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Unix

If UNIX Were a Religion 392

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the gnu-slash-heretic dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Charles Stross has written a very clever article where he describes the religious metaphor he uses with non-technical folks to explain the relationship between Mac OS X and UNIX. There is one true religion in operating systems says Stross and it is UNIX although there's also an earlier, older, more arcane religion with far fewer followers, MULTICS, from which UNIX sprang as a stripped-down rules-deficient heresy. If MULTICS is Judaism then UNIX is Christianity. By the mid-1970s there were two main sects: AT&T UNIX, which we may liken unto the Roman Catholic Church, and BSD UNIX, which we may approximate to the Orthodox Churches. In an attempt to control the schisms, the faithful defined a common interoperating subset of the one true religion that all could agree on—the Nicene Creed of UNIX which is probably POSIX. Stross says that today the biggest church in the whole of UNIX is Mac OS X, which rests on the bedrock of Orthodox BSD but "has added an incredible, towering superstructure of fiercely guarded APIs and proprietary user interface stuff that renders it all but unrecognizable to followers of the Catholic AT&T path." But lo, in the late 1980s, UNIX succumbed to the sins of venality, demanding too much money from the faithful and so, in 1991 Linus Torvalds nailed his famous source code release to the cathedral door and kicked off the Reformation. 'The Linux wars were brutal and unforgiving and Linux itself splintered into a myriad of fractious Protestant churches, from the Red Hat wearing Lutherans to the Ubuntu Baptists.' More recently, a deviant faith has sprung from Linux. 'Android is the Church of Latter Day Saints of UNIX: hard-working, sober, evangelizing the public, and growing at a ferocious rate. There are some strange fundamentalist Mormon Android churches living in walled communities under the banners of Samsung and Amazon, but for the most part the prosperous worship at the Church of Google.' Stross notes that as with all religion, those sects with most in common are the ones who hold the most vicious grudges against one another. 'Is that clear?'"
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If UNIX Were a Religion

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  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:09AM (#45827199) Journal

    If it was a religion? if???

    I didn't realise this was up for a debate about this.

    Now I'm going to fetch my copy of the old testament (ANSI version) and read a few verses.

    • by Attila the Bun (952109) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @08:21AM (#45827711)

      It's only a metaphor, but holds surprisingly well. Worryingly well. So well that we, if we claim to be modern enlightened people, should have some kind of response.

      But what? Switching operating systems - like switching religions - involves a lot of work if you do it properly. Unlike religion it is possible to "worship" two or more OSes, but many people find that an inefficient way to work. So how can we avoid unwarranted faith in our way of doing things, fighting between neighbouring factions, and all the other destructive forces that religions suffer from?

      The Linux kernel does a good job of holding all the myriad Linuxes together: all need the kernel to evolve and improve, but none can afford to implement those changes alone. Android and iOS have opened peoples eyes to other ways of interacting with computers and rendered the Windows-Mac conflict less important.

      Technology evolves, preventing us from stagnating and developing unchangeable "holy" rules. It's a natural human tendency to break into tribal factions, but it seems that technological progress puts a damper on this, forcing us to widen our horizons and helping us to work together. Suddenly progress seems more important than ever.

      • by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @09:00AM (#45827899)

        I'm a Unitarian, but I'm a lapsed Unitarian. So while I respect and learn about all operating systems, I secretly use a Mac and respect it slightly more. And since leaving the forced attendance at the Church of Microsoft I endured as a young businessman, I make snide remarks about it's adherence to the Registry which I believe only serves to corrupt it after a year.

        • by xenoc_1 (140817)

          I'm a Unitarian, but I'm a lapsed Unitarian.

          I'm not sure it's even possible to be a "lapsed Unitarian". Considering that there are UU-Pagan, UU-Taoist, UU-Jew, UU-Humanist, UU-Buddhist, UU-Hindu, UU-Confucian, UU-Animist, UU-Islam "fellowships" within the Unitarian-Universalist Society, there probably is a UU-Lapsed-UU official group too.

          Which makes you (and me) still Unitarians!

          But I still had MacOS9 running until late last year, on a purple-bubble iMac, with Windows 98 on it via pre-MSFT-VirtualPC, so I'm a heretical one.

          • No I'm a "lapsed" Unitarian because I've given up on impartiality. I secretly don't admire and respect all religions because I think that they are dangerous oily cloths that we throw in the garage and if we ignore them for long, they just build up heat and ignite.

            In other words; Letting people follow their own groove no matter how ignorant, eventually bites us all on the rear.

            So a "lapsed" Unitarian is someone who is intolerant. I accept that. I'm like Unitarian Judas. "Today, one of you will betray me, and

      • by hawkinspeter (831501) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @09:23AM (#45828029)
        A master was explaining the nature of Tao to one of his novices. "The Tao is embodied in all software - regardless of how insignificant," said the master.

        "Is the Tao in a hand-held calculator?" asked the novice.

        "It is," came the reply.

        "Is the Tao in a video game?" continued the novice.

        "It is even in a video game," said the master.

        "And is the Tao also in Windows 8.1?"

        The master coughed and shifted his position slightly. "The lesson is over for today," he said.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo @ w orld3.net> on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @10:27AM (#45828445) Homepage

        The Japanese are mostly participants in two religions: Shinto and Buddhism. They complement each other well. Most people have a Shinto birth ceremony, a Shinto marriage ceremony (but with a separate western style wedding too), and a Buddhist funeral.

        I think it's possible to use several operating systems like this. Android when you want to browser the news on your phone, Linux for your router and file server, BSD to host your web site, Windows for gaming and the day job.

      • Unlike religion it is possible to "worship" two or more OSes, In ancient times it was no problem to worship several gods, even from different pantheons.

        However I find it pretty disturbing that scientists now use religions as analogies.
        Or well it is also geeky, I remember a few fantasy RPGs that involve "religions".

      • Unlike religion it is possible to "worship" two or more OSes

        It's possible with religion too, if you're a polytheist.

      • They even have their own mythology: DOS. Something which nobody really believes in any more but which you see cultural references to.

        Unlike religion it is possible to "worship" two or more OSes

        Ah but at a fundamental level you can only have one endianess at a time and, unless you return to the source, it's hard to switch!

    • by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @08:31AM (#45827753)

      I'd say I like the analogy to LINUX as Protestant splintering from the church of AT&T, though I'm wondering why nobody brought up that BeOS splintered with more forward looking features and ended up being led by a homicidal albino bent on mayhem.

      We took a rancorous subject where people just argue, and we added religious debate to it, just in case someone wasn't going to get their jammies in a wad. We should also add in that Windows doesn't believe in Global Warming, and Al Gore prefers the Mac. Glenn Beck is out in a hidden location somewhere in the Utah desert right now preaching Ubuntu to rebellious children waiting for the end times.

      I don't however, see much use in these analogies, because they detract from the much better "If an Operating System Drove Your Car" metaphor; http://www.computerjokes.net/027.asp [computerjokes.net]

    • by portwojc (201398)

      Text editors perhaps would be saints.

      http://www.gnu.org/fun/jokes/ed-msg.html

    • by hawkinspeter (831501) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @09:14AM (#45827969)
      Master Foo Discourses on the Unix-Nature

      A student said to Master Foo: "We are told that the firm called SCO holds true dominion over Unix."

      Master Foo nodded.

      The student continued, "Yet we are also told that the firm called OpenGroup also holds true dominion over Unix."

      Master Foo nodded.

      "How can this be?" asked the student.

      Master Foo replied:

      "SCO indeed has dominion over the code of Unix, but the code of Unix is not Unix. OpenGroup indeed has dominion over the name of Unix, but the name of Unix is not Unix."

      "What, then, is the Unix-nature?" asked the student.

      Master Foo replied:

      "Not code. Not name. Not mind. Not things. Always changing, yet never changing."

      "The Unix-nature is simple and empty. Because it is simple and empty, it is more powerful than a typhoon."

      "Moving in accordance with the law of nature, it unfolds inexorably in the minds of programmers, assimilating designs to its own nature. All software that would compete with it must become like to it; empty, empty, profoundly empty, perfectly void, hail!"

      Upon hearing this, the student was enlightened.
    • In the beginning, God created the one and the zero...

    • by OakDragon (885217)
      You think Young Earth Creationism is extreme? UNIX adherents believe the Earth is only 44 years old!
  • Sgh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:13AM (#45827207)

    Oh lookie, a navel-gazing extended, tortured analogy, and even worse, an unfunny to say nothing of uninsightful one.

  • by AHuxley (892839)
    What would BeOS and Haiku be listed as? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BeOS [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku_(operating_system) [wikipedia.org]
    • by Geeky (90998) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:34AM (#45827289)

      Hinduism? Shinto?

      And what about Windows? Is that Scientology?

      • Re:BeOS? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Zocalo (252965) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:48AM (#45827347) Homepage

        And what about Windows? Is that Scientology?

        A cult that demands its adherents donate increasingly large amounts of money to the "church" and employs dubious legal tactics, manipulation of the media and outright intimidation to keep its opponents and wayward members in check? Yep. Sounds like we have a winner!

        • Re:BeOS? (Score:5, Funny)

          by wbr1 (2538558) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @08:39AM (#45827793)
          As much stuff as Windows had blown up over.the years I am thinking fundamental Islam.
        • So that means Android is either the Unity church that stresses it's openness, but not really because you HAVE TO appreciate feelings as divine messages and nobody is allowed in without leaving behind any notion of going a day without strangers touching them, or Android his Christian Scientist because only re-installs from the one true source can heal you for they don't believe in inoculating against viruses.

      • Sounds about right.

        I want to know which OS would be considered to be buddhism?
      • Considering Microsoft various âoeGet The Factsâ campaigns, more like Scientology mixed with The Nation of Islam [wikipedia.org]
        • Since 2010, under Farrakhan, members have been strongly encouraged to study Dianetics, and the Nation currently claims it has trained 1055 Auditors.[10]

          What the fuck?

      • by unixisc (2429386)
        Shintoism could be OpenVMS. Hinduism could be the entire collection of IBM OSs that were all over the place in the 80s & 90s.
        • by dwywit (1109409)

          OS400 !=Hinduism

          Reminds me of "Wings of OS/400" and the other OS iterations from:
          http://www.eecis.udel.edu/~zurawski/humor/new_os_air.html [udel.edu]

          • by unixisc (2429386)
            IBM had plenty of OSs - OS/400, MVS and so on. Each could be equivalent to a Hindu sect/deity. Maybe w/ the exception of AIX, which, being Unix, would fall under the Christian umbrella above.
            • That's not an unreasonable comparison... a growing number of Hindus actually believe that the many gods of Hinduism are all aspects of a single god, and there are even some who practice a sort of mixed bag where, nominally, they're Hindu and celebrate Hindu festivals like Diwali, but are also Christian, and celebrate Christian festivals like Christmas.

      • by Sique (173459)
        Windows is the Caliphate of Microsoft (at least in TFA).
      • by Soluzar (1957050)
        I don't think BeOS was ever a sufficiently major player to be compared to Hinduism. The place it holds when compared to other religions would rightfully bear comparison to something of a comparable age and importance to UNIX. I'm not sure what if anything fits that particular description. Possibly something from the IBM Mainframes. BeOS was very nice and very clever in the way it did things, but it is a recent development and achieved only a limited user base. Since it used some GNU tools, I think you coul
      • Re:BeOS? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by squiggleslash (241428) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @11:44AM (#45829141) Homepage Journal

        Scientology? That one's easy.

        - Requires large amounts of money to spent to stay within the faith
        - Founder, now dead, revered by followers
        - People rarely encounter this as their first religion, but when they switch to it, they can't shut up about it.
        - Largely a rehash of pre-existing stuff, presented in a new way (in this case, pulp science fiction presented as a religion)

        Mac OS X. We have a winner.

  • I guess that explains why I always feel the urge to do a security audit before Yom Kippur.
  • I guess Arch Linux (my current OS of choice) doesn't fit in this ungodly mess of doctrines, with the gluttonous pacman and all.

  • by tomxor (2379126) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:22AM (#45827237)

    But lo, in the late 1980s, UNIX succumbed to the sins of venality, demanding too much money from the faithful and so, in 1991 Linus Torvalds nailed his famous source code release to the cathedral door and kicked off the Reformation.

    It was Andrew Tanenbaum who showed the initiative to create a UNIX compatible royalty free OS for the purpose of teaching, Torvalds Linux is surely a derivative of that initiative if not a direct derivative of the Minix book which inspired him. Torvalds deserves a lot of credit for Linux but i think Tanenbaum deserves to have the credit for enabling so many people to learn about UNIX like systems without paying absurd amounts to AT&T.

    • by Bruce66423 (1678196) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:49AM (#45827355)
      Whilst Torvalds is Calvin - the one who pulled the logic of the previous reformers together to create a complete system.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Megane (129182)
        Indeed. Martin Luther knew what he was doing, but Linus was just playing around with making a kernel go ABABABAB and then suddenly people went nuts over it. Linus is no Martin Luther.
        • by dbIII (701233)
          Of course not. It's a very loose analogy. Maybe a two fisted analogy if it can just find that link that was popular on the net some time ago ....
        • by jedidiah (1196)

          Some say that Martin Luther didn't know what he was doing either. He posts some intellectual ramblings on his local bulletin board and suddenly he has a full scale revolution on his hands.

          Linus merely tapped into the zeitgeist. The path as already prepared for him by GNU. You could probably say the same of Luther.

    • I bougth a copy of Tannenbaum's book (still have it), but could not afford the mag tape. Free it was not!

      Bon't forget VMS (Ptrobably an off-shoot of Druidism) or RSX (modern form of Nerthe).

      CPM anyone?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        My C Teacher, had the tape, and offered that if any one bought the book, he would dupe the tape for us.
        Well, it took almost 3 months for the unix bookstore to get a copy in, so me and my roommate both bought
        the book, and my teacher duped the mag tape. we got another teacher to dump the tape to 6 floppies,
        and we started playing around with it in earnest, crashing compilers, and generally having a hell of a time trying to make
        it work, and got a lot of hints off a programmers bbs, until less than 4 months late

    • by thue (121682) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @07:40AM (#45827565) Homepage

      Minix was explicitly considered a toy operating system by Andrew Tanenbaum, who refused to accept patches to add functionality because the complexity would have made Minix less suited as a teaching tool.

      • Minix is an ensigns training ship. The Navy doesn't put the latest guns on an ensigns training ship, because it's purpose is not to sail out into battle.

    • But lo, in the late 1980s, UNIX succumbed to the sins of venality, demanding too much money from the faithful and so, in 1991 Linus Torvalds nailed his famous source code release to the cathedral door and kicked off the Reformation.

      It was Andrew Tanenbaum who showed the initiative to create a UNIX compatible royalty free OS for the purpose of teaching, Torvalds Linux is surely a derivative of that initiative if not a direct derivative of the Minix book which inspired him. Torvalds deserves a lot of credit for Linux but i think Tanenbaum deserves to have the credit for enabling so many people to learn about UNIX like systems without paying absurd amounts to AT&T.

      Allowing for some confusion here, Unix was "free" to universities, but that obviously meant that it was less accessible to those without a suitable academic connection.

      Minix likewise wasn't totally free, as Torvalds specifically indicated that the restrictions on Minix were the reason that he developed Linux. Had Minix been more open to him, he would have gone with it.

  • Must be Windows, maybe just the church of windows ME.

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:33AM (#45827285)

    http://blog.aegisub.org/2008/12/if-programming-languages-were-religions.html [aegisub.org]

    The analogy is a logical one, since religion is a form of software.

  • Buddhism? Hinduism? Scientology? Rastafarianism?

    (One can't say Islam, b'cos whereas Islam spread wherever it could, Windows largely refused to leave its x86 home)
  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:38AM (#45827301) Homepage Journal

    Maybe the Westboro Baptist Church...

    And Windows 8 is Scientology.

  • why ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @06:46AM (#45827337) Homepage Journal

    Ok, what's the point of this stressed metaphor? It doesn't make it easier to remember anything, it doesn't help in understanding anything (largely because the various splits, etc. happened for entirely different reasons), it adds a completely unnecessary layer of indirection and, quite honestly, I find the comparison insulting.

    So the point is? Aside from "because we can"? What am I missing that makes this blog-level nonsense frontpage-worthy?

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Re So the point is? I guess every generation reflects back on computer use?
      I always liked Umberto Eco on The Holy War: Mac vs. DOS from 1994
      http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_mac_vs_pc.html [themodernword.com]
      ..."DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic"...
      'To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment."
    • Re:why ? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TuringTest (533084) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @07:12AM (#45827461) Journal

      Of course it will be useless for you if you already have some understanding of the UNIX heritage. As with all metaphors, its value is for people who know very little about the topic, in that it helps them relating the topic to something which they're already familiar with.

      For someone without a previous knowledge in the history of UNIX, the metaphor provides a mental map to navigate intuitively what was perceived as an impenetrable technical mess [levenez.com]. It can provide the idea that there is a heritage of branching from a common origin, a sense of what are the main branches, their relative antiquity and importance.

      Moreover, it's funny and light-hearted. Why does everything has to have a practical purpose?

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      >Ok, what's the point of this stressed metaphor?

      Fun? :-)

      When people meet fun they often forgot that the purpose is to laugh, and being too hard on a person who tries to make you laugh does not benefit that purpose at all. :-)

      If something intended as fun does not seem funny to you the best thing is to ignore it.

    • That it is a slow news day and you will forget all about this really pointless topic tonight while you ring in the new year with popping champagne bottles and a headache January 1st at 7 am.

  • Religion is... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by John Allsup (987)
    Religion is, and has always been, the main way humans self-organise and coordinate on a large scale. Modern civilisation has its advantages, but one drawback is that the rules are too numerous, can only really be understood by experts and is open to abuse by vested interests. Religion also has these shortcomings, but is generally much simpler in nature. We have a few thousand years of religious history to study how that part of human psychology works, and it is not surprising to see religi
  • Didn't read the article, but the summary made me laugh!
  • > the most vicious grudges

    Stross is probably hinting at this Emo Phillips joke:

    http://forum.ship-of-fools.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=print_topic;f=61;t=000011 [ship-of-fools.com]

  • For providing an analogoy that makes the history of ( some ) religions clear to them.

  • Stross notes that as with all religion, those sects with most in common are the ones who hold the most vicious grudges against one another. 'Is that clear?'"

    The "grudges" that most Christian denominations hold against each other, if one can even call them grudges by now, are by and large substantially less the fighting over operating systems by geeks. The Catholics officially regard baptized Protestants as Catholics who are out of communion with Rome. The term is "separated brethren," not "those damn hereti

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Ireland
    • by dbIII (701233)
      I don't know if Stross is an atheist or not but I do know that he was living in London when the IRA were bombing the place motivated by one of the "grudges" you have suggested that he has overstated.
  • It maps quite well to my own path: I started out with Solaris, but seeing how much such Unices dabbled in simony and venality, I "went protestant", and am a hardcore Linux-Calvinist now ( Slackware, Fuduntu, xfce et al. being the grounds of my daily toil.
    • by unixisc (2429386)
      The summary above, while touching on the AT&T vs BSD split, as well as the BSD vs Linux split, glossed over another split that happened in b/w - that of Unix International (Sun & AT&T) vs OSF. OSF, rather than Linux, would be more akin to the earlier Protestant churches, while Linux would be more of the more recent churches, such as the Baptists, Episcopalian, and so on.
  • I'm sure a lot of people will take the android thing as a slight being associated with Mormon, so I'm not sure why he avoided the analogy that the whole thing was begging: Apple as Islam. Someone else said Microsoft as Scientology which was a good one as well.

  • The caliphate of Microsoft? There is no god but Windows and Bill Gates is his prophet?
  • Our OS who art in CPU, UNIX be thy name.
    Thy programs run, thy syscalls done,
    In kernel as it is in user.

    • Give us this time slice our system load, and forgive us for having threads in waiting state as we also wait for other users' threads. And lead our processes not into the page file but deliver us from seg faults.
  • by zerobeat (628744) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @09:35AM (#45828111) Homepage
    Nothing is more trite than comparing the evolution of X to the evolution of Y. But, please, why compare something useful (UNIX) to something useless (Religion)? Its journalistic masturbation. No one enjoys articles like this more than the person who wrote it in the first place.
  • by wcrowe (94389) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:33PM (#45829765)

    I'm a programmer, a former Protestant, and now an Orthodox Clergyman. I found this article to be very entertaining. Now I know why I've always liked BSD and OS X.

    I'm inspired to read one of Charlie Stross' books.

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