Ronda Hauben on 20 Sep 2000 18:19:40 -0000

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Re: <nettime> Free Software as Collaborative Text

Florian Cramer <> wrote:

>  Free Software History
Good to see an effort to look at the history of the Internet and the
connection with Free Software.

>   It is not accidental that history of Free Software runs
>   parallel to the history of the Internet. The Internet is built
>   on Unix networking technology. Unix used to be free for
>   academic institutions in the 1970s, and it has been either the

Actually Unix wasn't free in its earliest days, when John Lion in
Australia and Robert Fabry wrote and asked for the sources from AT&T. It
was available at a "nominal fee". It was a token payment, I think $110
Australian ($150 US).

That was in the 1974 period.

I don't know what the situation when the Australians or the folks sending
their tapes or Berkleley began sending out the BDS tapes.

(There is some discussion of all this in chapter 9 of Netizens.

>   base or model of the common Free Software operating systems
>   BSD and GNU/Linux.
>   Any ordinary E-Mail message still reveals the affinity of the
>   Internet and Unix technology: E-Mail itself is nothing but the
>   Unix mail command. An E-Mail address of the form is
>   made up of what's historically a user name on a multiuser Unix
>   system and, following the "@", the system's host name. This
>   host name is resolved via the free Unix software bind
>   according to the Internet domain name system (DNS); DNS itself
>   is nothing but a networked extension of the Unix system file
>   /etc/hosts. Since the Internet has marginalized or even
>   replaced proprietary computer networks like IBM's EARN/Bitnet,
>   Compuserve, the German Btx and the French Minitel, Unix
>   networking technology is standard on all computing platforms.
Actually the Unix networking character was the bang symbol ! and an
address might look something like utzoo!utcsrgv!peterr That was the path
for the address on uucp.

The agreement to use "@" which was the Internet meeting came at a meeting
in I thought the 1980's where people like Mark Horton and Jon Postel and
others were there to figure out a common addressing mechanism.

So the "@" doesn't come historically from the UNIX side of all this

Bernard Lang has an interesting article in the Feb 2000 issue of La
Recherche which describes in a bit of a different way the connection
between early Unix and the ARPANET, and he refers

>   In the 1970, Unix particularly attracted student hacker
>   communities at the MIT and at the University of California at
>   Berkeley. The concepts of open, decentralized computer
>   networks and free Unix-like operating systems originated in 
>   the computer science labs of these institutions. By
>   the early 1990s, the "hacker" software written there had
>   evolved into

Actually at MIT it was the AI labs and they used the pdp 10 machines --
one was the ITS (Incompatible Time Sharing).

I didn't think these were UNIX machines at this period.

Actually UNIX was only created at Bell Labs in 1969-1970's and announced
in 1974. Chapter 9 in Netizens gives this background.


Also it is interesting to see your references to "open architecture".

I recently wrote something for an encyclopedia on computers and computer
history about open architecture and found very little has been written
about it even though it is indeed the basis for the Internet's

>   Open technology has been a key factor for the acceptance of
>   computers and networking: The open architecture of the IBM
>   Personal Computer made computers cheap and popular since the
>   1980s, and with the open architecture of the Internet,
>   networking became popular in the early 1990s. 

I thoguht the bbs culture also supported the spread of a free software in
the 1980s.

Perhaps also looking at the ARPANET tradition of the free spread of
software would be of interest. And on early Usenet there were newsgroups
dedicated to spreading software.

Usenet was an early means of not only spreading Unix software but also
dicussion about how to deal with the bugs. Chapter 10 in Netizens
describes this evolution.

That's all I have time to comment on now. Good to see the effort to take
on such topics, and it is important to put them in their historical
context as that gives an idea of what is being built on and hence helps
provide a sense of direction forward and of the progress being made.



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