The largest-scale pattern in the history of Unix is this: when
and where Unix has adhered most closely to
practices, it has prospered. Attempts to proprietarize it have
invariably resulted in stagnation and decline.
In retrospect, this should probably have become obvious much
sooner than it did. We lost ten years after 1984 learning our lesson,
and it would probably serve us very ill to ever again forget
Being smarter than anyone else about important but narrow issues
of software design didn't prevent us from being almost completely
blind about the consequences of interactions between technology and
economics that were happening right under our noses. Even the most
perceptive and forward-looking thinkers in the Unix community were at
best half-sighted. The lesson for the future is that over-committing
to any one technology or business model would be a mistake — and
maintaining the adaptive flexibility of our software and the design
tradition that goes with it is correspondingly imperative.
Another lesson is this: Never bet against the cheap plastic
solution. Or, equivalently, the low-end/high-volume hardware
technology almost always ends up climbing the power curve and winning.
The economist Clayton Christensen calls this disruptive
technology and showed in The Innovator's
Dilemma [Christensen] how this happened
with disk drives, steam shovels, and motorcycles. We saw it happen as
minicomputers displaced mainframes, workstations and servers replaced
minis, and commodity Intel machines replaced workstations and servers.
The open-source movement is winning by commoditizing software. To
prosper, Unix needs to maintain the knack of co-opting the cheap
plastic solution rather than trying to fight it.
Finally, the old-school Unix community failed in its efforts to
be “professional” by welcoming in all the command
machinery of conventional corporate organization, finance, and
marketing. We had to be rescued from our folly by a rebel alliance of
obsessive geeks and creative misfits—who then
proceeded to show us that professionalism and dedication really meant
what we had been doing
we succumbed to the
mundane persuasions of “sound business practices”.
The application of these lessons with respect to software
technologies other than Unix is left as an easy exercise for the