Alternate History (was Re: Rchard Stallman vs Darl McBride)

Levi Pearson levipearson at
Mon Jul 19 01:56:02 MDT 2010

Stuart Jansen <sjansen at> writes:

> On Fri, 2010-07-16 at 11:43 -0600, Roger Brown wrote:
>> I agree, if it wasn't for the AT&T lawsuit we would probably all be
>> running some BSD flavor today.
> *sigh* I'm tired of this meme. It should have died years ago.
> Attributing the success of the Linux kernel to lucky timing is myopic.

So, I recently saw an interview with Linus from '93 or so, in which he
said that if 386BSD had been released a year or two earlier, he probably
wouldn't have created Linux at all.  That would, however, have left RMS
and the GNU crew still looking for a kernel.  I wonder how that would
have played out?

Maybe the HURD guys would have had some serious pressure to actually get
a system working, and we'd have ended up with BSD and GNU HURD as free
UNIX-style OS alternatives.  Would the GPL have fostered the same
community without Linus and his kernel development style?  Would
BSD-derivatives have become what Linux is today, or would HURD have
grown to the same stature?

One interesting factoid is that the initial HURD architect said that
their initial plan was to base their kernel on the 4.4BSD-Lite kernel.
In that case (and this may have been early enough to preempt Linus from
writing Linux, too) we really would all be running at least a descendant
of a BSD system, even if it may not have been easily recognizable as
one.  RMS screwed that one up, though, by making the call to go with
Mach instead, over the objections of said architect.

Anyway, although the success of the Linux kernel can't be solely
attributed to lucky timing, the fact that it came into existence at all
can be.  There were a number of other options poised to take off, and
had Linux never arrived, at least some of us would probably be running
one of them now.  What the software landscape would look like in that
case is pretty hard to predict, though.


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