Linux family tree, version 0.90

September 24th, 2009

The latest version of the Linux family tree can always be found at

Linux family tree v0.90

Earlier in the year, I wrote about local artist Mark Alan Miller and said that Mark and I would be collaborating to create a Linux family tree done in a similar style:

And, so, I’ll be posting a few sketches over the coming days, drawing from my recollection (and a bit of Googling) on the history and lineage of the Linux distros—crowdsourcing, as it were, to make sure our depiction is indeed accurate.

Well, the days^Wweeks^Wmonths got away from me, but I finally got around to finishing the first cut. Here, at last, is the Linux family tree, version 0.90 (Graphviz source). Comments very welcome.

A few notes:

  • This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
  • References are listed at the end of the Graphviz source. In addition to my own recollection, my primary sources were DistroWatch and Wikipedia.
  • I’m probably missing some distros, particularly the newer ones. Mint, Puppy, Sabayon, PCLinuxOS, Arch, Tiny Core, Zenwalk, Vector, and Damn Small are in the top 20 at DistroWatch, but I’m not familiar enough with them to say whether or not they belong here.
  • The branches are not quite depicted right (e.g., the RHAS node is directly connected to the Red Hat node circa 1994, where it should more properly be an offshoot of the Red Hat trunk sometime in 2001/2002). The point here is to show the relationships, and I’ll be working with Mark to make sure the branches are depicted properly.
  • Some branches, of course, are more divergent than others—for example, the S.u.S.E. branch from Slackware was a complete break, whereas Debian and Ubuntu have an ongoing relationship (and Ubuntu and Kubuntu moreso). We’ll be sure to represent these subtleties as well, perhaps with intertwining branches or some such.
  • Altering the Graphviz output is still a bit of a mystery to me (I put in weight=1000 at some points to force straight lines, which seems to work), and while for the most part the graph is displayed as I would have otherwise envisioned it, I couldn’t get Xandros to display as a straight line to save my life. Any suggestions?

Suggestions? Corrections? Criticisms? Reminiscences? Leave them in the comments or drop me an email.

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“It goes to 11″

June 2nd, 2009

I’m reading the news from CommunityOne yesterday, and it seems most people missed what I think was the biggest news: That John Fowler revealed that OpenSolaris 2009.06 is “the preview release of the next major release of Solaris”. (Yes, I and others have suggested this would be the path forward for Solaris—eventually—but this, to my knowledge, is the first time it’s been “official”.)

Full quote:

OpenSolaris 2009.06 is more than just something for early adopters and for technology aficionados—it’s also the preview release for the next major release of Solaris which will go to all of our enterprise customers.

Note that he didn’t say “Solaris 11″. For a variety of reasons, it probably won’t be called “11″. But that’s essentially what this is. “Solaris 11″ will be based on OpenSolaris.

Personally speaking, this is an extremely gratifying moment. Thinking back to my Purdue days, when I lusted after the Sun workstations only the privileged few had access to, I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe that I, in some small way, had a hand in a change to Sun’s OS platform as profound as the move from SunOS to Solaris in the early 1990s. (The real “through the looking glass” moment was when, early on in the Project Indiana days, I went to the Executive Briefing Center to give my pitch—which included a blow by blow of how Sun had dropped the ball—to a big customer, only to walk into the room and see Scott McNealy sitting at the table. He loved it.)

Note: While Project Indiana was indeed a catalyst for big change in Solaris, I get a lot more credit for the resulting change than is deserved, because a lot of the work that ultimately got folded into Project Indiana was already underway when I came along. David Comay had been tirelessly pushing something he called “Solaris Modernization” internally for about a year. Dave Miner and team were nearing completion of Project Caiman, the rewrite of the Solaris installer. Stephen Hahn was prototyping a new package system. One of the first meetings I attended during my first day on Sun’s Menlo Park campus included Bart Smaalders presenting on “dim sum patching” and how major architectural change was needed in Solaris. Etc. So things were already moving in the right direction. They just needed a unifying theme, a name, something people would rally around.

Project Indiana turned out to be that rally point, an umbrella under which to collect the efforts that were already underway (and the impetus to start a few new ones). It was also a unifying vision under which to present the collective whole to the executives whose support was needed. And, probably most importantly, it provided the momentum (once the media got wind of it, thanks to Jonathan) needed to overcome the inertia that had been hindering progress.

When people thank me for Debian, I like to point out that others did the vast majority of the work—or, as I prefer to put it, “I just gave the first push”.

With OpenSolaris, I guess the right way to think about my role is this: “I just gave the last push”.

Both are equally gratifying, in different but subtle ways.

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CommunityOne 2009 on the web

June 1st, 2009

CommunityOne 2009 kicks off at 9am PT. There’ll be an update on the Sun Cloud, a new release of OpenSolaris, and a whole lot more. If you’re not in San Francisco, you can tune in on the web to watch the general session and technical sessions too!

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The question everyone wants answered this week…

June 1st, 2009

Ian Murdock

“What the HELL was on your t-shirt [last year]?”

*I* thought it was obvious, and so did my closest advisers (read: girlfriend and chief of staff). They’ll get it, we thought—after all, I was talking to a room full of geeks..

Yet very few got it. Ok, maybe it was the distance. But even up close, very few got it till I told them what it was. Of the few that got it without me telling them, they got it immediately (I’m very proud of you).

It was fun to hear the guesses though. Many were convinced it was a bloody axe—the real question to them was which company the head was supposed to represent (the most popular guess here was Red Hat).

(My favorite conversation: a moderately (?) inebriated marketing dude chastised me for the “missed branding opportunity”. Even after I told him what it was, he still didn’t get it.)

It’s an AT-AT Walker with an elizabethan collar around its neck, people. Now go have another look.

I never expected what I was wearing to ever be the subject of so much conversation.

Note: I actually wrote this last year but apparently never published it, found it in my drafts folder a few months ago, and thought it would be fun to post it this week. :-) Now get yourself to this year’s CommunityOne, either physically or virtually! -ian


The Economist on cloud computing and open source

May 29th, 2009

The Economist:

Cloud computing—the delivery of processing power over the internet from vast warehouses of shared machines—will further blur the lines between proprietary and open-source software. Most of the firms peddling this model, such as Amazon and Google, use open-source software, since having to pay licensing fees would make the business unprofitable. But their services also rely on code developed in-house, which is not given away free. Microsoft, meanwhile, is building a huge cloud using its own software. If computing becomes a service delivered over the internet, it will hardly matter how the underlying software is developed.

Does this mean that the quest for openness in software is obsolete? On the contrary. If they are not careful, companies and consumers could get locked into a cloud even more tightly than into a piece of software. This is because data residing in the cloud can be hard to move to another service. “If you have a gigabyte somewhere, it develops a certain inertia,” says Mike Olson, the boss of Cloudera, which recently found it could not switch from a poor storage service because there was no way to move the data.

This sort of problem has spawned an open-data movement. In March a group of technology firms led by IBM published an “Open Cloud Manifesto” that has since received the support of more than 150 companies and organisations. It is only a beginning, but perhaps this time around the industry will not have to go through a long proprietary period before rediscovering the virtues of openness.

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Effort vs. ability

May 10th, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell: “David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time [...] [when they] choose not to play by Goliath’s rules [...].”

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Do operating systems still matter?

April 17th, 2009

Stephen O’Grady: “In the kind of world that many of us project, one with the cloud a first class platform option, it’s worth asking the question: would operating systems (still) matter?”

I asked a similar question on a panel about operating systems last week at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit. As Stephen rightly points out, developer platforms of choice are moving up the stack and have been for some time. If you’re writing an application at the level of Java or PHP, what difference does it make what operating system is running underneath?

Indeed, as fellow Redmonker Michael Coté separately observed, developers tend to have increasingly less allegiance to the operating system than to other platform technologies. If developers affiliate more with platforms like Java or PHP than, say, Linux or Windows, are operating systems becoming largely invisible infrastructure, much as hardware has become largely invisible infrastructure over the past decade? (Think about it: When’s the last time you wrote an application to the processor architecture?)

Sure, with the dominant cloud platforms operating mostly at the level of infrastructure as a service (IaaS), developers do still care about operating systems, at least for now, because they still have to muck around with them (read: they have to ssh into them, understand the differences in system administration and package management between them, etc.). In other words, if a developer is familiar with the process of installing, configuring, and managing their platform of choice on Fedora, they’ll prefer a Fedora environment in the cloud over anything else.

But for many developers, having to muck around with the operating system is a bug, not a feature—which is why platform as a service (PaaS) is such an attractive proposition, assuming concerns about vendor lock in can be addressed (and they will—competition will ensure this). Given the upward movement in developer platforms of choice over the past many years, it seems inevitable that PaaS will surpass IaaS as the industry evolves and standards emerge over time. This will simply accelerate the operating system’s march toward invisibility, for as Stephen also rightly points out, PaaS environments tend to abstract away the underlying OS completely.

So do operating systems still matter? Sure, at least until PaaS gains more steam, and even then they still will to a very large degree—after all, they will always be there whether we see them or not, so they had better work, just like the power plants that deliver electricity to our homes had better work even though we can’t see and more than likely don’t understand what happens at the other end of the wire.

But it’s more than that. They will have to adapt, much as the microprocessor industry has had to adapt—that game is no longer about instruction sets and RISC vs. CISC but about performance, scalability, cost, and breakthroughs like multiple cores and energy efficiency that can be exploited by platforms up the stack. Similarly, operating systems will have to shift focus to the features developers care about, even if they rarely think about OSes. Ever wonder why Sun talks as much if not more about the features of Solaris (ZFS, DTrace, etc.) and how we’ve used those technologies to build other products with unique capabilities (Amber Road, the Sun Cloud Storage Service, etc.) than about the Solaris OS as a whole?

This shift creates opportunity for open source, and particularly for OpenSolaris. Performance, scalability, security, etc. have never been an issue for Solaris, and neither has innovation (I often say that Solaris has innovated more than any other OS in the past five years which even in Linux circles is usually met with grudging agreement). The problem has been developer familiarity—in a world where developers know Linux, will they take the time to learn Solaris, no matter how much better or more innovative its features are? That was the impetus behind Project Indiana—lowering barriers to adoption for Solaris technologies like ZFS and DTrace. The cloud potentially lowers barriers to adoption even further: If you’re a Java or PHP developer, and DTrace is just a feature of the Java or PHP stack, fully integrated with the tools you use to build your applications—i.e., you don’t have to learn Solaris or even know it’s there to take advantage of DTrace—you’d probably consider that compelling, wouldn’t you? The OS is still there, and it still matters, but it plays a very different role.

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Art and Linux family trees

February 14th, 2009


For Christmas, Danielle bought me a piece called Starstronaut(s) by local artist Mark Alan Miller. We had gone to an art show one Friday night in December, and the piece had caught my eye, but I left as I always do with the phrase, “I’ll think about it”. Knowing how I work, Danielle went back and bought it for me.

Starstronaut(s) captivated me in a big way. It’s a pencil drawing that appealed immediately to the engineer in me—intricately detailed, with gorgeous straight lines and impossibly small beautiful penmanship, interlaced with subtle humor only a true geek could’ve dreamed up. It’s now hanging on my living room wall, and I’ve literally spent hours staring at it, each time picking up some new nuance or other. (There’s a picture above, but it doesn’t begin to capture it.)

A few Fridays ago, Danielle alerted me to the fact that Mark himself would one of the featured artists in the main room at the gallery where we initially saw Starstronaut(s). I had the kids that night, so we all piled in to the car and drove over to the gallery. Danielle’s tenacity quickly found the executive director, who not quite as quickly found Mark. Sure enough, Mark is a true geek—he was familiar with Linux, and with Debian too. I discussed an idea I had had: That I commission a “Linux family tree” piece, done in the same style as Starstronaut(s) (pencil drawing with much embedded humor), and Mark was instantly up for it.

And, so, I’ll be posting a few sketches over the coming days, drawing from my recollection (and a bit of Googling) on the history and lineage of the Linux distros—crowdsourcing, as it were, to make sure our depiction is indeed accurate.

Mark and I are also considering the possibility of doing a reproduction, so if there would be any interest in having a copy of this Linux family tree, please leave me a comment here or email me at imurdock imurdock com. I know how popular the UNIX family tree has been.

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Dear Register…

January 28th, 2009

Dear Register,

1. Yes, I’m working on cloud computing now at Sun. It’s been no big secret—it’s on my blog, Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn and probably other places.

2. Dave Douglas is my boss… He doesn’t write the code either.

3. Yes, I’m thinking about what will be the cloud equivalent of the Linux distro. In fact, I just wrote a blog post about it last week.

4. No, there is no shift away from open source. Open source is part and parcel of cloud computing, and if you had read the blog post, you’d know I see quite a few parallels between how open source evolved and how cloud computing will likely evolve.

5. Yes, I have no staff. I had no staff when I was chief OS strategist either, and I did all right. Oh, and nice scoop—I’m the one who told you (it’s right there in the video). I’d tell you how many people are working on cloud at Sun (it’s a lot), but well, you probably guessed: We don’t share org charts.

If you had bothered to contact me before publishing the story, I would have helped you write a more accurate version. Then again, accuracy probably wasn’t your goal, was it?


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What will be the cloud equivalent of the Linux distro?

January 22nd, 2009

I’ve been following the evolution of what is now called cloud computing for some time, and with great interest. Over the years, facets of cloud computing have had many names: ASP, grid computing, utility computing, Web services, SOA, mashups, SaaS, Web 2.0. In many ways, the emergence of cloud computing is the great coming together of these trends and technologies. But whatever moniker the industry puts on it, I’ll always think of this great coming together as Tim O’Reilly described it in 2002: the Internet operating system.


Bit by bit, we’ll watch the transformation of the Web services wilderness. The first stage, the pioneer stage, is marked by screen scraping and “unauthorized” special purpose interfaces to database-backed Web sites. In the second stage, the Web sites themselves will offer more efficient, XML-based APIs. (This is starting to happen now.) In the third stage, the hodgepodge of individual services will be integrated into a true operating system layer, in which a single vendor (or a few competing vendors) will provide a comprehensive set of APIs that turns the Internet into a huge collection of program-callable components, and integrates those components into applications that are used every day by non-technical people.

That essay—and the phrase “the Internet operating system”—profoundly changed my thinking about Google and the other companies of which Tim wrote. They were no longer merely purveyors of browser accessible services, some of which were beginning to acquire APIs; they were collectively—and in most cases unintentionally—building the platform of the future piece by piece. For the first time, I could think about that platform in a context I understood very well.

More recently, as I’ve continued to watch the cloud evolve, it’s occurred to me that perhaps the operating system analogy goes even deeper. Granted, perhaps it’s because I know this particular hammer so well that what I see looks like a nail. But there are striking similarities between what I see today when I look across the cloud landscape and what I saw in the Linux community when I first surveyed it in 1993.

For one thing, as Tim points out, the Internet operating system is not being constructed by one company, nor is it being built according to some master plan. Rather, it is the byproduct of thousands of hands building independent pieces, each of which solve a specific problem with little or no thought to any overall “platform”. Just like 1993, a new platform is being constructed largely as a side effect, and from the bottom up.

In 1993, you had to have a high degree of skill (and patience) to take advantage of the emerging Linux platform, because for the most part, you had to build it yourself. You had to download source code, compile it, install it, and make it all work together before you could really do much with it. It wasn’t until the Linux distributions came along and did that work for you that Linux, and open source along with it, was made accessible to the masses and began to fundamentally change the computing industry—and yes, the world.

Who, then, will come along and similarly stitch the pieces of the cloud together into a cohesive platform? Who, as Tim predicts, will integrate the hodgepodge into a true Internet operating system, with the result neatly packaged for mere mortals who don’t know how to “mash up” XML feeds or tweak their browsers or iPhones to take advantage of the latest innovations? And what will be the equivalent of package management for the cloud, the technology that weaves all the independent pieces maintained by those thousands of hands together in a way that makes it easy for developers and users alike to assemble those pieces together for a multitude of different purposes? Perhaps most importantly, will the platform be a silo (or a small number of silos), or will the platform be open, enabling developers and users to combine services no matter where they live?

It’s clear rereading Tim’s essay that we haven’t reached the third phase yet, though I believe we’re on the brink of it. It’s going to be interesting to watch—and exciting to be a part of it.

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