Wandering Thoughts archives


Is it particularly useful to have old Unix source sitting around?

Over the years, the university collectively has acquired and accumulated quite a lot of Unix source code (by this I mean the copyright-restricted stuff from Unix vendors). We came by this source code not through any large deliberate action but instead because for a long time it was routine for us to ask vendors for system source and for vendors to give it to us for a nominal sum. In the early days people made significant use of the source code, modifying it to fix bugs and customize things that we needed; in later days this source code became more and more mostly for curiosity and due to habit.

(Partly this was because we no longer needed to change things so much, partly it was because open source tools got better, and partly it was because Unix itself got more modular through things like PAM.)

This source code never been centralized or centrally tracked; instead it's spread out all across the university in various different groups. As I sort of mentioned in an earlier entry, every so often some of it gets lost because a group throws away some ancient stuff (either explicitly or just by never migrating the data from an old system that they then turn off). After writing that earlier entry I found myself wondering if it would be worthwhile to change this a bit, for example by just by polling the university's sysadmins so we can all get an idea of what historical Unix source code we collectively still have.

But this raises a question: is this stuff actually useful or important? If it's not then there's no real point in going through the effort to catalog or collect it (and it's difficult to feel enthused about doing the work).

My reluctant conclusion is that it isn't. If the Unix Heritage Society didn't exist, some of what we have would be of possible general (internal) interest, but TUHS already has things like V7 and the 4.x BSD source. Beyond that, I just can't think of any use beyond extremely rare curiosity (and the related rare use of settling obscure arguments). None of this source code is for anything even close to a live system and the days when people looked at vendor Unix source to learn from it are long over; there are much better options now.

(It's possible that I'd enjoy having a collection of Unix source around enough to justify doing the work, but it's a hard sell even to myself. The reality is that I barely look at this stuff and I'm not certain I've ever written a blog entry that actually depended on it.)

Part of me finds this a bit sad, because there was a day when all of this vendor Unix source was a big deal and it was thrilling and exciting to have access to it. But such is the passage of time.

unix/OldUnixSourceThoughts written at 14:47:32; Add Comment

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