Here's the next installment in Peter Salus' ongoing book, The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin, "The Hurd and BSDI" -- Chapter 16.
Here are the earlier chapters of Dr. Salus' book:
The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin
~ by Dr. Peter H. Salus
Chapter 16. The Hurd and BSDI
Richard Stallman had long wanted a GNU replacement for the
UNIX kernel. A first pass, Trix, barely got going in the
late 1980s. This changed, however, when Thomas Bushnell
came to Boston and joined the GNU effort.
Thomas was born in Albuquerque, NM. He attended Carnegie-Mellon
University for a year (1985-86), the University of New Mexico
for nearly two years, worked, enrolled at the University of
Massachusetts Boston, and received a B.A. summa cum laude
in 1999 in philosophy and classics. Thomas is a brother in the
Brotherhood of St. Gregory, an Episcopal order. He received his
M.A. in Philosophy from the University of California, Irvine, in
2003 and is currently a Ph.D. candidate there.
Thomas worked as an Assistant Systems Administrator at UNM from 1986-89
and for the FSF from 1990-1998. He told me:
I wrote a BASIC interpreter as a demonstration that I could
code before I was hired. My interpreter had a
feature that would let you dynamically load math functions out of
the C library -- before shared libraries existed.
The GNU Hurd is the GNU project's replacement for the UNIX kernel. The
Hurd is a collection of servers that run on the Mach microkernel to
implement file systems, network protocols, file access control, and
other features that are implemented by the UNIX kernel or similar
kernels (such as Linux). Thomas told me:
I worked on GNU tar as well, before my main work was the Hurd.
RMS was a very strong believer -- wrongly, I think -- in a very
greedy-algorithm approach to code reuse issues. My first choice was
to take the BSD 4.4-Lite release and make a kernel. I knew the code,
I knew how to do it. It is now perfectly obvious to me that this
would have succeeded splendidly and the world would be a very
different place today.
Currently, the Hurd runs on IA32 machines. The Hurd should, and probably
will, be ported to other hardware architectures or other microkernels in
RMS wanted to work together with people from Berkeley on such an
effort. Some of them were interested, but some seem to have been
deliberately dragging their feet: and the reason now seems to be that
they had the goal of spinning off BSDI. A GNU based on 4.4-Lite would
So RMS said to himself, "Mach is a working kernel, 4.4-Lite is only
partial, we will go with Mach." It was a decision
which I strongly opposed. But ultimately it was not my decision to
make, and I made the best go I could at working with Mach and doing
something new from that standpoint.
This was all way before Linux; we're talking 1991 or so.
According to Thomas:
`Hurd' stands for `Hird of Unix-Replacing Daemons'. And, then,
`Hird' stands for `Hurd of Interfaces Representing Depth'. We have
here, to my knowledge, the first software to be named by a pair of
mutually recursive acronyms.
The FSF states: "The Hurd, together with the GNU Mach microkernel,
the GNU C Library and the other GNU and non-GNU programs in the
GNU system, provide a rather complete and usable operating system
today. It is not ready for production use, as there are still many
bugs and missing features. However, it should be a good base for
further development and non-critical application usage."
Unfortunately, the Hurd is late. By 1995, Linux had many users.
By 2000, it was a well-understood and popular system. By 2005,
Linux had millions of users and the support of IBM. It was
seen as a threat by Microsoft. The Hurd, unfortunately, is
still "not ready for production use."
BSDI was the first company to offer a full version of BSD Unix
for the Intel platform.
Despite the fact that everything was in the public eye and
exposed at the USL vs. BSDI trial, there appears to be
confusion as to the history of BSDI.
I think Thomas was right, to a certain extent.
While several Berkeley developers were involved in the
formation of BSDI in 1990-91, none left the University of
California to join Berkeley Software Design, Inc. at
the outset. BSDI was founded by Rick Adams, who told me:
"It was my idea and my funding. I also handled the logistics
(via UUNET) and the little matter of the lawsuit."
Donn Seeley related:
The first organizational meeting occurred at a bar in Boulder
during the Boulder Berkeley Workshop in October 1990. I was
invited to the meeting without any advance warning and to my
surprise, I was offered a job. My recollection is that Rick, Mike,
Kirk, Keith, and Bill J[olitz] were present at the meeting. I believe
that a more formal meeting was held in early December 1990 at Kirk's
house [in Berkeley], where we voted to go ahead with the proposal. I
think this meeting was when we came up with the name BSDI.
At that time Kirk McKusick was President of USENIX, Rick
was in Dallas to report on UUNET and recruit, Trent Hein was
chairing the session on File Systems, and Keith Bostic and
Mike Karels were part of the CSRG. It wasn't hard to call a
We decided to work under UUNET's wing for a while so that we would
not alert any potential competition; that continued until the summer
of 1991. I was to start work as soon as possible; I took an extended
vacation from my job at the University of Utah, and set up shop in
my parents' basement in Bellingham, WA, with a PC provided by Rick,
running mt Xinu Mach/BSD (I think). (I don't remember exactly when
I gave notice at Utah, but I set things up so that my employment
terminated shortly before the Winter Usenix [21-25 January 1991; Dallas].)
I couldn't actually work directly
on the OS, since it still contained licensed code at that point.
The BSD distribution was still hung up on the issue of certain
possibly licensed files, so my job was to work on freely available
software. I started with the compiler toolchain (based on GCC 1).
Once it was clear that there would be missing files, I went ahead
and wrote a replacement for the Berkeley init(8) program. I'm not
sure whether Bill was working on BSDI-related stuff at this point,
but I'm pretty sure that he had started by the time of the 1991
Winter Usenix, where we all met again.
Trent was a student at the University of Colorado, where he
was a co-author of both the UNIX and the Linux system
administration handbooks. He worked on the 4.4BSD port to
the MIPS architecture. More recently, he was co-founder of
Applied Trust Engineering. He said:
I can concretely say that the original engineering team "hired" by
BSDI (Spring, 1991) consisted of Donn Seeley, Bill Jolitz and myself.
Bill left BSDI later that year. Rob Kolstad joined the BSDI team much
later. [Kolstad was Secretary of USENIX at that time.]
Mike Karels told me:
I'd say that the founders were Rick Adams, Keith Bostic, Kirk McKusick,
me, Bill Jolitz and Donn Seeley, in approximately that historical order.
This group was involved at the time of formation. Bill and Donn were the
first two full-time employees, and Trent started about the same time at
just less than full-time. They worked for UUNET temporarily until
the company started operations, which I think was about July 1991.
Bill left at the end of November '91, and Rob [Kolstad] started December
1. The proximity of the dates is not a coincidence. I started
February 1, 1992, at which time two Russians had also started, and
also Jeff Polk. My departure from Berkeley and position at BSDI were
announced at USENIX in January '92 [San Francisco], at which Bill made
a famous appearance.
I asked Rick to clarify and he affirmed:
The first employees were Donn Seeley and Bill Jolitz. Peter Collinson
signed on very early for European sales and Bob Kummerfeld for Australia.
Donn Seeley provided yet more detail.
We picked up Vadim Antonov and Igor Belchiskiy from USSR that fall (1991).
Rob Kolstad came on as president in December 1991.
Bill believed that he deserved a larger role
as systems architect, press contact and marketer. His coding
contributions mainly came before he started working for UUNET/BSDI,
by porting to PCs the drivers we'd written at Utah for HP 68k
systems, and writing the locore assembly source and related files.
As for Bill's departure, the straw that broke the camel's back was
an issue with Bill's unauthorized expenses for a trip to Europe,
if I recall correctly, but it was clear long before this point that
Bill was not happy. Rick was BSDI's original president, but he
was asked to separate UUNET from BSDI by UUNET's first big investors,
so he enlisted Rob to replace him.
[There is a long and complex tale concerning Jolitz' departure
and his appearance at the January 1992 USENIX meeting. I do not
think it relevant to this narrative. One view may be found here.]
Insofar as Keith Bostic was concerned, he said:
I joined much later than Mike and the founders,
though. I stayed at UC Berkeley for quite some time
after BSDI was founded.
Another person mentioned by Rick was Peter Collinson. In 1980-81,
Collinson (then at the University of Kent in Canterbury) was
offered a USENET feed by Teus Hagen at the CWI in Amsterdam. They
couldn't dial out, but the CWI would dial in, via a modem brought
into the UK by Martin Levy. In April 1982, he was instrumental
in the formation of EUnet.
"I think it was the Fall of 1993 that Rick asked me to sell things
in Europe," Collinson told me.
The earliest date on a file that I
have is September 1993. I think I was at a BSDI meeting at the Usenix
conference in San Francisco in January 1994 [January 21-24].
In 2000, BSDI merged with Walnut Creek CDROM and then with Telenet
Systems. The next year, Wind River Systems purchased the software
business. Renaming itself iXsystems with plans to specialize in
hardware, the server business was acquired by Offmyserver in 2002.
I asked Collinson why he thought BSDI had failed.
When did I leave? -- we were forced out by the sales department at
the end of 1995 -- we had the fax in September -- we settled and were
gone by Jananuary 1996.
We in Europe did OK -- but we were not that good at Sales -- and would
have had to think hard about Sales-led sales rather than Techy-led
sales very soon anyway.
BSDI didn't really fail. It allowed Linux to flourish unhindered
by lawsuits; but it was not really technically viable. BSDI
couldn't move quickly enough to keep up with the technical changes --
and Linux could because of the customer base which was a new generation
of UNIX hackers and lovers.
Dr. Salus is the author of "A Quarter Century of UNIX" and several other books, including "HPL: Little Languages and Tools", "Big Book of Ipv6 Addressing Rfcs", "Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Imperative Programming Languages", "Casting the Net: From ARPANET to INTERNET and Beyond", and "The Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Functional, Concurrent and Logic Programming Languages". There is an interview with him, audio and video,"codebytes: A History of UNIX and UNIX Licences" which was done in 2001 at a USENIX conference. Dr. Salus has served as Executive Director of the USENIX Association.
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