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You Can Hack An OS But You Can't Hack People - part 2: The Computing World

Date/Time Permalink: 05/09/08 08:57:03 pm
Category: General

Once upon a time...

Hold on here. I'm going to simplify the story down to three operating systems. Is everybody cool with that? I know all about GNU/Linux, GNU/HURD, Minix, BSD (Free, Open, Net, and PC), Solaris, Plan Nine From Bell Labs, Darwin, OS X, BeOS, Amiga, Tandy, OS/2, Xenix, and so on. For the sake of fairy-tale brevity, we're temporarily pretending that there's three operating systems, or computing republics upon the desktop. We'll slide some of the others in in their due time. Just wanted to make that clear. Start the projector!

Once upon a time, there were three computing republics. Apple, Unix, and Windows. They spread out to cover all of the land until the map of the world looked like this:

fig1

Each of the republics was wildly different in the ways they did things. So much so, that it is quite difficult to this day to effectively translate between them. Yet all of the computing republics had this in common: they were all ruled by governments that were very much like monarchies. You had a king, or a king and his advisers, and they made the rules and everybody had to follow them.

This was the only logical course of action at that time. Because the computing world was so new to everyone, even the kings, it did not make sense for everyone to try to establish their own republics and then try to run them. It was only possible for most people to settle on some republic and be part of that place's feudalistic system.

The republic of Unix was established first. Unix was inhabited by barbarians, but that is not to say that they were ignorant. They were, in fact, the smartest people around at the time. They were engineers and scientists, but they were also fiercely independent rogues and even from the beginning they were not too happy about living in a republic. Nevertheless, as long as they were lightly governed and allowed to work like beavers, they were mostly happy. Of all the inhabitants of the computing world, the barbarian engineers of Unix loved to work. Since they were pioneers living on dirt who had to build their republic out of rock, that suited everybody fine.

The republic of Apple was founded next. It stood in sharp contrast to Unix, in that it was designed to be a beautiful, happy place to live. The inhabitants there discovered to their joy that they had to do very little work. Everything was sleek and shiny, everyone was well-fed and happy. But this came at a price: it was much more expensive to live there and the government was somewhat more controlling. But most people didn't mind, because living there was so luxurious.

Then the republic of Windows was founded. The people who chose to live there valued, above all else, order. And the government of Windows was more than happy to accommodate. Windows was ruled with an iron fist, often with only one way to do everything. It tried to find a balance between Unix and Apple - to be cheap like Unix and beautiful like Apple. It ended up being only half as much of each. But it struck a chord with more people than the other two republics combined: as opposed to being free but having to work hard like in Unix, or being sort-of controlled but expensive and having everything done for you like Apple, in Windows you had to do almost as much work as in Unix, but you were rigidly kept in a state of continuous conformity so that you had to do very little thinking for yourself. There were no decisions to make - only one path to follow. It was also cheaper than Apple, and less work than Unix, at the sacrifice of freedom.

Of course, I'm simplifying drastically. There's all kinds of hand-waving going on here. Your hint was when I said "fairy tale" in the second paragraph. But as close as you can peg the cultures in a few paragraphs, they break down like this.

It turned out that these three were all the republics that the world needed, because everybody more or less fit into these three slots. However, as history has shown, no system of governments stays in a state of equilibrium for very long...

We'll see what happened next in part 3.

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