How Atari almost released its own home version of Unix years before Linux
In the millennium we’re sort of used to every device under the sun being able to run some variation of Linux, whether that’s the Sony PlayStation 3 or your mom’s digital photo frame, but back in 1985, the landscape was very different indeed… which is what makes this post by Landon Dyer over at Dadhacker so fascinating, as it describes how the Atari ST very nearly ran Unix.
Unix. AT&T Unix, to be precise. According to Dyer, Atari managed to negotiate itself a jaw-droppingly cheap license with AT&T for $10 per seat, which prompted Atari to seriously consider selling a version of Unix to the general public… and which could have made Atari’s version of Unix a dominant end-user platform long before Linus Tovalds ever started tinkering with Linux.
Of course, it never happened. Why? Because the Atari ST had no real memory controller, and they could never figure out how to get around that, or add on a cheap enough piece of hardware to fix it.
To run Unix effectively we needed some hardware that was very fast, that was simple enough to put into a minor spin of the ST’s memory controller with little project risk, and that would still provide some kind of memory relocation and protection. The ability to have separate address spaces to isolate processes would be good, too.
“If you can come up with something that takes about a gate delay, I’ll put it in,” said John, the memory controller guy. He seemed dubious, but willing to listen.
It’s fantastic reading. Imagine what could have been. Maybe instead of all using Linux-based systems, we’d be running Atinux-based ones instead?