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The Cautionary Tale of Plan 9
1999-10-19 12:05:45


Software Jihad
 
I pledge upon the altar of Spock eternal hostility against every form of tyrrany over the mind of man.
-- Tjames Madison

 

So, back in the day, this great group of uberscientists at Bell Labs (AKA Lucent Technologies) was working on this supergreat new operating system. It was supergreat, really. But it literally went to fucking hell.

The deal is this: back in the early 90s, Lucent poured a lot of dollars into this great new OS, Plan 9. Few people realize that the OSes we are using now are THIRTY-YEAR-OLD technologies. They're based on the way that people thought computers should run when the damn things were 40-FEET-TALL and used CLAY TABLETS for I/O. In other words, they're metaphor-broken.

Plan 9 wasn't like that. It had great superfantastic networkability and pioneered some cool ideas -- it's underlying network mechanism foreshadowed the "spaces" programming concept that's getting real hot now.

The cool thing about Plan 9 is that Lucent released free copies to universities for folks to play with. It captured a lot of imaginations, since it was an easy transition from UNIX without all of UNIX's various loads and hassles. Lots of people loved it. Perl runs on Plan 9, for god's sake. People would argue endlessly about how Plan 9 was infinitely superior to other nascent OSes of the time... like Linux, for example. And they WON those arguments, because TECHNICALLY the software was better.

And THEN -- and THEN -- Lucent did the stupid thing. They did the really, really stupid thing. THEY SHUT DOWN THE CODE. They forbid people from accessing Plan 9 for free. They decided they'd take their teeny-weeny team of uberscientists and build the goddamn thing theirselves, without the help of the outside community.

To symbolize their deal with the closed-development devil, they even took away the cool Ed Wood-inspired name and replaced it with... INFERNO. They launched this horrible thing at a big tent on the Embarcadero in 1997 -- lots of klieg lights and dancing girls and stuff like that. And it went DOWN, DOWN, DOWN like a lead balloon.

Their core market -- the hacker community, the academic community, their evangelists, their champions -- didn't want to champion this closed OS that belonged to someone else. They wanted to use an OS that belonged to them, to everyone. And they ran away from Plan 9 and Inferno in droves. DROVES, like RATS! Hackers scurrying like marmots over the sides of cliffs to get away from Inferno.

Now, this really great idea is dead. Dead, dead, dead! Look at this site I'm linking to! It's HORRIBLE! I think they made this big left turn in 1998 or something because Inferno was going nowhere, and they wanted to put it in EMBEDDED DEVICES. That's the sign of DEATH, DEATH, DEATH for an OS. It's the last-ditch effort of the insane -- like shipwreck survivors who drink their own urine.

So Linux -- 1970s metaphor notwithstanding -- is charging like a LUST-MADDENED BULL through the computing world. And Plan 9 begins its long and painful trudge into the Museum of Retrocomputing. Let this be a lesson to you, people! Don't open stuff up and then close it down again! Or you'll spend the rest of your life making technology that helps people make up fake names and addresses, like Lucent does now. BBBBOOOOOOOO!!!! Beware!

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

kunst@pigdog.org


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