I guess, unlike most people, I have been touched by Ritchie much more than by Jobs. I have never owned a Mac or an iPhone, and regretted buying an iPod as soon as I realised there was no way to bypass the iTunes straitjacket. iPod generation 4 worked with the gtkPod application on my Ubuntu desktop, but generation 5 corrected that shocking oversight, and the Apple empire, with a sigh of relief, regained its pristine purity, shutting out the great unwashed once more. That ended my dalliance with Jobs and his closed system. I don't fancy handcuffs even when they're haute mode.
The popular web article "The Last Dinosaur and The Tarpits of Doom" has a matchless passage describing the world at the time of Unix's birth.
In 1970, primitive proprietary operating systems bestrode the landscape like mighty dinosaurs: Prime's PrimeOS, DEC's RSTS, RT-11, etc. (with VAX/VMS soon to come), IBM's innumerable offerings, CDC's Scope and of course dominating the scientific workstation market, Apollo's Domain.
Who would then have dared to predict the fall of such giants?
What force could topple such entrenched operating systems, backed by massive industry investment, hacker culture and customer loyalty?
Today, of course, we all know the answer:
In 1975 Bell Labs released Unix.
- Unix had no support from its creator, AT&T: Buy the magtape and don't call us. (AT&T was legally barred from entering the operating system market.)
- Unix had no support from any existing vendor: None had the slightest interest in backing, supporting or developing an alternative to its proprietary operating systems offerings.
- Unix had zero customer base: Nobody had ever heard of it, nobody was requesting it.
- Unix had zero marketing: Nobody had any reason to spend money building mindshare for it.
A one-sided competition?
Decidedly: Unix wiped all workstation competition off the map in less than fifteen years.
On April 12, 1989, HP bought up Apollo at a fire-sale price, putting out of its misery the last remaining proprietary operating system vendor in the workstation world, and the workstation proprietary OS era was over: Unix was left alone in the workstation market.
In fifteen years, a [magnetic] tape and an idea had effectively destroyed all opposition: Every workstation vendor was either supporting Unix or out of business.
The see-and-point principle states that users interact with the computer by pointing at the objects they can see on the screen. It's as if we have thrown away a million years of evolution, lost our facility with expressive language, and been reduced to pointing at objects in the immediate environment. Mouse buttons and modifier keys give us a vocabulary equivalent to a few different grunts. We have lost all the power of language, and can no longer talk about objects that are not immediately visible (all files more than one week old), objects that don't exist yet (future messages from my boss), or unknown objects (any guides to restaurants in Boston).