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[humorix] Brief History Of Linux (Part 2)

Brief History Of Linux (Part 2)
February 7, 2000

After we published Part 1 of this series, both of our
regular readers sent flames complaining that this "Brief
History of Linux" was neither brief, nor a history of
Linux.  Whatever.  It's now time to present Part 2 of this
series in which we describe the invention of computers,
Unix, and Al Gore's Internet.

* Let's all holler for Hollerith

The US Constitution mandates that a census be held every
ten years.  In 1890 the US Congress extended the census to
collect exhaustive demographic information on each citizen
that could be resold to marketing companies to help pay for
the newly installed gold-plated toilets in Capitol Hill
bathrooms.  With the sheer amount of data to be collected,
some people estimated that the 1890 Census wouldn't be
completed until 1900. It was hoped that an electronic
tabulating machine using punchcards designed by Herman
Hollerith would speed up the process.

It didn't quite work out that way.  First, an infestation
of termites ate their way through the wooden base of
Hollerith's machines, and then a wave of insects devoured
several stacks of punchcards.

Second, some Hollerith models had the propensity to crash
at the drop of a hat... literally.  In one recorded
instance, the operator dropped his hat while standing
nearby, and when he reached down to pick it up, he bumped
the machine, causing it to flip over and crash. 
(Incidentally, the hat in question was a blue hat, not a
Red Hat as a certain Microsoft-owned encyclopedia has

These flaws meant that the census was delayed for several
years. However, the system was, in the words of one
newspaper reporter, "good enough for government work", a
guiding principle that lives on to this very day and
explains the government's insistence on using Windows-based

The company that Hollerith later founded merged with two
others to form C-T-R (Calculating-Tabulating-Recording, one
of the most hideously named companies of the time, only to
be surpassed years later by Bill Gates' "Traf-O-Data").
C-T-R was later renamed to IBM in 1924.

* Edison's most important invention

One of Thomas Edison's most profound inventions was that of
patent litigation. Edison used his many patents on motion
pictures to monopolize the motion picture industry.  One
could argue that Edison was an early pioneer for the
business tactics employed by Microsoft and the

Indeed, Edison's company, the Motion Picture Patent Company
(MPPC), formed in 1908, bears a striking resemblance to the
modern-day Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
Similar intitials, different people, same evil.  The MPCC,
with the help of hired thugs, ensured that all motion
picture producers paid tribute to Edison and played by his
rules.  The MPAA, with the help of hired lawyers, ensures
that all motion picture producers pay tribute and play by
their rules.

Ironically, filmmakers that found themselves facing Edison
patent litigation (or worse) fled to Texas, California, and
Mexico.  Those same filmmakers outlasted Edison's monopoly
(broken up in 1917 by the courts[2]) -- and eventually
banded together to form the MPAA! History has a tendency to
repeat itself; so it seems likely that today's DVD lawsuit
victims may well come to power in the future -- and soon
become the evil establishment, thus completing another

* The AnyQuack Computer

The days of Hollerith's mechnical tabulating machines were
soon replaced by electronic machines.  One such device,
Colossus, was used by the British in World War II to decode
Nazi transmissions.  The code-breakers were quite
successful in their mission, except for the tiny detail
that nobody at Bletchly Park knew how to read German.  They
had decoded unreadable messages into... unreadable

Two years later in 1945, a group of professors and graduate
students at the University of Pennsylvania were discussing
computing theory. An argument quickly ensued, in which one
professor yelled, "Any quack can build an electronic
computer!  The real challenge is building one that doesn't
crash every five minutes."

One graduate student, J. Presper Eckert, Jr., responded,
"I'm any quack! I'll take you up on that challenge.  I'll
build a device that can calculate 1,000 digits of pi in one
hour... without crashing!" Several professors laughed;
"Such high-speed calculations are beyond our level of
technology.  Surely you jest," one responded.

Eckert, with the help of others, did build such a device.
As a joke, he called the machine "AnyQuack", which
eventually became ENIAC -- ENIAC's Not Intended As
Crashware, the first known example of a self-referential

* Birth of Gates and the Anti-Gates 

October 28, 1955 saw the birth of William H. Gates, who
would rise above his humble beginnings as the son of
Seattle's most powerful millionaire lawyer and become the
World's Richest Man(tm). A classic American rags-to-riches
story (with "rags" referring to the dollar bills that the
Gates family used for toilet paper), Bill Gates is now
regarded as the world's most respected businessman by
millions of clueless people that have obviously never
touched a Windows machine[3].  

Nature is all about balance.  The birth of Gates in 1955
tipped the cosmic scales toward evil, but the birth of
Linus Torvalds in 1969 finally balanced them out.  Linus'
destiny as the savior of Unix and the slayer of
money-breathing Redmond dragons was sealed when, just mere
hours after his birth, the Unix epoch began January 1st,
1970. While the baseline for Unix timekeeping might be
arbitrary, we here at Humorix like to thank the its
proximity of Linus' birth is no coincidence.

* Bill Gates hasn't changed a bit

The early Gates childhood is best summed up in this excerpt
from a note his second grade teacher wrote to his parents:

   Billy has been having some trouble behaving in class
   lately...  Last Monday he horded all of the crayons and
   refused to share, saying that he needed all 160 colors
   to maximize his 'innovation'.  He then proceeded to sell
   little pieces of paper ("End-User License Agreement for
   Crayons" he called them) granting his classmates the
   'non-transferable right' to use the crayons on a limited
   time basis in exchange for their lunch money...

   When I tried to stop Billy, he kept harping about his
   right to innovate and how my interference violated basic
   notions of free-market capitalism.  "Holding a monopoly
   is not illegal," he rebutted.  I chastised him for
   talking back, and then I took away the box of crayons so
   others could share them... angrily, he then pointed to a
   drawing of his hanging on the wall and yelled, "That's
   my picture!  You don't have the right to present my
   copyrighted material in a public exhibition without my
   permission! You're pirating my intellectual property. 
   Pirate!  Pirate!  Pirate!"

   I developed a headache that day that even the maximum
   allowed dosage of Aspirin wasn't able to handle.  And
   what I've described happened only on Monday.  On
   Tuesday, it was worse... he conned several students out
   of their milk money by convincing them to play a rigged
   game of three-card Monty...

* Wanted: Eunuchs programmers

Everything you know about the creation of the Unix
operating system is wrong. Research by our Vast Spy
Network(tm) has uncovered the truth: Unix was a conspiracy
hatched by Ritchie and Thompson to thwart the AT&T monopoly
that they worked for.  The original system -- code-named
EUNUCHS (Electronic UNtrustworthy User-Condemning Horrible
System), a play on Multics, was horribly conceived, just as
the co-conspiractors had planned.  

The system, quickly renamed to a more respectable "Unix" to
downplay rumors about the author's private lives, was
adopted first by Ma Bell's Patent Department and then by
the rest of the monopoly.  AT&T saw an inexpensive,
multi-user, portable operating system that it had all
rights to; the authors, however, saw a horrible,
multi-crashing system that the company would become
hopelessly dependent on.  AT&T would go bankrupt trying to
maintain the system, and the Evil Empire of Ma Bell would
collapse just as the authors had hoped.

That, as we all know, didn't happen.  Ritchie and Thompson
were too talented to create a crappy operating system; no
matter how hard they tried the system was better than they
wanted.  Their last ditch effort to sabotage the system by
recoding it C (a newly developed language so obfuscated and
complex that only Kernighan and Ritchie could read it) was
unsuccessful.   Before long Unix spread outside of Bell
Labs and their conspiracy collapsed.  

* Military Intelligence: Not an oxymoron in 1969

The network that eventually became the Internet[4] was
formed in 1969.  It was the Department Of Defense that
commissioned the ARPANET, a rare example of the US military
breaking away from its official motto, "The Leading Edge Of
Yesterday's Technology(tm)".  

In the years leading up to 1969, packet switching
technology had evolved enough to make the ARPANET
possible.   Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc. received the ARPA
contract in 1968 for packet switching "Interface Message
Processors".  US Senator Edward Kennedy, always on the
ball, sent a telegram to BBN praising them for their
non-denominational "Interfaith" Message Processors, an act
unsurpassed by elected representatives until Al Gore
invented the Internet years later.

While ARPANET started with only four nodes[5] in 1969, it
evolved rapidly.  Email was first used in 1971; by 1975 the
first mailing list, MsgGroup, was created by Steve Walker
when he sent a message containing the text "First post!" to
it. In 1979 all productive use of ARPANET ceased when
USENET and the first MUD were created.  In 1983, when the
network surpassed 1,000 hosts, a study showed that 90.4% of
all traffic was devoted to email and USENET flame wars. 
Some things never change.

* Too many hyphens: Traf-O-Data and Micro-soft

Bill Gates and his classmate Paul Allen attended an
exclusive private school in Seattle.  In 1968, after
raising $3,000 from a yard sale, they gained access to a
timeshare computer and immediately became addicted.  After
depleting their money learning BASIC and playing Solitaire,
they convinced a company to give them free computer time in
exchange for reporting bugs -- ironically, an early form of
Open Source development!  It should be noted that this
company, Computer Center Corp., went bankrupt in 1970,
primarily because Gates & Allen kept crashing their central
computer while trying to program a Minesweeper game in

The two then founded a small company called Traf-O-Data[6]
that collected and analyzed traffic counts for
municipalities using a crude device based on the Intel
"Pretanium" 8008 CPU.  They had some success at first, but
ran into problems when they were unable to deliver their
much hyped second-generation device called "TrafficX".  A
civil engineer in Spokane, Washington is quoted as saying
that "Traf-O-Data is the regional leader in vaporware", the
first documented usage of the term that has come to be
synonymous with Bill Gates.  

Soon thereafter, the two developed their own BASIC
interpreter, and sold it to MITS for their new Altair
computer.  April 4, 1975 is the fateful day that Micro-soft
was officially founded in Albuquerque, NM as a language
vendor.  (Remember that date if you do happen to stumble on
a time-machine during your life.)  

* Closed source, opened wallets

In 1976 Bill Gates wrote the famous letter to Altair
hobbyists accusing them of "stealing software" and
"preventing good software from being written"[7]. We must
assume Bill's statement was true, because no good software
was being written at Micro-soft.

Bill Gates did not innovate the concept of charging
megabucks for software, but he was the first to _make_
megabucks from peddling commercial software.

* If only Gary had been sober

When Micro-soft moved to Seattle in 1979 (leaving behind
the hyphen), most of its revenue came from sales of BASIC,
a horrible language so dependant on GOTOs that spaghetti
looked more orderly than its code did.  (BASIC has ruined
more promising programmers than anything else, prompting
its original inventor Dartmouth University to issue a
public apology in 1986.)

However, by 1981 BASIC hit the backburner to what is now
considered the luckiest break in the history of computing:
MS-DOS[8]. (We use the term "break" because, well, MS-DOS
was -- and always will be -- broken.)  IBM was developing a
16-bit "personal computer" and desperately needed an
operating system to drive it.

Their first choice was Gary Kildall's CP/M[9], but IBM
never struck a deal with him.  Historians to this day still
argue why Kildall got the shaft, although, after extensive
research, we've discovered the true reason: Kildall was
drunk at the time the IBM representatives went to talk with
him. A sober man would not have insulted the reps, calling
their employer an "Incredibly Bad Monopoly" and referring
to their new IBM-PC as an "Idealistically Backwards
Microcomputer for People without Clues".  Needless to say,
Gary "I Lost The Deal Of The Century" Kildall was not

We all know what terrible calamity happened next: IBM chose
Microsoft's Quick & Dirty Operating System. QDOS (along
with the abomination known as EDLIN) had been acquired from
a Seattle man, Tim Paterson[10], for the paltry sum of
$50,000. "Quick" and "Dirty" were truly an accurate
description of this system, because IBM's quality assurance
department discovered 300 bugs in QDOS's 8,000 lines of
assember code (that's about 1 bug per 27 lines -- which, at
the time, was appalling, but compared with Windows 98
today, it really wasn't that shabby).

Thanks in part to IBM's new marketing slogan, "Nobody Ever
Got Fired For Choosing IBM(tm)", and the release of the
VisiCalc spreadsheet program that everybody and their
brother wanted, IBM PCs running DOS flew off the shelves
and, unfortunately, secured Microsoft's runaway success.
Bill Gates was now on his way to the Billionaire's Club;
his days as a mediocre programmer were long gone: he was
now a Suit.  The only lines of code he would ever see would
be the passcodes to his Swiss bank accounts.

But, as we shall see in next installment, Bill Gates was
not without his enemies.  Richard M. Stallman set in motion
the GNU Project -- a snowball rapidly rolling down the
mountain and poised to bury Microsoft. Linus Torvalds, of
course, comes on the scene in 1991 when he sets in motion
the Linux kernel -- a boulder rapidly rolling down the
mountain and poised to bury Microsoft as well.

Check back soon for Part 3 which chronicles the rise and
rise of the Microsoft Empire -- and the beginnings of the
Open Source and Linux revolution.

To be continued...

* References and links

[1] http://www.feedmag.com/essay/es105_master.html
[2] http://laws.findlaw.com/US/243/502.html
[3] http://photo.net/bg/
[4] http://www.isoc.org/guest/zakon/Internet/History/HIT.html
[7] http://www.blinkenlights.com/classiccmp/gateswhine.html
[8] http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon/html/entry/MS-DOS.html
[9] http://www.joyce.de/english/cpmstory.htm
[10] http://patersontech.com/Dos/


James S. Baughn

Humorix:      Linux and Open Source(nontm) on a lighter note
Archive:      http://humbolt.nl.linux.org/lists/
Web site:     http://www.i-want-a-website.com/about-linux/