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Linux at SCO Forum

Belinda Frazier

Issue #19, November 1995

SCO Forum, famous for its fun, casual environment, offered thought-provoking discussions by Scott Adams, Clifford Stoll and John Perry Barlow. Linux Torvalds spoke on the future of operating systems.

The ninth annual SCO Forum took place on the University of California Santa Cruz campus August 20th to 24th, 1995. SCO, Santa Cruz Operations, is the provider of SCO Unix, billed as “the leading PC-Unix”. SCO also provides other system software for businesses.

During the Forum, SCO unveiled a new corporate logo to signify its expansion into new markets, serving the “entire cross-platform world of Unix server and Microsoft Windows desktop integration.” Many SCO speakers reiterated SCO’s “Windows Friendly” strategy.

Forum tutorials and conference sessions varied from software specific to SCO, Marketing on the Internet, to the Future of Operating Systems.

The highlight of the sessions included three speakers. Scott Adams, who writes the Dilbert cartoons, gave a humorous presentation, augmenting some of his cartoons with the story behind the cartoon. Some of Adams’ cartoons had gotten him into trouble at his former full-time jobs in the computer industry.

Stoll worried about the “cult of computing” noting that schools have converted their music rooms or their art room into computer labs, noting that, “We are saying something about what’s most important in our society. and it’s computing over music and art… or even history and social interaction.”

Barlow commented about the use of the Internet, “I think we’re in the business of creating what Teilhard de Chardin talked about, writing in the 30’s, about the collective organism of mind, an entirely new layer of the evolutionary process—evolution that is self aware.”

As Barlow eloquently started a statement about how the Internet is “…an ecosystem for all the creatures of mind,” he was interrupted by Cliff Stoll saying, “How can you compare the Internet to an ecology? the Internet is a telephone system!”

Barlow: “Clifford, it was a virtual thought.”

Cliff: “The Internet is a telephone system that’s gotten uppity.”

The banter continued between the two about interactions on the Internet versus “meet (face-to-face interactions in the real world) space”.

Barlow told the audience about a project to establish a virtual conference facility, with a room in Portland, a huge video screen, and 3-dimensional sound, so that people could see the body language of people in other places during the conference. Barlow asked the project coordinator, “Ranji, does it work?” Ranji said, “Oh, no.” Barlow said. “What’s missing? It looks like you have everything.” Ranji said, “But the Prana, the Prana is missing.” Barlow concluded the story for the SCO audience explaining “Prana is the Hindu term for breath and spirit. And I think that the real enterprise here is to find out whether Prana can ever be fit through a wire.”

Over one-third of the audience raised their hands in response to Linus’s question, “How many of you are actually using Linux or have used Linux before?”

Linus stated that “The most important point I want to say about the future is that I personally say that the future is the desktop—or not even maybe the desktop, but the personal computer.”

Linus added, “if Unix decides to ignore the desktop market and tries to be a server, even if it’s a server that tries to serve desktops, Unix is eventually going to die. And I think the future is acknowledging that the desktop market is where it’s at.”

“We all know who’s the boss on desktop. Certainly today, Microsoft is spending probably in excess of 200 million dollars on making sure who is King of the hill. Right? Is that due to technical merit? No, no, people on the desktop have been used to really crappy operating systems. Unix people who’re telling us that they have a technically superior product obviously aren’t doing the right thing, because on the desktop, technology isn’t what matters. What matters is availability and price. So what we like to have, and what people like to have, [is] cheap and available, and actual technical merit comes second—actually, it comes last.”

He went on to mention Free Software, Software Piracy, and of course, he talked a little about Linux.

“What [Linux] has to give this community is a desktop that doesn’t reboot twice a day—or more often, if you’re doing something strange like writing a document.”

He took technical and other questions in person after the discussion, and the two SCO technicians sitting next to me were up there first to ask him a question. Had I not been late to catch a plane, I would have stayed a while longer and eavesdropped.

Belinda Frazier has been working with Unix for nine years and with publishing for even longer. She enjoys traveling to Unix and Internet conferences for SSC. She has recently given up attempting to engage the neighbors’ cats and dogs in a psychological discussion about why they should want to stay out of her garden.


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