The Quest for a UNIX-like Operating System

Richard Stallman was not the only one with the idea of making a UNIX-like operating system. In fact, in the 1980s the technical superiority of UNIX was widely recognized, so everyone expected it to become the dominant force in the PC market recently created by IBM and its clones.

But that wasn’t happening. Disputes over copyright issues spread among UNIX companies in what became known as the “UNIX wars.” The HURD (the kernel of the GNU project, remember?) was nowhere near finished (even today there is still no stable release). And MS-DOS continued to gain popularity, a Microsoft trend that later intensified with the graphical interface of Windows. As an exception, from the BSD version on, UNIX spawned a little derivative that today, after years of evolution, is giving Microsoft people more than one headache: the Mac OS. That’s right: the sleek operating system from Apple (now in the version Mac OS X) shares a foundation with Linux as a UNIX like operating system. 1

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a computer science professor named Andrew Tanenbaum was writing a classic book called Operating Systems: Design and Implementation. He decided that for it to be more didactic, the book should be accompanied by a complete operating system, including its source code. The result of this work was MINIX, short for “minimal UNIX.” It was developed for compatibility with the IBM PC models available at the time and included a kernel (the core of the OS, remember), amemory manager, and a file system—pretty much the most important components of any OS.