OT: Berkeley's FIRST desktop!

WARNING - Wall Of Text with historical trivia about Berkeley’s involvement with the first modern desktop. Long before Gates and Jobs.

NomadBSD’s excellent FreeBSD desktop got me thinking about history like no other system has done before. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know, but here goes:

For some, the “desktop” as we know it only goes back to Apple seeing the promise of what was shown at Xerox PARC with their Alto and bringing out the Macintosh. Gates’ Windows followed. Of course *nix windowing was in the mix too. Lets not forget Gary Kildall’s GEM environment, and a host of others. (I could go on about the street-level uP computing about that, but not here.)

Perhaps all you know is the classic “Mother Of All Demo’s”, from SRI:

Pretty well-known, but many historians leave out Berkeley, or only make short mention of it in footnotes. I think they deserve a bit more credit!

Timesharing and the SDS940 computer:
Well, we should know that of course Ken Thompson of ATT research fame worked on what was called the BTS or Berkeley Timesharing System prior to being recruited by ATT. But it takes a team, all too forgotten. (such as L. Peter Deutsch, Butler Lampson, and Charles P. Thacker)

Probably the most important document comes from Berkeley itself, and those interested should probably take a look at it lest it get lost:

Here you’ll find the details that give attribution to more of the team.

So, in it you’ll find that BSDi wasn’t Berkeley’s first attempt at a computer company. Welcome the BCC, Berkeley Computer Company! Unfortunately that didn’t last.

Guess who picked up some of these luminaries? Xerox, who purchased the SDS minicomputer company. Oh, and created a kind-of west-coast version of ATT research - Xerox Parc.

Which of course produced the Alto, but eventually Xerox didn’t make it in the computer market.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that part of what Steve Jobs got excited about (totally ignoring ethernet networking!), was the interface. The initial metaphor being created by a team with Berkeley scientists (among others nabbed from elsewhere - see the article), who helped bring Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 vision from the SDS/XDS 940 to what we more or less recognize today as a personal, networked computer.

OH, and social networking? Ask L Peter Deutsch (who did much more than just Ghostscript!) who helped bring up the SDS940 for the Community Memory project, where the actual computer was residing at a place called Resource 1:

So let it never be said that FreeBSD (and NomadBSD in particular) are not good for desktops. Berkeley had a LARGE part in what you are staring at right this very minute.

So thanks go to them. And of course the current devs at NomadBSD.


Six degrees from Berkeley (spinoff from the six-degrees-from-Kevin Bacon game)

You know Ken Thompson’s first exposure to computers was a “personal computer”, known as the Bendix G15, AND that it was designed by Harry Huskey while at Berkeley! Or so I’m told.

It was also an example machine that the PCC (Peoples Computer Company) in the early 70’s warned schools and others NOT to get, since by then they were mostly junk and many peddlers of junk tried to get them into schools where the CS dept (such as they were) were naive and got burned. Sharks were around then too.

That was a time when in the early years before the more “reliable” kit/pre-built computers using microprocessors, the PCC was advising people on the costs of timesharing, how to bid for machines like a commercial outfit does without getting ripped off. Heh, 2 years later the uP made all that obsolete.

What is not mentioned much in computing history articles was the need for a maintenance contract to go along with your mini. You had to. Uptimes were short - well, compared to today! :slight_smile:

At a minimum, every 3 to 6 months a rep would be coming around to fix blown chips, mechanical failures et. Nevermind software issues.

Anyway, I’ll stop for now. I just found it interesting that despite fantastic scientists all around, for some reason, all roads seem to lead towards Berkeley in one way or another. :slight_smile: