We certainly have a bumper issue for you this month it was the
first time I have had to decide to leave items out, rather than plead for
more contributions from your hard-pressed Council members and reviewers.
Again, Daf Tregear has worked her usual muscle power and got a host of
reviewers lined up to steer you through the maze of books etc which are on
I hope you like the innovation of a supplementary review in the middle
of this issue. If you have similar material to submit, in a strange
format which is not easily incorporated, then let me have it for
Is the plethora of material something to do with the subject matter? As
some of our Council members advocate is a concentration on Linux
the future direction for the Group?
It will be interesting to see what happens when the Council membership
changes after the next AGM; will we see a new focus?
What would you like us to focus on for the next few editions of the
newsletter? Your Chair thinks that freeware is a hot topic do you
have any thoughts or contributions on this topic?
Have a productive (and relaxing) Summer.
Report from the Chair
It certainly seems that our decision to encourage individual membership of
the UKUUG (by reducing the subscription to £35) was the correct one.
There has been a steady stream of membership applications since the
beginning of the year, the vast majority being for individual membership.
Interestingly, these applications have come via our web pages
underlying how important it is for organisations, such as the UKUUG, to
have a web presence.
It will be interesting to see whether these new members are Linux
devotees answering Martin's call to arms, or simply individuals wanting to
know more about UNIX and freeware in general. Whatever the answer, it is
good for our group to have this intake of new blood, hopefully with new
ideas, to take us into the new millennium.
I mentioned freeware above deliberately, because I personally think that
this is going to be an important subject for us. How much freeware is
running on your systems? The quality of this software is excellent, and
many organisations are packaging them up as value-added services
the SuSE cover CD is an ideal sampler. Can we look forward to a future
where all software is provided free by altruistic individuals or
organisations, simply for the kudos?
Must get to Regents Park for ten o'clock. I slipped into autopilot and made my way along the canal tow-path. This is a regular trip for me, usually accompanied by my children the playgrounds in the park open at 10.00 am. But on this occasion it was different. The excited screams of children were replaced by the hushed tones of sysadmins and UNIX aficionados assembling for the UK Large Installation System Administration conference organised by the UKUUG at London Zoo.
After picking up my conference pack and Puppet Master
T-shirt at the registration desk it was down to business with the other
eighty or so delegates. The conference got underway with Paul Haldane from
Mailbase at the University of Newcastle. The Mailbase project, of which
Paul is acting manager, runs electronic discussion lists for 130,000
subscribers in the UK Higher Education community and worldwide. In the
beginning (c 1989) Mailbase ran on one computer but as a result of its
popularity mail queues became too long. It now has three queue servers and
a separate database server, which holds the lists and membership details
using Ingres. The mailing list manager (MLM) software is written in-house.
They did try majordomo but its performance was degraded when
dealing with large lists due to its dependence on flat files. Most of the
problems Mailbase encounter are outside their direct control. They are
caused by the mail user agents (MUAs) that users employ and mail
transports agents (MTAs) that Mailbase sends to. Paul commented that most
problems are caused by PC-based MUAs/MTAs. The MLM has been tweaked to
catch many of the common problems such as checking that the sender is not
a mail system account (
) and eliminating duplicate messages. In some cases a local work-around
solves the problem. In other cases they take up the issue with software
suppliers in an effort to get at the root cause of the problem. As the
popularity of Mailbase has grown so has the proportion of naive users and
postmasters. Often there is no local technical support person with whom
they can discuss the problem.
Low list latency and consistent delivery times to all list members are two of the technical issues which are being addressed at the present time. Low latency is important if lists are to be used as simple conferencing system. Commercial MLM's claim that 90% of deliverable messages are delivered within 1 minute. Usenix claims that all messages are delivered within 5 minutes. This is the sort of performance that Mailbase are aiming for. Consistent delivery times are more likely now that the outgoing mail is split across three queue servers. Paul concluded by highlighting some of the future developments at Mailbase. They are considering whether or not to move to a commercial or public domain MLM (listserver, majordomo2). They will also be looking at setting up list digests. He foresaw a bright future for Mailbase:
Mailing lists are simple and sometimes people prefer simple things.
One of the most pertinent questions from the floor was how do they deal
with spam. Mailbase incorporates spam on two fronts. First, to
deal with spam sent to the list, certain domains and subjects are cut off
via sendmail. Closed and moderated lists are also protected
against this type of spam. Secondly, to stop would-be spammers from
picking up e-mail addresses the membership list details are out of site to
web crawlers and similar.
The next speaker was Jane Curry from Skills 1st Ltd who described system
management frameworks with particular reference to Tivoli. Jane defined a
system management framework as a common software layer which hides the
heterogeneity of the underlying operating systems. This provides a common
interface for performing system management tasks related to security, user
administration and software distribution as well as an API for building
system management applications. Who uses frameworks? Jane said frameworks
were likely to be used by organisations with at least 100 servers and 1000
workstations, which were geographically distributed, and running a mixture
of operating systems. It also helps if they have plenty of money because
implementing a framework does not come cheap. Jane went on to describe how
a framework is implemented with examples from Tivoli. Jane's paper states
that much of this improvement (of using a framework) comes
through having fewer platform-specific gurus managing larger numbers of
machines. On reading this after the conference I was a little
confused because Jane stressed during her presentation that the idea of a
framework was not to reduce the number of system administrators.
Maybe both statements are true as the system gurus get re-trained on
Tivoli! In conclusion Jane stressed that in order for a framework to be
implemented successfully it will require sponsorship at a high-level
within the organisation and that a great deal of planning, implementation
and configuration is required before any benefits are demonstrated.
Stuart McRobert from Imperial College presented a paper entitled Larger
and Larger File Systems from 200MB to 300GB. SunSITE Northern Europe
at Imperial College is one of a number of archive sites sponsored by Sun
Microsystems. Stuart described the milestones in the growth of the archive
since 1993. (I assume that the 200MB in the title refers to when it was
just the UKUUG archive without Sun's sponsorship). Today the archive has
over 400GB of disk space on a 6 CPU UltraSPARC 6000 machine with 3GB of
memory. This is whittled down to 300GB of space after formatting and
mirroring. Stuart's presentation was highly entertaining and was
accompanied by some computer animation of Titanic proportions. As the
archive has grown the traditional strategy of add more disk and grow
the file system had to be revised. Imagine having to wait for
to run sequentially on thirty or so disks (we did with the aid of one of
those animations). The use of RAID 5 increased the
throughput by a factor of three. The use of transaction logs in Solstice
DiskSuite eliminated the need for
completely. Stuart is now testing a hardware RAID system from CMD
Technology. This sits in the SCSI chain between the host and the disks and
controls on which disk the data i/o is performed. Stuart likes the
In the course of testing a new server it was noticed that the hardware
RAID was 90% idle. After much testing and tuning of UFS he arrived at the
conclusion that UFS was too slow goodbye UFS, hello Veritas. The
Veritas File System offered many improvements over UFS extent
based, improved synchronous writes, on-line backup, on-line administration
(defragmentation, +/- resizing, dynamically allocated inodes), fast
recovery and enhanced i/o performance. Together with the Veritas Volume
Manager, and a few spare disks, this will provide automatic recovery from
disk failure. This concluded a very enjoyable and informative insight into
the technology behind one of the world's largest public domain archive
After lunch and a stroll around the zoological gardens to check out the
front covers of O'Reilly's next batch of releases it was back to business
with Andrew Macpherson from Nortel talking about changing DNS domains on a
global scale. Nortel had a problem. In the past year Nortel
have been planning and implementing the changes to their IP network of
200,000 nodes across 300 sites in 100 countries. The new namespace adopted
has five large geographical regions (Asia & Pacific, Canada, Caribbean
and Latin America, Europe and USA) each with a primary nameserver holding
approximately 40,000 resource records. Andrew described the preparatory
work and reconfiguration relating to UNIX servers such as
, NIS and automounter maps. He also covered the implementation
plan for changing to the new structure.
Cheaper than Gartner was the title of the talk given by the
conference chairman, Andrew Findlay at a moment's notice when it
transpired that one of the speakers was not able to attend. Andrew's talk
was a summary of Brunel University's IT strategy. The title was derived
from a report by Gartner Group which estimated that it costs $11,000 p.a.
to provide and support each desktop PC, appreciably more than Brunel
spend. Brunel decided to simplify the provision and support of 21,000
users on 4000 computers across four sites by standardising on one network
protocol (TCP/IP), two hardware platforms (Sun and PC) and three operating
systems (Solaris, Windows 95 and Windows NT).
Each user has one username and directory and there is one management domain, one mail domain and one point of control for each managed object e.g. mail address. This results in a Centre of the World machine (COW) which holds the master copy of all passwords, user account details, mail addresses etc. To add resilience there are sub-masters called calves on each of the other sites. There are 40 servers giving access to home directories, applications, mail, news and web services. Andrew also described how they have implemented Windows NT using NISGINA from QMW, Samba and a homegrown utility called mount. Their PC strategy is to force logins, write-protect the C: drive, disable booting from floppies, and not to install any local software. In summary Andrew warned us not to take too much notice of the trade press:
it's not a technical business, it's a fashion industry.
Afternoon tea was followed by one of the most informative and
well-delivered papers of the day on planning, management and integration
of large NT installations by Matt Givertz from ECsoft UK Limited. The sub-
theme of Matt's paper was how to balance what users want with what they
actually need from a Windows NT system. He started by considering the
importance of the underlying network infrastructure (LANs, subnets, WANs)
when deciding how to use services and protocols such as DHCP, DNS and WINS
or indeed, whether to use them at all. He went on to describe how user
authentication, resource sharing and centralised administration are
accomplished through the use of Windows NT server domains. He highlighted
some important questions to address when planning the location and number
of domain controllers: how often is the directory database
replicated?, how long does it take to synchronise the domain?,
how large is the directory database?. The answer to the last
question being anything from a one to forty megabytes. He then reviewed
user profiles, policies and login scripts, the three weapons in the NT
administrator's armoury for fighting off the unremitting attacks that
users mount on their workstations. Matt described how roaming profiles
allow users to personalise their desktop but can also lead to problems if
they move from a workstation with 1024x768 resolution to one with 800x600,
for instance. This was a good point, but in the education sector where
workstation rooms are the norm, roaming profiles are essential. Matt
issued a word or two of warning in relation to the computer browser. This
is an NT service that maintains lists of available domains for use in
Network Neighborhood and the Select Domain dialog box. His advice was to
be aware of what it does and how it works (especially across subnets) and
if it is not needed, disable it. In the final part of his talk, Matt gave
some advice on how to decide whether to use a single or multiple NT
domain. He stressed the importance of understanding the way users will
access their data, their movements between sites, and the requirement for
global logon. He also pointed out that domains work well within LANs but
may suffer when distributed across a WAN due to the amount of
synchronisation data going from the primary to the backup domain
controllers on different sites. Returning to his sub-theme Matt's final
comment was Users may know what they want, but do they always get
what they deserve?, Windows NT perhaps?
The final presentation of the day was given by Mark Dawson. He described how NT was tamed by daemons at Queen Mary College. QMC's objectives were to consolidate their investment in NFS file servers and UNIX compute servers, but also to offer an improved range of software on Windows NT and Linux workstations. The method they designed has many features which make a system administrator's (and user's) life much easier: a single user home directory, a common UNIX/NT password, NT user
profiles and dual boot capability (NT and Linux). At the core is a piece
of software called NISGINA, written by Nigel Williams at QMC. NISGINA
manages the user login dialogue and sets up the session. The NIS
refers to the use of Sun's Network Information Services to distribute
various databases or maps to the workstation e.g passwords, home directory
mount points, and user registry modifications. On the UNIX servers they
used Samba to serve the users' home directories.
Mark also described how the systems team at QMC went about installing
Windows NT on one hundred and fifty workstations in 1996. The first
approach involved copying the master NT image from server to workstation
one at a time. This allowed them to set up fifteen machines per hour, or
ten hours for the lot. That doesn't sound too long provided you only have
to do it once! In any case, they thought of a better way. They used the
UDP protocol to broadcast the image to 150 machines at once. The entire
lab was done in 30 minutes! More recently, they have set up unattended
installation of Windows NT using a combination of Linux and DOS to
download the NT images and applications. For QMC (and probably most of us)
the future, if it arrives, will bring Windows NT 5.
After the results of the competition, the conference was brought to a
close by the conference chair Andrew Findlay (it adjourned to the pub
actually). I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a great deal thanks to the
high quality of the presentations. The venue, facilities and catering were
excellent and the organisation by UKUUG was streamlined.
Phil Gregg is the Head of the Systems Group in the Department
of Computer Science, Birkbeck College.
Well, a rapid and short column again this month due to lack of spare time.
Linus and Tove have had a second child, so many congratulations to them
has no one told Linus that children can seriously eat into your hacking
New Local Linux User Groups have been set up (or I have only just
noticed them) in Bath, Hampshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow (possibly two groups
there) and Birmingham. I try and maintain a list on the UK resources page
so look there for details.
The first UK national Linux conference will be held at the end of June,
and this newsletter is in honour of that event. We are having a bit of a
gamble here so please help us to make it a success by attending, the cost
for members is only £35. More information can be obtained from the
web site or ask Jane to supply you with details.
A very useful site for up to date Linux news is Weekly Linux News at
. The SSC web site seems to more up to date these days as well at
Alec Clews is a Principal Consultant for Intersolv Ltd
a supplier of configuration management tools. In his spare time he was
doing his M.Sc course with the Open University but now he writes for the
Welcome to this Linux Special edition of your newsletter. This year has been one of stupendous importance for UNIX. Those of you who attended our 21st Birthday conference in Edinburgh at the end of last year would have sensed something of an air of resignation, but not despondency. As we all know, UNIX has been the source of many of the innovations in computing over the last 25 years. The feeling last December was that the increasing encroachment of Microsoft, both as an unshakable monopoly on the desktop, and developing of the UNIX heartland was inevitable.
The events of the first five months of 1998 have brought about a
sea-change in the fortunes of Microsoft and I sense a new mood of optimism
in the UNIX community. I will not go into detail about Microsoft's
misfortunes, it does not do to gloat. By the time this newsletter comes
out, we may (or may not) be inflicted with Windows 98. Microsoft has been
retreating on several different fronts and must be beginning to realise
that no amount of money spent on clever lawyers is going to allow it to
keep a monopoly so obviously bad for open market competition. It is good
that Microsoft has brought standardisation, even if those standards have
not been of the highest possible quality. What they must now learn is that
they cannot act as if they own the world. Hopefully, come September, they
will be taught that lesson. One of the possible outcomes of all this,
according to Computer Weekly, among others, is the eventual forced
breakup of Microsoft to separate the OS and Application businesses.
It will be marvellous to see Microsoft competing with other software
vendors without the Aces up the sleeve of the silent OS
modifications that come when you install Microsoft applications. Microsoft
has some good applications which would be even better if they were freed
from the non- portable and unstable Windows OS.
We know that the decline of Windows will leave things wide open for UNIX
systems, where standards have been hammered out by consensus, or systems
are flexible enough to allow people to differ.
One of the companies that has seen this coming is Netscape. After years of a strange ambivalence to Linux such as allowing Linux users to download and use Navigator, but refusing to allow it to form part of distributions, Netscape did what some would say the only sensible thing it could do faced with Microsoft's negative pricing of Internet Explorer 4 (not just giving it away, but paying for it to be given
away!). To just say that Navigator was free would just be playing
catch-up with Microsoft, always a mugs game, as IBM found out with OS/2.
The only way to trump Microsoft, and go where they dare not, was to turn
Netscape round into a company that can benefit from the open development
model of opening up the source code also. If you want to download Netscape
source code you will need to visit
The opening up of sources was followed by statements of increasing
strength from Netscape, planting seeds in the minds of Corporates that
Linux was ready as a serious contender to Microsoft as a desktop OS as
This message that Linux is being considered as ready for prime time use
was echoed by the announcement that Corel has endorsed Linux. It has dones
this, not just by releasing full OS source code for the CorelComputer
Linux-based network computer NetWinder, but also a general
statement of intent from the parent company to make Corel WordPerfect 8
Personal and Server Editions available for Linux this summer. It also
plans to develop a suite of business applications for the Linux platform.
Until a couple of years ago, Linux really was just for the dedicated
UNIX hacker as there were no real end user applications (try
asking your average secretary to knock off a memo using LaTeX macros in
The situation is already very different with Applixware and Star Office
and WordPerfect here now, and other heavyweight contenders in the wings. A
Linux system, properly set up, has the potential to do general office
tasks with greater ease of use and dependability of being there.
Attitudes to Linux are changing. Big companies are buying and using it.
According to Netcraft (who record that Apache has about 52% of the web
market and actually accelerating away in percentage growth), Linux systems
already form at least 15% of the connected Web. That is hundreds of
thousands of systems.
In a very real way we are falling behind here in the UK in realising
that a resurgence of UNIX is going to be the next big wave.
One of India's leading computer magazines, PC Quest, has
recently given their readers a Linux cover disk and were rewarded by that
month's issue selling out within 48 hours!
You will be glad to know that I am working with PC Plus magazine to educate their readers this Autumn. The offering will probably be based on the SuSE Linux that forms the majority of this issue's cover CD,
so now is your chance to get to grips with something before a hundred
thousand new users enter the fray.
The UKUUG has been going through several years of slow decline. To be
fair, it has not been all our fault. The advent of information at
your fingertips on the Web, coupled with increasing work pressure,
has made joining and putting effort into user groups of all sorts less
Now is the time to stop the rot. People have got to be made to realise
that using a web search engine to turn up some dry facts is not the same
as coming to a conference and having something explained by a human.
Meeting and actually doing things, as opposed to just talking about doing
them, should be the hallmarks of a new revitalized UKUUG. We have a new
redesigned membership form, use them! Get your friends and colleagues to
join. If you work for a company that is using UNIX-based systems
even if it is just a Linux file server stuck in a cupboard, get them to
join and participate in the UKUUG.
I feel that the new century could well be the time when the promise of
Open Systems becomes truly fulfilled with a rich and stable Linux upon
which the whole computer economy of the next century can be constructed.
What better and safer foundation could there be than one that is
VNC? That's the one for Me
Another useful thing that you will find on the CD is the Virtual Network
Computer from the Olivetti and Oracle Research labs (
For those of you who have not yet tried it, VNC is a piece of free
software from the Olivetti & Oracle Research Labs that implements an ultra
thin network client. The traffic between client and server is just
mouse/keyboard events and screen painting (cleverly optimized and
optionally further compressed).
With an uncongested network and reasonably fast machines, it works very
well for most sorts of software (high speed action games and real-time
streaming video being obvious exceptions).
One of the really neat things about VNC is that it is cross-platform.
There are clients and servers for both Windows and many UNIX-type systems.
As everything is just images and events, the client has two big advantages
over an X-based client (i.e. one with a locally running X server
confusing isn't it?).
There is no concept of finding fonts or other complex resource
. There is no requirement to save state. A viewer can shut down in mid-sentence in a WP program and a new viewer can complete it.
These two factors make the Window- based VNC viewer a very attractive interface onto Linux (or any UNIX system).
Why? Firstly, they only have to install one small free program onto their Windows machines. Minimalism is important here, as
we are talking about rickerty software assemblies that may already be on
the point of collapse (again).
The intrinsic poor quality of Windows as a front-end will allow the
second element of VNC to shine. The ability for the Windows system to
crash in its normal day-to-day affairs without loss of data or even what
was going on at the time on the solid dependable Linux host.
Think about it, for the trade-off of a slight sluggishness of response,
people will be able to continue to use Windows to access the multi-media
encyclopedias and talking paperclips, but will be able to trust their
really important jobs to a Linux machine.
I have tried using the whole Applix suite through VNC and it is all
usable, even presentation graphics works well enough.
Putting in a Linux server and accessing it by VNC is a useful foot in the
door. Next, it will be the desktop PCs that we will be able to tempt into
first being dual boot so applications can take advantage of local X
server support, or even be run completely locally. As availability of
application software for Linux increases, the need for people to run MS
Windows at all will go away, and they will have made a painless transition
thanks to VNC.
One thing that I nearly have working in the preparation of this piece is
to start a number of VNC sessions that users can log into as if they were
real X Terminals. At present you have to access the Linux machine via that
bloody awful Microsoft
program and use the
command to start a personal server this is not very intuitive to
Windows users, whereas clicking an icon and getting a nice
login screen is.
Give VNC a try there is a very active mailing list you can join
if you can see the potential there. VNC is a simple idea, well executed
and surprisingly useful in all sorts of ways.
Applixware Academic Licencing
Thanks must go to Lindsay Marshall for asking about Academic licencing
for the popular Applixware office suite for Linux. Applixware for Linux is
already a keen price. The SuSE Linux version of Applixware 4.3.7 costs
just £50 per copy for commercial use (compared to around £400
if you wanted to run it under NT). With this keen unit pricing an Academic
site licence would have to be a pretty good deal to beat buying individual
copies. It turns out that it is.
For just 5000 DM about £1800 plus VAT, you are not only
entitled to run as many copies of the Linux-based Applixware as you want,
but can also call off licences for Applixware on Windows and other UNIX
Around £2000 will have your office suite software needs covered.
There are a few provisos:
Firstly, the offer is only open to Universities and Colleges. If you are
using Applixware in other educational situations, then the £50 a
seat for Linux based Applixware is still hard to beat. Note that the SuSE
version of Applixware comes complete with a minimal version of Suse Linux
5.1 enough to build a full-featured Applix Workstation with.
. Secondly, calling off of Applixware licences for other platforms can only be done in the first year you need to plan ahead.
. Thirdly, if you need support, you may purchase an Applixware support contract at normal commercial rates. It is however hoped that academic users will be capable of applying published fixes etc as the need arises.
If you are interested, please contact me, as I can arrange the licencing.
If this has aroused your interest to try Applixware there is a
time-limited demo as part of Suse 5.2, and the real thing is only £50
after all. For full details see
Martin Houston is a UNIX Systems programmer and system administrator for 15 years and organser of the UKUUG Linux SIG since 1994.
Speaking at the Infosecurity'98 show in London last month, Pretty Good Privacy creator Phil Zimmerman spoke out against the British government's recently proposed encryption policy. Zimmerman said British users should create their own grassroots public-key infrastructure where they would not give anyone their message encryption keys and would choose who they trusted to hold their digital signature keys. The British government's revised plans, which were released a day before Zimmerman's speech, proposed the introduction of voluntary licensing of companies that provide third-party security services. Those would include certification authorities for digital signatures and key recovery agents for encryption.
(Network Week, 1 May 1998)
So you call yourself a UNIX hacker: you know what
is, and the various
routines don't faze you. But are you really a UNIX hacker? Let's
have a look at a brief history of UNIX and the community of UNIX users and
hackers that grew up around it, and some recent developments for real UNIX
UNIX took the academic world by storm in 1974 with the publication of Ken
Thompson's paper about its design, which was published in the
Communications of the ACM. While not containing many radically new ideas,
UNIX had an elegance, simplicity and flexibility that other contemporary
operating systems did not have. Soon, lots of people were asking Bell
Laboratories if they could get copies of this wondrous new system.
This was the cause of some concern within AT&T, because of the
restrictions of an anti-trust decree brought against them in the 1950s.
This decree effectively stopped AT&T from selling or supporting
software they could only engage in telco business. Their solution
to meet the UNIX demand was to charge a nominal licence fee to
obtain UNIX, and to distribute tapes or disks as is. You would
receive your disk in the mail with just a short note:
AT&T's stance on UNIX was often seen as an OHP slide at early conferences:
. No support.
. No bug fixes.
. Payment in advance.
This slide was always greeted with wild applause and laughter says Andy Tanenbaum. This lack of support was tolerated for several reasons: Ken and Dennis did unofficially fix things if you sent them bug reports, and you also had the full source code to UNIX.
At the time, having full source code access for a useful operating system
was unheard of. Source code allowed UNIX users to study how the code
worked (John Lions' commentary on the 6th Edition), fix bugs, write code
for new devices, and add extra functionality (the Berkeley Software
Releases, AUSAM from UNSW). The access to full source code, combined with
AT&T's no support policy, engendered the strong UNIX
community spirit which thrived in the late 70's and early 80's, and
brought many UNIX user groups into existence. When in doubt as to how a
program (or the kernel) worked, you could always Use the source,
During this period, UNIX became wildly popular at universities and in many other
places. In 1982, a review of the anti-trust decree caused the break-up of
AT&T into the various Baby Bell companies. This gave AT&T
the freedom to start selling software. Source code licences for UNIX
became very expensive, as AT&T realised that UNIX was indeed a
money-spinner for them. Thus the era of UNIX source code hackers ended,
except for notable exceptions like the 4BSD work carried out at the
University of California, Berkeley.
Those organisations lucky enough to have bought a cheap UNIX source licence before 1982 were able to obtain the 4BSD releases from UCB, and continue to hack UNIX. Everybody else had to be satisfied with a binary-only licence, and wait for vendors to fix bugs and add extra functionality. John Lions' commentary on how the UNIX kernel worked was no longer available for study, being restricted to one copy per source code licence, and not to be used for educational purposes.
What were UNIX hackers going to do, with no UNIX source code to hack any
more? The solution was to create UNIX clones which didn't require source
code licences. One of the first was Minix, created by Andy Tanenbaum, and
aimed squarely at teaching operating systems. Early versions of Minix were
compatible with 7th Edition UNIX; the most recent version is POSIX
compliant, and can run on an AT with 2 Megabytes of memory and 30
Megabytes of disk space. Many Minix users tried to convince Andy to add
features such as virtual memory and networking, but Andy wanted to keep
the system small for teaching purposes. Eventually, one user called Linus
Torvalds got annoyed enough that he used Minix to create another UNIX
clone with these extra features. And so Linux was born.
While Linux was taking off like a plague of rabbits, the BSD hackers were
working on removing the last vestiges of UNIX source code from their
system. They thought they had done so, and released BSD/386, a version of
4.3BSD which ran on Intel platforms. AT&T, however, wasn't so sure
about the complete removal of UNIX source code, and took them to court
Now, AT&T is not a good company to be sued by they tend to have a small army of lawyers. Eventually, the conflict was settled out of court with a few compromises, and we now have several freely-available BSDs: FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD. Of course, they all come with source code.
The UNIX hacker of the late 90's surely has an abundance of source code
to hack on: Linux, Minix, OpenBSD, etc. But is she really a UNIX hacker,
or just a UNIX clone hacker? Wouldn't it be nice if we could hack on real
UNIX, for old time's sake?
UNIX turned 25 in 1993, which makes the early versions of UNIX nearly antiques. Many of the old UNIX hackers (hackers of old UNIX, that is) thought the time had come to
get the old, completely antiquated UNIX systems back out for sentimental
reasons. After all, ITS, CTSS, and TOPS-20 had been rescued and made
publicly available, why not UNIX.
At the time, UNIX was undergoing a crisis of ownership. Did AT&T own UNIX this week, or was it Novell, Hewlett-Packard or SCO? UNIX is a trademark of someone, but I'm not sure who. After the dust had settled, SCO had the rights to the source code, and X/Open had dibs on the name UNIX, which is probably still an adjective.
During the ownership crisis, Peter Salus, Dennis Ritche, and John Lions
had begun to lobby Novell: they wanted John's Commentary on UNIX to be
made publicly available in printed form. It wasn't until the UNIX source
code rights had been sold to SCO that this finally was approved. It helped
to have some old UNIX hackers, Mike Tilson and Doug Michels, inside SCO to
fight the battle. You can now buy John Lions' Commentary on the 6th
Edition UNIX (with source code) from Peer to Peer Communications, ISBN
1-57398-013-7. As Ken Thompson says: After 20 years, this is still
the best exposition of a real operating system.
One of the restrictions on the Commentary's publication is that the UNIX
source contained within cannot be entered into a computer. Ok, so you can
read the book, but what use is source code unless you can hack at it?
At the time that SCO bought UNIX, I began to lobby SCO to make the old
source available again, unaware of the efforts to release the Lions'
Commentary. SCO's initial response was this will dilute the trade
secrets we have in UNIX, and it wouldn't be economically viable. My
efforts drew a blank.
To help bring greater lobbying power to bear on SCO, the PDP UNIX
Preservation Society (PUPS) was formed. Its aims are to fight for the
release of the old UNIX source, to preserve information and source from
these old systems, and to help those people who still own PDP-11s to get
UNIX up and running on them. After realising that SCO was never going to
make the old UNIX source code freely available, we explored the avenue of
cheap, personal-use source licences. The Society set up a Web petition on
the topic, and gathered nearly 400 electronic signatures.
Inside SCO, we were very fortunate to contact Dion Johnson, who took up
our cause, and fought tooth and nail with the nay-sayers and the legal
eagles at SCO. The combined efforts of the PUPS petition and Dion's hard
work inside SCO has finally borne fruit.
On 10 March 1998, SCO made cheap, personal-use UNIX source code licences
available for the following versions of Unix:
1st to 7th Edition UNIX,
. 32V, and
. derived systems which also run on PDP-11s, such as 2.11BSD.
The cost of the license is US$100, and the main restriction is that you cannot distribute the source code to people without licences. Finally, we can be real UNIX hackers and Use the Source, Luke! again.
Acknowledgments and References
I'd like to thank Dion Johnson, Steven Schultz, the members of the PDP
UNIX Preservation Society, and the people who signed the PUPS petition,
for their help in making cheap UNIX source licences available again. Dion,
in particular, deserves a medal for his efforts on our behalf.
You can find more about the PDP UNIX Preservation Society at
and details on how to obtain your own personal UNIX source licence at
SCO won't be distributing UNIX source code as part of the licence. PUPS
members have volunteered to write CDs and tapes to distribute old versions
of UNIX to licence holders. We currently have 5th, 6th, 7th Edition, 32V,
1BSD, all 2BSDs, Mini UNIX and Xinu. We are looking for complete versions
of PWB Unix and AUSAM. We desperately want anything before 5th Edition
hopefully these early systems haven't gone to the bit bucket. Please
contact us if you have anything from this era worth preserving.
If you are licensed and want a copy of the PUPS Archive, see the PUPS
web page above for more information. We expect to be deluged by requests
for copies, and so if you can volunteer to write CDs or tapes for us,
please let us know.
You don't need own a PDP-11 to run these old systems. The PUPS Archive
has a number of excellent PDP-11 emulators. If you have bought a copy of
the Lions' Commentary (and you should), now you can run real 6th Edition
UNIX on an emulator. And if you want, you can hack the code!
Warren Toomey is Chairman of the PDP UNIX Preservation
The UKUUG certainly got it right at the recent LISA 98 which was held on 6-9 April. We were quite overwhelmed by the interest in this event which was originally planned to be held on 6-7 April. However, due to the fantastic response we had to extend the event by two days!
Our thanks to Dr Andrew Findlay who organised the tutor, Æleen
Frisch,and the Conference speakers, and who even gave a presentation
himself when one to the speakers couldn't attend because of the flu.
The responses received from the feedback questionnaires which the
delegates completed, give LISA 98 top marks we are hoping this
upturn in events will continue for UKUUG in the future.
With this copy of the Newsletter you should find enclosed your
complimentary copy of the LISA 98 Conference proceedings. This is one of
the benefits of UKUUG membership which makes our subscription fee even
more value for money.
With regard to subscriptions (if you haven't paid your membership fees
yet), we are about to chase all outstanding subscriptions for payment.
The last Committee meeting was actually held during the LISA event at
London Zoo, and we would like to welcome Charles Curran who, at that
meeting, was co-opted onto the Council.
It was decided at the April meeting to delay the AGM this year by a
couple of months it will probably be held in September 1998.
We will be losing Mick Farmer, Andrew Macpherson and Ivan Gleeson at
this AGM and, if Simon Earthrowl and Charles Curran move up to full
Council places, we shall be looking to fill one vacancy. Are you
interested? Please contact the Secretariat for more details.
The LINUX Developers Event is now in place for 27 & 28 June 1998 in
Manchester. Bookings are beginning to come in and full details can be
found on our web page.
The Council are working on the following forthcoming events: October -
UNIX vs NT (London); November - UKUUG Annual Technical Conference.
Corsaire Limited has a vacancy for professional Computer Science
graduates or post graduates for the dual role of trainee programmer and
support technician, to work on a cutting-edge vertical market software
application. The successful candidate will have strong programming skills
elementary C/C++ being essential and be a motivated
self-starter. The position will be office based, and will offer a
remuneration package of between£12-20k per annum, plus excellent
To find out more please contact us:
Unit 5, Walnut Tree Park
Walnut Tree Close
Tel: 01483 880060
Fax: 01483 880061
Tel: 01763 273 475
Fax: 01763 273 255
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