history

A brief history of computers and free software: where is the money?

The world of computers has changed. Sub-notebooks are becoming immensely popular, mobile phones based on Google's Android software are about to come out (T-Mobile have just announced their G1 will launch on October 22), and computers are looking increasingly like small devices that fit in our pockets. The end of 2008 might see the dawn of a new revolution in the computer industry and in people's lives. Maybe 2009 will be remembered as the year when the "world went mobile". What does this mean for the (free and non-free) software industry? Where will we be, technologically and (more importantly) culturally? Where will the market (and the money) be?

How to get the best out of the history command in GNU/Linux

Anybody who has used the command line extensively to navigate, understand and configure GNU/Linux will know that in the course of a few months’ work it is possible to build up an extensive history of used commands. This necessitates some pro-active management to get the best out of it. Here are some tips to make the most of the history command.

History of glibc and Linux libc

The “Linux libc” fork of the GNU C Library is now a mostly forgotten event. The fork lived from 1994 to 1997/8—just before my time—but I’ve found interesting accounts of it by others.

The main sources of information are:

Instant GNU/Linux time machine

You never forget your first.

Whether it's your first car, or your first significant other, or your first day of college, they say you never forget your first. That's not always true, of course, but I do remember my first: Softlanding Linux Systems, one of the earliest GNU/Linux distributions, and progenitor of the Slackware distribution. It came on a few dozen floppy images, and took forever to install.

Jump into the Astonishing GNU/Linux Time Machine, and via the magic of qemu and iBiblio, you too can experience the earliest days of GNU/Linux. It'll only take an hour. I'll have you back by supper.

Digital archaeology of the microcomputer, 1974-1994

(Or, how to prevent the Dark Ages of computing through free software)

In a few years time, it will be impossible to study the history of home computers since everything at the time was proprietary; both in terms of the physical hardware, and all the software that ran upon it since most of it is encumbered by software “protection” to prevent copying.

To compound the problem, the hardware is dying (literally) and (being proprietary) can’t be rebuilt in any equivalent manner. In some cases the software is physically disintegrating too since, in the case of many 8-bit micros from the 1980’s, the storage medium was cassette tape; a temperamental mechanism at the time, let alone now. It’s not that no computer innovation took place in the 1980’s, just that none of it will be recorded.

What follows is a ten-point plan outlining the primary issues of digital archaeology, the methods necessary to preserve the legacy, and how free software can lead this endeavour.

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