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'We'll Be There'

Ten years is a long time and as far as time goes Bill's had his.


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It must be tough being Bill Gates right now. On the one flank he sees Google conquering all the markets he wanted for himself; on the other flank he sees Apple with their OS X making him look absolutely ridiculous.

And then to top things off he's got a short circuited CEO throwing furniture around the office destroying company assets.

It must be tough.

Planet Earth: Present Day

Following the publication of Google's USENIX paper on 'drive bys' a typical row between Mac and PC fans erupted. There's no argumentation to speak of as neither side are sitting with any tangible substance - there's only name calling and mud slinging and yes, things are going as they usually do. Live long and prosper.

But the maniacs on one side are in the right and the losers on other side are in the wrong. Here's why. This has been explained before, both on-site and off-site, but perhaps a pictorial will make it clear. Finally.

Planet Earth: 1964

The year is 1964 and IBM are introducing their System/360 model 50. It's a great leap forward in computing. The accompanying illustrations show a skeletal System/360 - most installations build from here and expand to cover city blocks. The main hallmark of System/360 is its scaleability: a typical System/360 installation looks like a shopping mall turned into a single laundromat with tape machines and hard drive machines lining the walls and corridors like a picture out of the Matrix. And the capacity of these systems is astounding. It's staggering.

Tape machines were the default secondary storage medium for ages; IBM also had awesome disk machines with removable hard drives with up to one dozen platters or more. Everything was kept hermetically sealed and operators switched hard drives in these boxes as needs be.

The operators have a room of their own. It's the room with all the consoles. If access to the mainframe hall itself is tough, access to the operators room is nigh on impossible. And here they sit, watching things come up on their consoles.

Everything's run in batch. Using arcane tools such as JCL programs are filed and scheduled for their runs - and when they do the operators see the requests pop up on their console screens. 'Mount tape 0X34352145' and so forth. And off the operator goes, finds tape 0X34352145, returns to his Captain Kirk chair, hits Enter, and the program begins execution.

These are huge and brutal machines. They never crash. Perhaps once a year they have to be rebooted because of resource conflicts. But those boxes never crash. They don't leak memory and they don't hang and they don't do any of the other funny stuff certain demographics have become accustomed to today.

IBM System/360 boxes can have as little a 1 MB RAM; the rest is swappable virtual memory. And yet they can serve several thousand 3270 terminals all at once. No worries.

On top of this system IBM have something they call 'TSO' - 'Time Sharing Option'. Together with this they have something they call 'ISPF' - 'Interactive Structured Programming Facility'. It's this interface which gives programmers the ability to write, run, and test batch programs before they're put into production.

Security on an IBM installation is very high. All accounts are organised into what IBM call a 'RACF': 'Resource Allocation Control Facility'. Each RACF has its own RACF manager and then there's another manager who manages all the RACF managers - the so called 'RACF RACF'. This person is the head honcho on the whole setup.

Users have strict limitations on what they can access and what they can do. It's all controlled by the RACFs. When you have upwards of four thousand users on the same computer you have to have rules, security, and privacy. And above all you have to protect the system itself.

Planet Earth: 1975

By 1975 things were changing in the computer science field. A rebellious startup known as Digital Equipment Corporation were the subject of uproarious laughter in the IBM boardroom but they kept on pushing. And soon had introduced a whole new class of computer: the mini. These 'mini' systems were secure too. It's just that in the early days DEC had only the hardware, not the operating system itself.

Back in Murray Hill New Jersey the Bell Labs hackers were growing restless. They had a DEC box sitting in a corner working on chess problems. And otherwise spent a large part of their days discussing the operating system they hadn't yet seen. Until one day a coworker suggested they stop discussing a system they hadn't yet seen and write one of their own instead. And they did.

The accompanying illustration is an early pic of Ken Thompson (seated at the console) and Dennis Ritchie (standing). Ken is working on a teletype terminal and presumably the box he's interfacing with is in this picture as well. Not that they'd always work like this - cables would be drawn from this computer into their offices where they could kick back and play with their personal teletypes.

When you have multiple users on the same physical computer; when you have upwards of four or five thousand users on a single IBM mainframe you need security. You need a way to mark off what belongs to one user from the rest and you need a way to mark off the operating system itself from everybody. Both IBM and Unix deal with this adequately - back in those days they had no choice. Microsoft fail at the same thing and will continue to fail at it.

Planet Earth: 1976

A year after the monumental Ritchie/Thompson presentation of the Unix time sharing system at the IBM Thomas J Watson Research Centre a half-Egyptian and an employee from Hewlett-Packard put together an 'all in one' personal computer. It's never been done so well before. Bill Gates has already sold his BASIC to MITS for the Altair computer but that's just a bunch of switches. The Apple can connect to a screen so you can actually interact with it. It's a great leap forward - from the Altair at least.

The accompanying illustrations should be compared with the earlier pictures of IBM and DEC computers to give the reader an idea of how the complexity of these systems can in fact be compared: the insides of the Altair don't even compare to a corner of an IBM mainframe CPU. The Altair is a toy. And an esoteric one at that. And the Apple is little more. As time goes on people find actual uses for the Apple and things begin to change even more.

Planet Earth: 1983

The year is 1983 - or thereabouts. Bill Gates is not oblivious to what's happened at Bell Labs. He buys a Unix source code licence and the most rugged PC C compiler on the market. He has vague plans of trying to supersede MS/PC-DOS with Unix. They never materialise.

AT&T introduce a Unix PC but it doesn't take off either. And IBM introduce PC/IX, a Unix written for them by Interactive Systems, and despite the media accolades it too refuses to take off. The world is locked into IBM's de facto MS/PC-DOS standard and no one's ready to budge. Soon enough they will - they'll have to.

Planet Earth: 1989

The year is 1989 and Tim Berners-Lee uses a NeXT box to dream up the World Wide Web. He introduced it a few years later and nothing's been the same since. Personal computers are more powerful now - as evidenced by the space age NeXT - but the topology of this growing niche known as 'personal computing' has changed.

Personal computers aren't personal anymore. If they ever were. Office workers share the same boxes; local networks allow workers to invade the space of their fellow workers; and once that Internet cable is hooked up all bets are off. Suddenly anyone is allowed to go anywhere and do anything. And the personal computer as it's known - both the Mac and the PC - is powerless to defend itself.

Macs running MacOS and PCs running MS/PC-DOS are sitting targets. It's like a duck shoot. There is no built in security because in this Lilliputian world security was never an issue. But Tim Berners-Lee changed all that - and the Apples and Microsofts have nothing they can do about it. The curtain hasn't come down but the audience stand up and start to leave.

Things don't look good.

And by the New Millennium Microsoft products are staggering and falling under the onslaught of the very profitable attacks that have been launched. One worldwide outbreak follows the other. Conservative researchers estimate the damage caused by these unsuitable Microsoft systems to at least twice what Bill Gates is personally worth on a good day at NASDAQ. So that if Bill refunded everyone the price of their Windows product and also recompensed individuals and corporations for the damage his products caused he'd be about twice as deep in the red as he's today in the black. And that's something to think about.

Also in 1989 David Cutler begins working on his successor to MS-DOS for Microsoft. Cutler's project actually began elsewhere in the Seattle area and was run under the auspices of Digital Equipment Corporation - he's previously produced the bulletproof VMS for DEC and was now working on the next generation incarnation. Microsoft got word of Cutler and made him an offer he couldn't refuse and he took his team and his code crosstown to Redmond.

Cutler's VMS was truly bulletproof; had he been allowed to keep working along the same lines its successor would have been bulletproof as well. But at the Microsoft campus other contingencies applied. Microsoft had backward and legacy compatibility to think of. Security wasn't allowed to be such an all-pervasive issue. And Cutler didn't have a lot of bargaining power anyway. So he ended up grafting a layer of VMS on top of a personal computer architecture. With expected results.

Planet Earth: 1997

The year is 1997 and Apple have just about had it. They'd watched their precarious market get eaten up by IBM and Microsoft. Microsoft have released their Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1 and taken the world by storm. Apple, still sitting with superior hardware, are completely lost and out of it and their MacOS is increasingly showing signs of strain and implosion. Once Apple realise they won't be able to write their new operating system on their own they do the same thing Bill Gates did: they outsource for it.

In this case they go to former Apple guru and cofounder Steve Jobs who's been very busy in nearby Redwood City. Jobs returns to Cupertino with his Unix-based NeXTSTEP and OPENSTEP operating systems and things start to happen.

What's instructive here is that Unix just happens to have what's needed to transition these personal computers from a standalone era into a connected one. Unix boxes today work much the same as Unix boxes of old, but the time sharing occurs in the same box and boxes are connected together instead of running out to terminals with 2 KB RAM and little more. The concepts of security and privacy are there already - and they work adequately.

On the other side of the fence, what with all the compromises Dave Cutler had to admit to, Microsoft are still peddling an endemically unsafe system onto the Internet with no thought of - and no hope for - basic security and privacy. It simply can't be done.

Microsoft spend a lot of time pulling out hair and trying to figure out what to do but at the end of the day their situation is hopeless and they know it. First that monster known as SP2 and now this complete upgrade successively break things and in general make the systems more and more unusable. As the basic architecture for real security and privacy is simply not there, Microsoft are forced to sacrifice the one asset remaining: usability. And with their latest release things are really hurting.

Microsoft boxes still crash, hang, and BSOD; forty years ago the mainframes that ruled the world - and in some places like Los Alamos and Fort Meade still rule - never crashed, hung, or anything like that. Neither could Cutler's VMS do that. And neither can Apple's OS X do that. Those are all 'server' operating systems and they are built in a completely different way.

Microsoft may have the market share on the desktop but they're the odd man out and they know it. Google run Unix; Apple run Unix; over 70% of all servers on the web run Unix; it's all Unix - except for Microsoft.

And those Unix boxes at Google and Apple aren't exactly getting hacked all the time; there are no worm outbreaks on GOOS or OS X; there are no compromises of the world's Unix web servers; it's just not going to happen. Security was there when those systems were designed.

With Microsoft it's never going to really stop because security wasn't there back then - it wasn't even a consideration. Because back when that basic architecture was dreamed up there was no one dreaming any further: no one ever thought - or suspected - those wee boxes would someday be connected and have to behave as professionally as the mainframes and minis.

Planet Earth: Present Day

The new 'Get a Mac' ads: they're hilarious. More and more they're hitting home at the salient points of the discussion. Bill Gates will refuse to understand just as he's previously refused to believe anyone ever found a bug in his software and would pay for an upgrade to get rid of it. But the ads are spot on.

Apple and OS X are making inroads into the corporate marketplace. Anything a paraplegic Windows box can do today an Apple box can do better. It's that simple. And the ads point that out dramatically.

Planet Earth: Tomorrow

The NeXT system Steve Jobs brought back to Cupertino was secure - but more: it was a 'player'. It interfaced with every conceivable system out there. With all the database systems. Even with Windows and MacOS.

And OS X continues to do that today. OS X can run blazingly in a Windows environment; it can understand David Cutler's access control lists; it can accomplish Windows shares; and so forth. OS X too is a player.

But OS X is more: it's also the only true symbiosis between developer and end user. It's the only system ever seen that puts graphical program development in its proper context. It builds bridges where Microsoft technologies burn them. And of vital importance: it slashes development times by as much as 80%.

It's not going to be long before IT houses everywhere begin to realise their potential return on investment for OS X application development. They get their software to production and the marketplace in a fraction of the time they're used to wasting. And those products run securely and reliably. That bottom line's easy to read and more corporate boardrooms are reading it.

Yes it's definitely tough being Bill Gates today. Outflanked on all sides; ready to retire to his St Helena for a relaxing game of solitaire; watching the empire he created crumble about him. He really wanted to be in on the next big computer era he outlined in that book he coauthored over ten years ago; but ten years is a long time. And as far as time goes Bill's had his - and no two ways about it: it's finally coming.

The world is moving inexorably towards use of a new commodity: Unix. Unix on the servers and on the web and on the desktop, the laptop, the corporate workplace, the kitchen table. Everyone's building on Unix. It's secure; it takes the Internet out of these foundling 'Windows years'; it builds for the future.

And more and more enterprises see the benefits of not only running Unix but of running Apple's OS X on top of it. And when that day comes...

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