How BSD was built, and how it lost the lead to Linux

Also in today's open source roundup: Is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS the best version of Ubuntu yet? And are modular Android phones just a gimmick?

How BSD was built, and how it lost the lead to Linux
Credit: Thinkstock

How BSD was built and how it lost the lead to Linux

BSD has been eclipsed by the popularity of Linux over the years. But how did BSD get started? And why did Linux overtake and surpass it? Salon has a detailed article that charts the creation of BSD, and why it eventually lost out to Linux.

Andrew Leonard reports for Salon:

During his seven years at Berkeley, Joy and a few other graduate students and staff researchers spearheaded an intensive software development effort that culminated, most famously, in a radically improved version of AT&T's Unix, known simply as Berkeley Unix or, more commonly, as BSD,* for Berkeley Software Distribution.

Berkeley Unix has morphed through multiple phase shifts since its inception some 20 years ago, from the Joy-dominated era of the late '70s and early '80s to the more collaborative period that began after Joy's departure to Sun in 1982. But in the early '90s, after a bitter confrontation with AT&T, BSD finally did become "freely redistributable," and descendants of BSD — led by FreeBSD,* but also including OpenBSD* and NetBSD* — are vigorous participants in the contemporary battle for operating-system supremacy. Yahoo, arguably the world's busiest Web site, runs on FreeBSD.

And yet, despite its proud heritage, BSD's current status doesn't quite match up to its early fame. A victim of schisms within its own developer community, bruised by the battle with AT&T and wounded by the defection of Joy to Sun, BSD is currently a small player, especially as compared with Linux. Linux-based operating systems have seized the public imagination.

BSD patriots argue that the battle is far from over, that BSD is technically superior and will therefore win in the end. That's for the future to determine. What's indisputable is BSD's contribution in the past. Even if, by 1975, Berkeley's Free Speech Movement was a relic belonging to a fast-fading generation, on the fourth floor of Evans Hall, where Joy shared an office, the free-software movement was just beginning.

More at Salon

Is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS the best version of Ubuntu yet?

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS was released recently, and many users are wondering what it has to offer and if it's worth using. A writer at Ars Technica has a helpful overview of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and notes that it might be one of Canonical's most exciting releases in a long time. Is it the best version of Ubuntu yet?

Scott Gilbertson reports for Ars Technica:

A disappointing trend has become clear to Linux users in recent years. Whenever Canonical offers a new Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) release, it tends to be conservative in nature. (See our Ubuntu 14.04 review, which earned a "Missing the boat on big changes" headline.) Apparently no one wants to try to support a brand new, potentially buggy piece of code for half a decade.

The last few Ubuntu releases haven't been LTS rollouts, yet Vivid Vervet (15.04) and Wily Werewolf (15.10) also short-changed users in the way of new features. So when Canonical officially released the latest Ubuntu LTS version (Ubuntu 16.04 or Xenial Xerus) this spring, similar expectations loomed. Frankly, this could potentially be the most boring Ubuntu release to date.

Thankfully, perception hasn't matched reality this time around for Ubuntu users. Ubuntu 16.04 is in fact the most exciting release Canonical has put out in recent memory. And after using it for the last few weeks, this may even be the best release Canonical has presented to date.

…16.04 largely focuses on improvement to the desktop. But perhaps the biggest change comes from Ubuntu's experience on the server-side, namely the container packaging system Canonical calls Snap packages. The result is that, for the first time in a long time, Ubuntu's desktop release feels like an actual release rather than something the organization feels obligated to push out every six months.

More at Ars Technica

Are modular Android phones just a gimmick?

Modular Android smartphones seem to be all the rage among manufacturers lately. But are they really just a gimmick designed to sell users accessories? A writer at Android Police recently examined this issue and came away with a rather negative take on it.

David Ruddock reports for Android Police:

There is nothing especially groundbreaking about these "modular" concepts, they don't utilize any particularly exotic or recent technology in their basic premise, and stuff like smartphone speaker cases are categorically not new. They're also not especially popular because, it turns out, the moment you tell people adding a loudspeaker to their smartphone is going to cost $100, they're no longer interested in the idea. Surprise!

And that's what modular designs like the G5 and now the upcoming Moto X really are about at their core: money. This is about companies attempting to upsell you accessories, not make your smartphone better. And it is important to recognize this, because there is a difference between "trying something new to see if it makes our products better" and "trying something new primarily because we think it's going to fix our products' awful profit margins." The takes on modular we are seeing so far are categorically, unambiguously the latter.

The fact that Motorola (Lenovo) has apparently focused on the modularity aspect so intently as to make the flagship Snapdragon 820 Moto X ultra-thin to the point that it will have a smaller battery than an iPhone 6S Plus (an alleged 2600mAh vs the iPhone's 2750mAh) seems borderline foolish, and unfriendly to customers who don't want to spend more money just to get acceptable battery life from their smartphone. You'll likely be able to buy the cheaper Snapdragon 625 version of the phone with its larger 3500mAh battery, but you're basically being asked to skimp on the processor if you want the better battery out of the box. And neither phone appears to have dual front-facing speakers this time around - if you want better sound, you'll have to buy the speaker module. I hope the "cash grab" narrative is starting to come into focus here.

How long the modular gimmick will last remains to be seen, though given that it's just getting started, it may well be another year or two before we escape this unimaginative, uninteresting - if sometimes humorous - portion of smartphone history.

More at Android Police

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