Sun Pats Rump SCO – Tarantella Cashes Out After Lots of Agony

A teeny tiny acquisition announcement brought back a lot of memories today.

Remember Santa Cruz Operation – no, not the SCO you read about fighting IBM and Novell, but the “old SCO”? Bob Greenberg and friends did a very brain-damaged version of Unix for the PC (originally derived from Version 7 and System 3) way back in the dark ages. Bob had done a Version 6 Unix derivative for the RAND Corporation called BobG Unix. The group was spun (thrown? or maybe walked?) out of Microsoft because Microsoft really didn’t want a Unix system if it wasn’t written in BASIC.

In 1982, Intel offered Symmetric Computer Systems CEO and Founder William Jolitz a great deal on 286 processors when he was deciding on processor bids to use in their new workstation funded by Technology Funding Partners (Symmetric’s lead venture firm). There were lots of problems with the 286 and Unix: 1) the instructions were not restartable, so if the operation could not complete (like memory wasn’t loaded) you could not reliably reload the instruction (there were steppings that supposedly could, but you never knew what you’d get), 2) the only way the address space was made large was by the reloading of segments – we’d encountered this problem before with the PDP-11 (William Jolitz work as an undergrad was on overlays for the PDP-11, so he was very familiar with this problem) – performance goes to hell when you move data from overlapping 64 kbyte segments to other segments, with all bets off when you hit an exception during that time, and 3) the calls within the segment and intrasegment calls made for variable sized stack frames, and the way Intel, Microsoft and others agreed on stack frame layout required a major rewrite in Unix – ironically, this made it difficult for early Windows programs derived from DOS as well. From these issues, we knew 286 Unix would never be a successful product, because there were too many compromises to move too many software packages from architectures like the VAX to it. SCO went ahead and made a Xenix based on the 286 – took them three years and a lot of work – and it was still a disappointment.

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