often succeeds in the marketplace, and causes bad companies
to make billions (like the Death Star in Redmond, Wash.).

It's kind of strange how, when Reagan went on and on about the Evil Empire,
many people thought he was being simplistic -- clearly the real world is
more complex than that, we with our CIA have played dirty, the contras were
murderers and not "freedom fighters", etc. But the very same people, with a
straight face and no sign of embarrassment, can use phrases like "Evil
Empire", "Death Star", "Forces of Evil" when referring to Microsoft. And
I'm pretty sure (although I cannot be certain) that Gates has not murdered
20 million of his own countrymen. (And don't get me wrong - I *hated*

There is no excuse for spreading hatred. Hatred is insidious. First one
thinks that one can use phrases like "Evil Empire" in jest,
tongue-in-check, ironically. Then one gets into the habit of using such
phrases when talking about the enemy. Then one either leads or follows in
acts of hatred (and it only takes a few leaders).

Points of irony to be explored in further posts:
1. Relative position now of Unix v. NT, compared to Unix v. VMS in the
early 80's... especially considering that NT is in many ways VMS TNG;
2. Microsoft's (now almost forgotten) positioning of Xenix as server OS of

- Joe

PS. Again, I don't intend, in the long term, to keep playing Microsoft
apologist. But it's hard for me to be silent in the face of such
intellectually dishonest works such as the newspaper article forwarded
here. In the longer term, I will assume that others will have heard my
arguments already, and will have either accepted or rejected them.

Joseph S. Barrera III (
Phone, Redmond: (206) 936-3837; San Francisco: (415) 778-8227
Pager (100 char max): or (800) 864-8444