Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Unix Haters Handbook (1994) [pdf] (mit.edu)
128 points by frik on May 10, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

Being among the most zealous to worship at the altar of Kernighan and Ritchie, I, nevertheless, over the years, have come to appreciate the positions expressed in this fine, albeit often humdrum, collection.

Concrete examples of the insanity of Unix might by now be largely obsolete (none of the csh- or symlink-related showcases work anymore), but the basic, deep annoyance of the Haters seems to me ever-valid:

  "Unix evolved; it was not designed".
This holds true even in the age of the beautifully engineered surfaces of MacOS and Unity. Underneath, Unix lurks with all its idiosyncrasies and peculiarly half-hearted assumptions and informs all of the interfaces and paradigms above.

No one who ever saw a Genera machine at work or appreciated fully the depth of Smalltalk's world view, will be able to dive into Unix and come back with the same deep sense of enlightenment.

Unix' only redeeming, rather: defining, feature is this: relentless adaptability. Unix, as an ideology and an ever-changing set of tools, works precisely because it refuses to be held to any standard of aesthetics.

That's true, but any system that reached Unix's scope would have to be evolved and not designed. It's a failure caused by its success.

If SmallTalk or Genera grew popular enough to satisfy the needs of billions of people and hardware devices, then they would be infested with evolved cruft as well. Systems may feel more "coherent" or "designed" with tight coupling. I'm certain that such systems systems would not have made the jump from servers to desktops to mobile phones like Unix did. They would have been replaced with something more loosely coupled.

The core principles of Unix are still there. It's just layered under a lot of cruft. It's true that much of it is caused by incomplete understanding. I've been hacking on Debian internals and this has become very clear to me.

People say FreeBSD is more coherent... it's been tempting to me to switch. But it's more coherent because it does less (has less features than) Linux or OS X.

> People say FreeBSD is more coherent... it's been tempting to me to switch. But it's more coherent because it does less (has less features than) Linux or OS X.

I'm not sure that FreeBSD does less than Linux or OS X. There's certainly some divergence (FreeBSD has an active Linux compatibility layer, but I don't know if iCBS is still active in Linux; FreeBSD has jails, Linux has containers, etc), and FreeBSD tends to have less of the try 7 ways to move forward and then standardize on an 8th way (although, how many firewall apis do we need?), but I think that's mostly driven by lack of contributions than anything else.

Not a FreeBSD expert, but consider just mobile phone patches to Linux (largely due to Android AFAIK). In this respect, Linux wins by a mile in terms of functionality (power management) and supported architectures, and I'm sure it also contributes to the perceived messiness.

Another example: FreeBSD has had jails for a long time, but I believe it didn't acquire the equivalent of cgroups until very recently. Linux has a LOT of stuff that only a few people use.

Any perceived design disadvantage gets overshadowed by the benefits derived from massive adoption. I think embedded developers might find VxWorks easier to work with but when they have to design something from scratch for it instead of just going with Linux which might already have everything ready (even if half-baked) ends up being the common choice.

I think there are space for both (evolutionary and design-lead approaches). They just will be playing in different markets.

So are you saying there is no widespread, well-designed system in any area or industry?

Or are you saying there's no widespread, well-designed system in IT?

Or are you saying there could not be a widespread, well-designed system to fill Unix's niche? And if so, what's so delicately special about Unix's niche that it evades and/or resists a well-designed substitute?

I'm genuinely curious, as I often wonder why no one is in the business of coming up with a better, simpler server OS. (I'm oversimplifying Unix here since that's the only role I care about, plus I believe, as Unix does, in "do one thing and do it well", which is ironic coming from a system that tries to be all things for all people.)

Read his comment again.

It is impossible to have one system spanning several industries/markets/niches/etc and still be consistent.

Yeah freebsd is widely used in it. But it doesn't have to support webcams, input tablets, printers (oh god, printers), games, etc...

> But it doesn't have to support webcams, input tablets, printers (oh god, printers), games, etc...

I don't think I follow. There are very few things that you can do in Linux that you can't in FreeBSD. If you SSH'd into a FreeBSD system, you might not even notice that it's not Linux until you tried to do something system-level like install some software or change your IP address. To your examples, I have used a webcam and printer and played games on FreeBSD.

But to that end, FreeBSD still has the whole mess of tools that Linux has (do we really need sed and awk and perl and...). It's much more accurate to call FreeBSD "unix" than it is Linux. In fact, this Unix Haters Handbook is dated before widespread popularity of Linux.

So while FreeSBD may be better "designed" as a cohesive system than Linux, it's still guilty of every single criticism in this article, and is even more likely to be the intended target of that criticism.

I know it's tempting to say "everything would be better if we all used this thing over there", but that thing over there that you think solves all of your problems probably doesn't exist.

> [FreeBSD]'s still guilty of every single criticism in this article

s/'s/ was/

I don't think that _every_ criticism in this book is still valid, far from it. Besides, Linux and *BSD ecosystems share a lot, actually only the kernel/libc points (if any) could be relevant for one system and not the others.

I reread it and I don't see where you're coming from.

I agree with your impossibility statement; that's why I said it's ironic that Unix tries to be all things for all people, despite its philosophy.

And why is FreeBSD it? Is there a quick, convincing pamphlet that can help answer this question? I keep hearing it but have never seen the reasons distilled, other than "it's more secure".

  Here is my metaphor: your book is a pudding stuffed with apposite
  observations, many well-conceived. Like excrement, it contains
  enough undigested nuggets of nutrition to sustain life for some. But
  it is not a tasty pie: it reeks too much of contempt and of envy.
  Bon appetit!
I think I've never seen such a marvelous way to say "eat shit". Dennis Ritchie sure was a fine gentleman.

The Anti-Foreword by Dennis Ritchie [1] is especially funny.

One of the authors (Daniel Weise) wrote a post mortem ten years later. [2]

Back in the heyday of /. there was a funny discussion going on. [3]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Ritchie

[2] http://homes.cs.washington.edu/~weise/uhh-download.html (link inside broken, book PDF is now linked from the HN title).

[3] http://slashdot.org/story/03/04/26/2354245/unix-haters-handb...

> Anyway, I have this Sparcstation ELC which I bought for my personal use in a moment of stupidity. It has a 760MB hard disk and 16MB of memory. I figured that 16MB ought to be enough, and indeed, pstat reports that on a typical day, running Ecch Windows, a few Emacses, xterms, and the occasional xload or xclock, I run 12 to 13MB of memory usage, tops.

> But I didn’t come here today to talk about why 2 emacses and a window system should take five times the total memory of the late AIKS-10. No, today I came to talk about the virtual memory system.

> Why is it that when I walk away from my trusty jerkstation for a while and come back, I touch the mouse and all of a sudden, whirr, rattle, rattle, whirr, all my processes get swapped back into memory?

> I mean, why did they get paged out in the first place? It’s not like the system needed that memory—for chrissake, it still has 3 or 4 MB free!

That's another quoted email in the Handbook, from a Robert E. Seastrom, dated 1993! I was wondering the same thoughts myself — fifteen years later — about Windows Vista, and it later became one of the wonderful things about switching to Linux, which does not page unless is must (though this behavior is configurable).

(That said, when Linux runs out of memory, it can go on a Sisyphus-esque page-a-thon and die thrashing the disk about the interior of the machine casing. For all people complain about the OOM killer, sometimes, it's handy!)

> As for me? I switched to the Mac. No more grep, no more piping, no more sed scripts. Just a simple, elegant life: “Your application has unexpectedly quit due to error number –1. OK?”

BWAHAHA, Poor Don has to eat his shoe.

I preferred this quote:

> The Macintosh on which I type this has 64MB: Unix was not designed for the Mac. What kind of challenge is there when you have that much RAM?

My Macintosh running UNIX-compliant OS X on a system with 8GB of RAM laughs at this statement, as I wrote code for my slightly less powerful Apple-made UNIX machine with 1GB of RAM that sits in my pocket.

Had Apple bought Be instead, the outcome would most likely be completely different.

Be, while not Unix at heart did have a bash based CLI.

Except for the original Mac OS, almost all mainstream OS did have a CLI of some sort.

Having a bash like CLI is meaningless in terms of means to be a UNIX compatible OS.

I was born in 1997, so the only Mac I've ever owned(a 1GHz eMac) has never run anything that wasn't UNIX or UNIX-y. (I toy around with OpenBSD on it now)

Then you also haven't known the world of the Intel Macs. That really changed things since you could now build almost any *nix-based app on the box with very minimal modifications. I think this is one of the reasons they've become so popular with the developer community - UNIX underneath, Aqua to make the system friendly, ability to build almost any code you can compile and run Windows in desperate times thanks to Boot Camp.

By the way, does anyone know what kind of Macintosh had 64 MBs of RAM in 1994?

Most of the midrange and high-end models at the time did support over 64 MB of RAM (the Centris 650/Quadra 800 supported 136 MB, the Quadra 950 supported 256 MB, etc.). In fact, even the 1987 Macintosh II could be pushed to 68 MB (or 128 MB with a ROM upgrade).

With osx tho you don't actually have to see the unix underneath unless you want to.

The link to the PDF of the original book is broken on the site linked (washington.edu). I found it here: http://web.mit.edu/~simsong/www/ugh.pdf

Thanks. We've changed the url to that from http://homes.cs.washington.edu/~weise/unix-haters.html


“Two of the most famous products of Berkeley are LSD and Unix. I don’t think that is a coincidence.”


My favourite: "Ken Thompson has an automobile which he helped design. Unlike most automobiles, it has neither speedometer, nor gas gauge, nor any of the other numerous idiot lights which plague the modern driver. Rather, if the driver makes a mistake, a giant “?” lights up in the center of the dashboard. “The experienced driver,” says Thompson, “will usually know what’s wrong.”"

Which is true for most cases. Why do you think mechanics call it "idiot lights"? Because people see Sparks coming out of their breaks or drive on bald tires, or never change the oil or inspect coolant level and color... Until a idiot light tells them to think about the car. So yeah, most drivers would never even see most of those lights.

And the check engine light which is the only one a driver with half a brain may still get... Is akin to a "?".

Compare that with clippy on Windows. It's a matter of perspective: some enjoy manual clutches, and others want fully automatic, both may be (in)convenient at times. Interestingly, MS has been trying to give more CLI power to their users, and Unices have been trying to close the gap in the opposit direction. Both approaches are useful.

The word you are looking for is "convergence".

As a shameless plug, permit me to direct your attention to the bottom of p. 211.

Oh you devil!

UNIX-HATERS was originally another name for the ITS-LOVERS mailing list at the MIT-AI lab, which eventually spun off into its own mailing list. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incompatible_Timesharing_Syste...

In order to qualify for UNIX-HATERS, you had to send in a sufficiently vitriolic rant about Unix, or be recommended by a member notorious for their vitriolic rants about Unix:

  From: cent@mc.lcs.mit.edu
  Subject: i help maintain unix-haters
  Date: July 23, 1991 11:22:13 PM GMT+02:00
  To: gumby@cygnus.com
  Cc: unix-haters-request@mc.lcs.mit.edu, don.hopkins@Eng.Sun.COM

    Date: Wed, 15 May 91 11:54:30 PDT
    From: Gumby Vinayak Wallace <gumby@cygnus.com>
    To: cent@ai.mit.edu
    Subject: do you maintain unix-haters?

    Don.Hopkins@Eng.Sun.COM should definately be on the list -- a much better 
    ranter than many who DO send to it.

  done. i hope he enoys it.
In 2007, I apologized to Jim Gettys for the tone of the X-Windows Disaster chapter I wrote for the book, to make sure he had no hard feelings and forgave me for my vitriolic rants and cheap shots of criticism: http://www.art.net/~hopkins/Don/unix-haters/x-windows/disast...

DH>>>> Don Hopkins wrote:

DH>>>> I've collected some of my favorite Motif code and comments (from Netscape, courtesy of Jamie Zawinski), on my "Motif Angst Page": http://www.donhopkins.com/home/catalog/unix-haters/x-windows...

DH>>>> Jamie put it this way: It's like trying to build a shelf of out mashed potatoes!

JG>>>> Jim Gettys wrote:

JG>>> Good analogy.... I didn't realize you were the author of the "The X-Windows Disaster".

DH>> I hope you founds it more entertaining than offensive!

JG> At the time, I remember it hurting; now I find it entertaining. Time cures such things. And Motif was definitely a vendor perpetrated unmitigated disaster: the worst of it was that it "succeeded" in unifying the UNIX gui, which means it succeeded at stopping all reasonable work on gui's on UNIX until the young Linux turks took over.

JG> And by '93 or so, the UNIX vendors actively wanted no change, as they had given up on the desktop and any innovation would cost them money.

DH>> The whole "Unix-Haters Handbook" thing was intended to shake up the status quo and inspire people to improve the situation instead of blindly accepting the received view. (And that's what's finally happened, although I can't take the credit, because it largely belongs to Linux -- and now that's the OLPC's mission!)

DH>> The unix-haters mailing list was a spin-off of its-lovers@mit-ai: in order to qualify for the mailing list you had to post a truly vitriolic no-holds-barred eyeball-popping flame.

DH>> I hope that helps to explain the tone of "The X-Windows Disaster", which I wrote to blow off steam while I was developing the X11 version of SimCity.

JG> Yup. I won't hold it against you ;-). Though any operating system with ddt as its shell is downright user hostile...

JG>>> The day I thought X was dead was the day I installed CDE on my Alpha.

DH>> And then Linux came along and changed all the rules and assumptions!

JG>>> It was years later I realized the young turks were ignoring the disaster perpetrated by the UNIX vendors in the name of "standardization"; since then, Keith Packard and I have tried to pay for our design mistakes in X by things like the new font model, X Render extension, Composite, and Cairo, while putting stakes in the heart of disasters like XIE, LBX, PEX, the old X core font model, and similar design by committee mistakes (though the broken core 2D graphics and font stuff must be considered "original sin" committed by people who didn't know any better at the time).

DH>> Cairo looks wonderful! I'm looking forward to using it from Python, which should be lots of fun.

JG> Yup. Cairo is really good stuff. This time we had the benefit of Lyle Ramshaw to get us unstuck. Would that I'd known Lyle in 1986; but it was too late 3 years later when I got to know him.

DH>> A lot of that old X11 stuff was thrown in by big companies to shill existing products (like using PEX to sell 3d graphics hardware, by drawing rotating 3-d cubes in an attempt to hypnotize people).

DH>> Remember UIL? I heard that was written by the VMS trolls at DEC, who naturally designed it with an 132 column line length limitation and no pre-processor of course. The word on the street was that DEC threw down the gauntlet and insisted on UIL being included in the standard, even though the rest of the committee hated it for sucking so bad. But DEC threatened to hold their breath until they got their way.

DH>> And there were a lot of weird dynamics around commercial extensions like Display PostScript, which (as I remember it) was used as an excuse for not fixing the font problems a lot earlier: "If you want to do readable text, then you should be using Display PostScript." The problem was that Linux doesn't have a vendor to pay the Display PostScript licensing fee to Adobe, so Linux drove a lot of "urban renewal" of problems that had been sidelined by the big blundering companies originally involved with X.

JG> Yup. Though I don't know the exact history there.

JG> I was really burned out after X11, and had an undiagnosed medical problem. So I wasn't in the fight for sanity when most of that junk happened; and Bob Scheifler's personality is such that he didn't either, and was at that point still very focused on the base system. And SGI saw OpenGL as a competitive advantage, so PEX took a slow death.

JG>>> So we've mostly succeeded at dragging the old whale off the beach and getting it to live again.

DH>> Hey, that's a lot better than dynamiting the whale, which seemed like a such good idea at the time! (Oh the humanity!)

DH>> <strikeout>http://www.perp.com/whale/</strikeout> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploding_whale

DH>> -Don

JG> Have you seen the whale video on the web? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtVSzU20ZGk

JG> One is amazed at how stupid some people can be.

JG> Jim Gettys, One Laptop Per Child

Here's some more modern footage of what it's like to work on X-Windows server internals:


For what it's worth I saw your name and instantly thought "pie menus" :-)

I can't remember if I actually did get SimCity for News/HyperNeWS working...

I did spend a few years in the early 90s hacking around with PostScript in HyperNeWS and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Cool to see that you still have a page with some HyperNeWS related stuff!


Thank you for this.

I love discussion between knowledgable people that happens some time after the event.

A website or podcast that was a tech version of "The Reunion" would probably be popular.


Thanks! Jim Gettys is such a nice sweet guy, who's done much great work on so many things (did you know he was the editor of the HTTP/1.1 specification?), I sure didn't want him to think I had an axe to grind with him about X-Windows [1]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Gettys

Here's some of his sagely advice, which I'll quote from his wikipedia page: "He has pointed out a common fallacy among programmers today: that storing computed values in memory is preferable to recomputing those values later. This, he claims, is often false on current hardware, given fast CPUs and the long time it takes to recover from a potential cache miss."

But it's a totally different story about that flaming political loony who desecrated the Jargon file, misrepresented hacker culture (and himself as a hacker), flat out lied about not misrepresenting anyone, and always used to sign himself off as "the mad mastermind of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Netnews" but never delivered on any of the hype he promised. But at least he was honest about being "mad": he still says and stands by things like "In the U.S., blacks are 12% of the population but commit 50% of violent crimes; can anyone honestly think this is unconnected to the fact that they average 15 points of IQ lower than the general population?"

I would love to see a retrospective discussion of the people who blew up that whale!

[1] Yes, I still call it X-Windows in the hopes of annoying X fanatics.

The mailing list was a lot funnier :)

I wonder if anyone still has the real archives (there are partial, sanitized archives).

archive (sadly sanitized): http://www.mindspring.com/~blackhart/

These are sadly, not even close to full. There are some amazingly hilarious rants missing, like the proper portable way to figure out your hostname (iirc, gethostname or something was allowed to always return localhost), which at one point, someone suggested bouncing mail off sun's mail server and parsing out the response.

From: AB Subject: jargon file

I strongly urge everyone who reads Unix-Haters to drop a note to er@al.gol.tla expressing your concern that he may be violating the spirit of the original jargon file.

Recall that we have not actually -seen- what he has proposed to do, so don't jump down the man's throat, but I think he could use some reinforcement on the idea that part of the ITS culture was a healthy disrespect for Unix, and that for many of us this is still the case. Be reasonable, calm and brief. Don't antagonize him. just make your point.

It would probably help if you can impress him with your ITS credentials. Like if you ever helped maintained ITS, or some ITS system program, be sure to mention that.

From: DC Subject: message to ER

Date: Wed, 19 Dec 90 13:35:25 -0800 From: DC To: er@al.gol.tla


I've heard you are working on ai:gls;jargon >, to which I contributed several entries (which appear also in the published version). It seems to me that the file documented a culture that no longer exists, because it was tied to a particular period, particular long-dead machines and networks, and particular institutions that have changed unrecognizably. It doesn't, therefore, seem meaningful to revise it.

It is a spendid idea to document (for instance) current unix culture, but such a document should be clearly distinct from The Hackers' Dictionary, not a revision. It should have a new title, and perhaps a different format. It should not include words from jargon > that are not current (as, I think, relatively few are).

Making a new book a ``revision'' of jargon > would imply a kind of continuity between late-70s ARPANet culture and early-90s unix culture that simply doesn't exist. To do so would confuse members of the latter culture and annoy members of the former. Contemporary unix culture contains many more people than the group jargon > was written for and about. They would be best served by an entirely new book that documents their own jokes and terminology in a way that reflects the contemporary style.

From: CG

Here's the body of my message to him. I seem to have misplaced the headers:

I've seen forwardings of your postings on alt.computers.folklore about the jargon file and understand that some ITS hackers are less than thrilled by some of your modifications of the file. It may be that your intentions have been misrepresented to me, but if not, I have a few things to say.

I was barely an ITS hacker (although I had an account on AI for a while), but instead went through RSTS, NOS, and Genera before getting stuck with Unix, so I don't quite have the same purist attitude that some of them may have. However, if it is indeed true that you're altering insults about Unix to be about MSDOS instead, this does bother me.

It bothers me because it sounds like you're revising history. New insults about MSDOS are fine (as well as insults about RSTS, NOS, or Genera), but you aren't reporting on a culture if you make these changes. To remove the anti-Unix slurs in a documentation of computer culture would be like rewriting history to say that Ronald Reagan was elected unanimously and that nobody opposed any of his policies.

A documentation of the computer culture as it exists on Unix hosts today could be interesting, but I respectfully request that you not modify the ITS era entries as you add new ones. You should, however, document what part of the culture they came from. As I recall, the original jargon file spoke of Stanfordisms and MITisms.

Most of the original jargon file should be listed as ITSisms. Note that it would be worth doing the reseach to find out what other cultures they might exist in such as Multics, Genera, VMS, etc. The computer culture is not a single culture, but is a number of different cultures. In fact, proper research should document phrases as saying that they developed in the ITS user community as such-and-such, and then migrated into the Unix community as so-and-so.

Certainly, if a phrase or piece of terminology was only used in the ITS community, it shouldn't be rewritten so that it could be used in the Unix community. Your purpose should not be to provide people with a collection of cute things to say, but instead to document what people do say.

I find that it's interesting that none of the registered unix-haters had anything to do with your version of the file. You'd probably not be getting jumped on if you'd contacted us and asked if we'd like to review what you were doing. This file really shouldn't be made Unix-centric, and to allow non-Unix-philiacs a review might help to keep you intellectually honest.

Besides, the phrase "MSDOS weenie" doesn't have the same ring to it as "Unix weenie", and "Weenix" can't be translated into anti-MSDOS-speak at all. "MSWeenos"?

From: DC Subject: ER's reply to me

[ Apparently he found my message less compelling than some of you did.]

Are GLS, RMS, et al. being wedged, is this guy's project being misrepresented to us, or is he misrepresenting their support? Or what? (Sigh.) (What can you expect from someone who signs himself ``the mad mastermind of TMN-Netnews?'' We used to throw highschool students off AI for lesser infractions...)]

>From: (ER) Subject: Re: your mail To: DC Date: Wed, 19 Dec 90 18:14:12 EST

> Making a new book a ``revision'' of jargon would imply a kind of continuity between late-70s ARPANet culture and early-90s unix culture that simply doesn't exist.

I disagree, and so do GS and RS and the other four major authors of the original Jargon File.

> To do so would confuse members of the latter culture and annoy members of the former.

So far, the only people who have seemed either confused or annoyed are a couple of rather troglodytic ex-ITSers. The UNIX culture loves what I'm doing, I'm swamped with new entries and supportive email. And I've gotten more help than criticism from ITS alumni.

Quite frankly, I've concluded that the only people offended by the idea of jargon 2.x.x are people I don't mind offending. I hope and trust you are not among them.

Would you like to enter changes or additions to your previous entries, or submit any new ones?

From: MC

In article <1YqWpR#1YnZJF2ktJM020ODXT8YVbVG=er@al.gol.tla> ER writes:

> On the evidence available to me, [CS] speak[s] for a minority which includes none of the principal authors of the file.

> I am doing my very damnedest not to misrepresent anybody; the First Edition authors (with whom I regularly discuss my editorial choices) can testify to this.

These statements are out-and-out lies.

ER has never communicated any of his editorial choices to me until I took him to task for it on alt.folklore.computers. Then all he did was send me a message saying, in effect, "tough shit, ITS and the PDP-10 are dead and it's too bad if you don't like it."

From what Guy Steele sent me in private, I doubt that he is correctly representing Guy either.

The issue was never one of PDP-10/ITS vs. Unix. The PDP-10/Unix war was settled years ago. The issue is whether or not you brand an entire culture "extinct" just because the environment which birthed that culture has died. That culture is alive and well today, having successfully transplanted itself to Unix and reimplementing the beloved features of the old environment on top of Unix.

From: IH

Perhaps someone should package this stuff up and send it to GLS and RMS (I never had much of a chance to hack ITS so I don't think I should do it) and ask if they are being accurately portrayed. If not, one might consider sending a note to this guy's publisher just to let them know what's going on.

From: PB Date: Thu, 20 Dec 90 19:03:08 EST

To: gs Subject: jaron file redux

hey quux, we have been hearing rumors about some guy out in east overshoe who intends to publish a revision of the jargon file (as previously lifted by you off the ITS machines, where it had been a communal construct, and published in some random fashion). it sounds like what he intends to do is RE-WRITE a bunch of the entries to change their intent from denigration of unix to denigration of some pc system (msdos?). that, of course, would be a significant alteration from the original aim of the file, and a lot of ITS lovers are objecting. this fellow has been contacted online, and he claims he is working with you, RMS, and "most of the other original authors", which he claims to number about 4 more. what is the story?

From: GS

The project started out as an expansion and slight revision of the file, with a view toward eventual distillation into another book. By "the other original authors" he is referring to the set of names on the first book:

    Richard Stallman
    Geoff Goodfellow
    Raphael Finkel
    Mark Crispin
    Don Woods
who were on it because they had made substantial contributions both to the file and to the polishing of the book version. I would certainly not want anyone to understand from this that these were the only contributors to the original file!

Anyway, Eric cut loose and published several updated versions of the file to today's hacker community, which, for better or for worse, is much more UNIX-oriented than that of ten years ago. He has gathered tremendous amounts of new material, much of it interesting. To the extent that we augment the file, I think it's great. Historical revisionism is, however, highly inappropriate, and there is some debate over the designation and treatment of "obsolete" entries.

Another classic thread in the UNIX-HATERS archive is the outraged reaction to Eric The Flute's desecration of the Jargon file and misrepresentation of hacker culture.

Date: Fri, 14 Dec 90 10:54:45 PST From: DH Subject: MC:HUMOR;JARGON >

The JARGON file is being updated. The guy doing so has changed the nasty references to Unix to refer to MS-DOS because "all the ITS partisans have now become Unix partisans, since the Unix philosophy is the same as the ITS philosophy." as he says.

From: CS

Why don't we write a complaintive group letter to the publisher?

From: KP

Isn't there some pending federal law against colorizing things that were originally black and white? Perhaps we should each call our congresspeople and lobby for its immediate passage of that so we can go after this vandal in court...

From: KH


If you would be gracious enough to identify this, um, I believe the proper term is "loser", then we might have the opportunity to clarify our philosophical differences.

From: MT

This guy is also a flaming political loony, so make sure to mention that you're an agent of the international communist conspiracy if you write to him (unless you're trying to be persuasive, in which case you should claim to be a sworn enemy of the ICC).

  From: ER
  Newsgroups: alt.folklore.computers,comp.misc
  Subject: Re: the jargon file
  Date: 18 Dec 90 17:30:13 GMT
  Followup-To: alt.folklore.computers

  CS wrote:

  >  ER asserts that "all the ITS partisans have
  >  now become Unix partisans, since the Unix philosophy is
  >  the same as the ITS philosophy", and discusses his new
  >  edition of our old jargon file.

  I never claimed that the UNIX philosophy is "the same" as

  > In fact, most of the "ITS partisans" are really unhappy,
  > discouraged, and severely disapproving of this effort to
  > re-write the jargon file.

  I've received critical email from two ex-ITS people. I've
  also received entries, help, and encouragement from at least
  six others.  Not to mention five of the six First Edition
  authors. The sixth, mrc, is unhappy about some editing
  decisions I've made but hasn't questioned that the job needs

  On the evidence available to me, you speak for a minority
  which includes none of the principal authors of the file.

  > Also, we are definitely not "Unix partisans".

  I have been corrected on this in email. I naively thought
  that because MIT had gone with UNIX and most of the
  ex-ITSers I know are hacking UNIX these days the ex-ITS
  crowd could be fairly said to `prefer' UNIX.  As it turns
  out, a lot of ex-ITSers would rather worship the ghosts of
  departed operating systems and bitch about UNIX rather than
  implement something they like.

  I think this is very sad.

  > It's unfortunate that one of the side-effects of not
  > taking steps to protect this material is that people can
  > steal it and use it misrepresent us, but who would have
  > guessed?

  I am doing my very damnedest not to misrepresent anybody;
  the First Edition authors (with whom I regularly discuss my
  editorial choices) can testify to this.

  Any ITSer who thinks he's being `misrepresented' by anything
  in the file is welcome to submit *specific changes* to
  correct the errors.  Bellyaching at me about `philosophy'
  doesn't help any party unless you're willing to get specific
  about what you don't like.

  I am not an autocratic editor, as any number of people
  who've sent me changes can testify. I'll either merge in the
  change or explain why I didn't.  If after that you still
  disagree, I'm willing to debate matters in the open.

  As for `stealing', this is unfair and insulting.  You don't
  own JARGON.TXT and I don't claim to. If anyone has
  proprietary rights on any of this material it's Guy Steele
  via the 1983 paper addition, and he emailed the ms of that
  book to *me* to use as I saw fit.

  > ER probably isn't doing this out of malice; I'm
  > sure he just doesn't understand what the jargon file was
  > really all about.

  I'm sure I don't understand *your* theory of what it was all
  about.  Your implied claim to authority on the subject is
  shaky at best.

  > The rest of us are a little baffled at GS's
  > cooperation with him.

  Why don't you *ask* him, then?

  Here's a clue, closed-captioned for the thinking-impaired:

  Maybe Guy Steele and I agree that the ITS culture had
  something valuable to transmit to latter-day hackerdom.
  Maybe we agree that it's worthwhile that that tradition not
  be lost, that it add its own flavor to the UNIX-dominated
  hackerdom of today. Maybe I still believe that.

  Maybe I'm beginning to doubt it now...

  Followups to alt.folklore.computers ONLY.
From: CS Newsgroups: alt.folklore.computers Subject: jargon file


Apparently you've misconstrued my complaints. I certainly never claimed to have personal ownership over the jargon file; I was relaying the feelings of a large number (probably most, despite whatever you wish to believe) of the members of the community which the original JARGON file documents (or, used to, anyway). I don't know what the legal copyright status of the material is, or what it was when it was published commercially. At least the ethics of commercially usurping community property were and are debatable.

I don't really have time or inclination to argue with you about your notions. But imagine if someone took a book that you and your playmates had written about your childhoods, "updated it" to coincide with their very different attitudes (which you, for the most part disagreed with), and then published it under its original title. I think that's part of how a number of us feel. Most of the other MIT-AI people I've talked to seem to feel this way.

I don't read this newsgroup, so if anyone wants to correspond about this, you'll have to send me email. But mostly, I'm not very interested. I'm certainly not interested in debating your confused interpretations of what our culture was about, whether myself or my associates represent that culture, nor am I interested in debating the technical merits of random operating systems. My intentions in my previous posting were mostly to clear up various strange assertions regarding the old ITS crowd, and relay my sense of violation. Sometimes I think there's no hope of people ever understanding what was going on back then. Oh, well. I think I've said all I wanted to.

From: SS Date: Thu, 5 Mar 1992 15:29:31 -0500 Subject: The Story That Must Be Told

OK. It's time to write The Book.

You know what I'm talking about: The Unix Haters Handbook. Publishing is not a problem. If TLA Press won't touch it, my family owns a honest-to-god publishing company. Really.

I'm willing to edit it, and anyone else is welcome to join in.

The rules are identical to the rules for this mailing list. You can use technical jargon and not bother to explain it. Apologies or pragmatic suggestions (other than the canonical choice of avoiding unix or committing suicide) will not be tolerated.

The chapters will be:

  1) The Unix Epidemic
      The Abortion that Lived
  2) The Shell
      Playing Russian Roulette With 6 Bullets In The Chamber
  3) The File System
      Sure It Corrupts Your Files, But Look How Fast It Is!
  4) Mail
      Don't Talk To Me, I'm Not A Typewriter
  5) Security
      Oh, I'm Sorry Sir, Go Ahead, I Didn't Realize You Were Root
  6) Programming
      Like Performing Rectal Surgery With a Rusty Spoon
  7) Unix weenies
      It Can't Be a Bug, My Makefile Depends on It
  8) The Future of Open Systems
      Terminal Cancer Patients Have Choices Too, You Know
If you want to write any of these, or have a new topic to add, let me know. The first draft should be ready by July 1st, this summer, and we will go to press by November 1st. Oh yeah, we also need to get an artist who's good at drawing miserable people. There will be at least one illustration per chapter, preferably more. If you know someone, let me know.

From: DW Date: Thu, 5 Mar 92 18:53:19 PST Subject: The Story That Must Be Told

I've thought a lot about such a book. It should have an introduction by Dvorak and a forward by Pournelle. I have lots of other ideas, let's talk offline.

From: TM Date: Thu, 05 Mar 92 19:18:07 -0800 Subject: Re: The Story That Must Be Told

  9) UNIX Standards
      One standard is not enough
From: DW Date: Fri, 6 Mar 92 15:50:02 PST Subject: Re: New Mailing List For The Unix Haters Handbook

I had been planning to spend a month in the very near future solely working on some sort of unix-haters book. I've been collecting "best of" for a while now, with the creation of a book in mind. My goal is not money, I had been thinking on insisting that it appear in paperback for less than $10. I was going to get permission from everyone cited. My ideas for format differ from Silens's. It cannot be amateurishly done, nor be merely a book of rants. It should not contain words of the sort that get music records "warning: offensive lyrics" labels put on them.

My goal was to produce something that would make a minor media splash, at least in the popular technical literature. If Cliff Stoll can get lots of press, so can this.


Also this, not sure where the original link went.


In order to truly appreciate the rich dynamic interactive multimedia experience of this web page, you should view it in a modern browser fully supporting the standard <BLINK> tag, such as Netscape Navigator version 3.0 gold.


That was the only legitimately justifiable use of the <BLINK> tag that I've ever made:

     <TITLE>UNIXUX: Click on the cursor.</TITLE>
     <META NAME="Author" CONTENT="Don Hopkins">
     <META NAME="GENERATOR" CONTENT="User-Agent: Mozilla/3.0Gold (Macintosh; I; PPC)">
  <BODY TEXT="#7CFE5A" BGCOLOR="#191919" LINK="#FF0000" VLINK="#FF3333" ALINK="#00FEFA">

  <P><B><TT><FONT SIZE=+1>UNIX HATERS Release 2.0 (unixux)</FONT></TT></B></P>

  <P><B><TT><FONT SIZE=+1>login: <BLINK><A HREF="password.html">_</A></BLINK></FONT></TT></B></P>

The worst use of the <BLINK> tag ever was the discussion held in the early days of RSS about escaping HTML in titles, whose attention-grabbing title went something like this: "Hey, what happens when you put a <BLINK> tag in the title???!!!"

The content of that notorious discussion went on and off and on and off for weeks, giving all the netizens of the RSS community blogosphere terrible headaches, with people's entire blogs disappearing and reappearing every second, until it finally reached a flashing point, when Dave Winer humbly conceded that it wasn't the user's fault for being an idiot, and maybe just maybe there was tiny teeny little design flaw in RSS, and it wasn't actually such a great idea to allow HTML tags in RSS titles.

Thank you so much for that. I was new to Unix/Linux (DEC Osf-1) when I first happened upon it. At the time it was much needed comic relief for me.

  Thank you for using AT&T.
(deep link: http://www.art.net/~hopkins/Don/unix-haters/25.html )


Isnt some of this still left in BSD (designed) vs Linux (evolved)?

Design cannot win, because there is always more talent wanting and willing to get stuff done.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact