UNIX Haters Handbook Anti-Foreword by Dennis Ritchie

From: dmr@plan9.research.att.com
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 1994 00:38:07 EST
Subject: anti-foreword

To the contributers to this book:

I have succumbed to the temptation you offered in your preface: I do
write you off as envious malcontents and romantic keepers of memo-
ries. The systems you remember so fondly (TOPS-20, ITS, Multics,
Lisp Machine, Cedar/Mesa, the Dorado) are not just out to pasture,
they are fertilizing it from below.

Your judgments are not keen, they are intoxicated by metaphor. In
the Preface you suffer first from heat, lice, and malnourishment, then
become prisoners in a Gulag. In Chapter 1 you are in turn infected by
a virus, racked by drug addiction, and addled by puffiness of the

Yet your prison without coherent design continues to imprison you.
How can this be, if it has no strong places? The rational prisoner
exploits the weak places, creates order from chaos: instead, collec-
tives like the FSF vindicate their jailers by building cells almost
compatible with the existing ones, albeit with more features. The
journalist with three undergraduate degrees from MIT, the researcher
at Microsoft, and the senior scientist at Apple might volunteer a few
words about the regulations of the prisons to which they have been

Your sense of the possible is in no sense pure: sometimes you want
the same thing you have, but wish you had done it yourselves; other
times you want something different, but can’t seem to get people to
use it; sometimes one wonders why you just don’t shut up and tell
people to buy a PC with Windows or a Mac. No Gulag or lice, just a
future whose intellectual tone and interaction style is set by Sonic the
Hedgehog. You claim to seek progress, but you succeed mainly in

Here is my metaphor: your book is a pudding stuffed with apposite
observations, many well-conceived. Like excrement, it contains
enough undigested nuggets of nutrition to sustain life for some. But
it is not a tasty pie: it reeks too much of contempt and of envy.

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