Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Where have the Unix geeks gone?

Back when I first got on the Internet in 1991 or so, it seemed like I was the ignoramus. Everybody on the Internet was a Unix expert. People knew how to use finger. Everybody seemed to be familiar socket() and select(). Everybody used tar to backup their personal email. They didn't need personal web sites, and they didn't have trouble sending you a large file: they just ftp'd it to the guest account on your server.

It was easy to tell what your server was, too: if your email address was mrlindse@grits.valdosta.peachnet.edu, everybody knew that your server was called grits.valdosta.peachnet.edu. And it was a Unix machine.

We all knew this because the whole Internet was Unix machines. Yes, you could send email to some Vax/VMS freakshow -- but their email address was all caps, and usually included the name "BITNET". 

I felt guilty because I didn't know much about WAIS. But we all knew how to send email using only telnet, and receive email using only cat. Yeah, those were the days. 

mosaic.gif

Then along came Mosaic.

Mosaic messed it all up. Mosaic made it useful and easy-to-use. Mosaic let you view "world wide web" pages, including graphics! It was like gopher, but with graphics and fewer menus. People like to interview Tim Berners-Lee, but Mark Andreeson  is really the one to blame the web on. Without Mosaic, the web would have been roughly as useful as gopher. Gopher probably never made anybody run out and buy a modem and an extra phone line, but Mosaic definitely did. (Mosaic became Netscape, which ultimately boiled down into Firefox 3, which they say is roughly as fast as Mosaic.)



Eventually, I had a Wyse 50 terminal (picture above) in my bedroom, and used speaker wire to make an RS232 cable running down to my 486sx-50/5MB RAM/105 MB hard drive Linux box. I did school programming projects using gcc and make. You could understand things back then. These days, I don't even know how USB works. Or firewire.

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