Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 30th Aug 2012 09:16 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems Just driving yesterday's point home some more: "The Lilith was one of the first computer workstations worldwide with a high-resolution graphical display and a mouse. The first prototype was developed by Niklaus Wirth and his group between 1978 and 1980 with Richard Ohran as the hardware specialist. [...] The whole system software of the Lilith was written in Modula-2, a structured programming language which Wirth has developed at the same time. The programs were compiled into low-level M-Code instructions which could be executed by the hardware. The user interface was designed with windows, icons and pop-up menus. Compared with the character based systems available at that time, these were revolutionary metaphors in the interaction with a computer." Jos Dreesen, owner of one of the few remaining working Liliths, wrote a Lilith emulator for Linux.
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RE: What this reminds me of
by StephenBeDoper on Fri 31st Aug 2012 20:05 UTC in reply to "What this reminds me of"
StephenBeDoper
Member since:
2005-07-06

This article is like someone trying to understand the origins of birds. They look at the evidence and see that some fossils have been discovered of a couple of ancient species of bird like creatures that both lived on separate islands millions of years ago around the time that birds first emerged. They seem to have wings, the walked on two legs, they both had primitive beaks and they even had feathers. Both species only ever had minute population sizes however and both species died out and left no descendents and so played no role in the evolution of the many numerous bird species that exist today. Lets call these birds Blit and Lilith.


Analogies that compare the advancement of technology with biological evolution are fundamentally flawed - mainly because technology advances in a way that's completely different from the way biological organisms evolve*. They are similar only the sense that they are both processes of iterative change over time.

At the same time as the two island species were living another species of bird like creatures lived on on the main land mass, this too had wings, walked on two legs, had a primitive beak and had feathers, except this species had a population that was vastly bigger than the other two, this species prospered and is not extinct even today, and this specie left numerous descendents. Let's call this species the Mac OS


First off, let's get one thing clear: computer technologies don't "descend" from earlier technologies, not in the same sense that biological organisms are descended from more basal forms. In biological evolution, "descended from" has a very clear meaning - not so in technology. In technology, the term "descendent" is applied to:

- New technologies that are revised/improved versions of old technologies (E.g. Windows 7 as a descendent of Vista, Vista as a descendent of XP, etc)
- Technologies that share pieces with other technologies, but are built on different foundations (E.g. Windows NT as a descendent of Win9x/3.x)
- Technologies that are completely unrelated from any technical standpoint, but that share a product name (OS X as a descendent of "Classic" MacOS)

Of those, only the first example is in any way analogous to biological evolution - and even that is a fairly loose analogy, at best.

So it needs to be established what we mean by descendent - in this context, what plays the role of the DNA passed from the parents to their offspring? If it's the first version, then the MacOS should be considered an evolutionary dead end too, because it has produced no descendents (see the third example). If instead you mean it in a more abstract/figurative sense, as in "spiritual successor to", then how do you determine that the Lilith and/or Blit DIDN'T produce descendents? An argument could be made that we're completely surrounded by their descendents (modern, graphical OSes).

If the person looking for the origin of birds jumped up and down and kept going on and on about how the Blit and the Litlith were more important, or at least as important, as the MacOS in understanding where birds came from they would look a bit sill. And maybe a bit obsessed.


Coincidentally, I just finished reading Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers, which (in a nutshell) examines the special circumstances that lead to certain people becoming successful - including Bill Joy, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. I didn't interpret that as an attempt to diminish their accomplishments - but, rather, an attempt to put their accomplishments in the proper context (in order to understand them better).

I interpret Thom's posts on the Blit & the Lilith in the same way - as attempts to put Apple's contribution in proper context, not to diminish it.

The Mac OS on the other hand had an enormous impact not least because Microsoft spent the next ten years building a rough copy of it and then went on to dominate the world's PC markets with that copy


Yes, but the Mac OS didn't coalesce out of nowhere, or leap fully-formed from the brains of Steve Jobs & Wozniak with no external influences (despite often being presented that way). That appears to be the point Thom is trying to get across.


*Amusingly enough, the way that technology advances is much more analogous to "intelligent design" than biological evolution. Of course, I don't think most ID propronents realize the implications - namely, that ID requires a god who is less "supreme being" and more of a cosmic software project manager, putting out beta versions, bug-fixes, etc (Australopithecus == Homo sapien Developer Preview edition?).

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