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At the risk of sounding like a sycophantic groupie, I think Joel hit this one right out of the ball park. What an excellent overview of the cultural differences between Windows and Unix. It crystallizes exactly what I've observed for years.

I posted a thread a few weeks ago about open source having a long way to go, the example being open hostility on a certain open source CMS's support board.

I think the core Unix value of absolute mathematical terseness about explanations is and has always been a key detraction from its potential success.  RTFM is always stated as a condescending way of rapping new users on the knuckles about facts and operating principles that are presently poorly and incompletely.  The attitude in Unix and open source land is to blame and interrogate the user first.

Open source *works* and I use it, but it's a real bitch to negotiate the attitudes of the people in that culture who think that one is obliged to learn how to read minds.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 15, 2003

I agree, although I'm not too sure about Joel's statement that "It's rather rare to find such bigotry among Windows programmers" - there's religion everywhere. Still, 99% spot on.

Walter Rumsby
Monday, December 15, 2003

I think there is a difference between offering source code (either always, or with purchase), vs. the quasi-political movement titled "Open Source". Most people have a hard time differentiating the two, as though giving away source code meant that you must use the GPL and worship at the altar or Gnu.

Brad Wilson (
Monday, December 15, 2003

Nope -- I  have  to  admit I am rather disappointed in Joel on this one.  His position comes off as much a rant and conviction as Raymond's. 

For example:  "It's rather rare to find such bigotry among Windows programmers, who are, on the whole, solution-oriented and non-ideological"  Does he even  read these boards?  Have someone bring up Linux/Unix and I can almost guarantee the snide comments somewhere in the responses.

I believe he got the premise correct, but made it sound like a character flaw.  Unix and Windows programmers differ because of what they attempt to  achieve.  Unix is typically a server based, architecture.  One where the  desktop is like any other process.  Windows is a desktop first.  It is not Aunt Jane versue UberProgrammer.  It is desktop versus system processes. 

Look at developer responsible for exchange,  SQL Server, or a web farm and you see many of the same traits.  It's not a Unix vs. Windows thing, it is a  Server versus Client thing.  The  client has to deal with the lowest experienced level of user.  The server can make assumptions about your experience in that being allowed to play there means you know more than the average human.  Why do we not hear of such "rifts" between DBAs and Developers?  Because they make sense.

Consider a semi (Large truck).  Look at the vehicle itself. Does it look, drive, or act like your typical sedan?  Of course not.  But it should right?  No!    They are two different target audiences.  Sure,  I could figure out how to drive a "big rig", but its not my Camery.

This argument is growing old with little value other than to the extremists.  I am reminded of Bob Dole's comment on "Hillary's Health Care" initiative.  He said, we are over 95% in agreement, yet nothing happened.  Why?  Because they let extremists on both sides make that 5% control the 95%.  And unfortunately, we are all painted with the same brush as people defined developers by those getting the most press.

In  the Linux-Unix/Windows world we have the  people who feel MS is an evil, profit driven corporation seeking to ensure that only they can write software.  And then we have the people who think Linux will make them unemployed,  destroy capitalism and wreak havoc upon our national security. 

Then we have the  rest of us, who realize that rachets did not put wrench makers out of business.  And, most times, having  both is very handy.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The mentions of open-source I honestly don't get (either in this thread, or in Joel's article where he rather disjointedly comments upon the ability to debug into sourcecode in an article otherwise about terse documentation and limited feedback)-- The command line foundations of Linux are following the UNIX spirit (indeed many are entirely ripoffs) a couple of _decades_ old -- entirely preceding the whole open source advocacy. Many of the command line tools, and the paradigms that they follow, have been entrenched in the culture for longer than some of the members of this forum have been alive.

Of course the reasons that they were that way one could cynically claim was more an element of technical limitations rather than intentional choices.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, December 15, 2003

Monday, December 15, 2003

As a relative agnostic, but one who comes from
the far older Unix tradition, my own take is that this
article essentially comes down to "UI programmers"
(which Joel calls Windows programmers) versus "internals
or systems programmers", which Joel calls Unix

There are obviously UI programmers in Unix and systems
programmers in Windows, but for better or worse, systems
programmers will have what he may call a "Unix-ish" outlook
(in that their "users" are programs, interfacing via some
form of internal or external API), while anything used directly by Aunt Millie is done by a UI programmer - even if
it uses database engines, OS API's, and device drivers to
actually do whatever it's doing.  After all, Aunt Millie will
be using a Unix/Linux system whenever she gets onto
Yahoo or Google :)

If there's a culture here, it is that UI programmers have
to be far more sensitive to changing languages and
other fads than most system programmers have to be,

Monday, December 15, 2003

Ok, foobar, lets assume it's UI vs API. How do you explain Sun? When they used to sell Solaris workstations, the UI was crap compared to what you got on the Windows of the day on much worse hardware.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Why does Sun need any explaining?

Until quite recently, Unix (ie, Solaris/Ultrix/AIX) was the
only game in town for "big iron", other than IBM mainframes.
It is only very recently that anyone would even contemplate
an all-Windows environment for anything but a
small department or office setup.  If you wanted speed and
substantial multi-user support, you had to go for Sun, DEC,
or whatever - all-Wintel wasn't an option in most
environments that had large-scale requirements until the
very late 1990's.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Your missing the point. They provided workstations that competed with PCs. However, they were clueless that the UI was important. I support Joel's contention it's from their Unix heritage. It's not a client vs server or UI vs API distinction. It's really from the Unix culture.

Unlike Joel, I would characterize its Unix vs PC. Where PC means all sorts of personal computers and started way before IBM introduced it's first PC in 1982. More like 1976(?) when MITS introduced the Altair...

Apple weren't the first, but Jobs and Woz were part of it. That little nerdy 17 year old Bill Gates got it too.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Did I miss a period in history where sun provided workstations that competed with PCs?

Monday, December 15, 2003

No, but Sun did. Several times. All of the mini/workstation manufacturers did and they're mostly gone.

Monday, December 15, 2003

If you want to get that cosmic, it would be mainframe
versus PC, with Unix being only the most ubiquitous
part of the mainframe culture.  A Unix programmer would
have more in common with an MVS or CMS programmer than
they would with a PC programmer, particularly in the
"old days".  I'll concede the point that it was Sun's basically
mainframe orientation that made them unable to sell
desktops to the masses, although the enormous price
differences had something to do with that too :)

Monday, December 15, 2003

I think it's strange to talk about unix without referring to opensource.  Cheap availability was critical to unix's success, argued an early Kernighan and Mashey paper.  I think opensource fits unix's philosophy, the important nontechnical part.  The expensive proprietary unixes don't.

I suspect Windows is a weird unix, which used the cost advantage of the PC revolution.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Monday, December 15, 2003

"RTFM is always stated as a condescending way of rapping new users on the knuckles about facts and operating principles that are presently poorly and incompletely."

No.  "RTFM" is hostility to a demand for spoon feeding.  It's a characteristic of the hacker culture, which admittedly shares a large overlap with Unix culture. (Note that "hacker" is used in the original sense, not the sense of cracker/criminal.)

If someone tells a group of hackers "How do I use foo?" the response, if there's any at all, is likely to be something along the lines of "RTFM".  It's short for "Why should I waste my time helping a lazy sponge like you when the answer is already there and you just couldn't be bothered to look for it?"

If, on the other hand, they seem like they've *tried* to help themselves ("How do I use foo?  I want to accomplish X, so I did Y, but the results aren't what I expected because of A, B, and C.  Here's an example that I've pared down to the minimum necessary to show the problem.  I read the docs and saw the section about the bar option, but that isn't what I want because of D."), they're very likely to recieve helpful responses.

See for more.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Taysir: about "cheap Unix" - I was cleaning in the basement recently and found sales brochures from BSD Systems for their Unix, dated 1993. Price was $900 or so and up. I recall hearing in the 1980s that AT&T's license fee for source code to Unix was said to be around $40K. All I'm saying is that "cheap Unix" and cheap Unix clones are a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1980s the only game in town for low end adopters and hobbyists was Minix and others.

I am not sure how this fits into the cultural debate, but early Unix was only accessible to people in universities and companies that could afford the license fee.

Edgewood: I have seen the RTFM mantra applied almost vindictively at times to people who were making an honest and sincere effort to grasp the subject matter. I personally don't willingly suffer fools and yet I've found many OSS and Unix people's "bar" for offering real help to be obtrusively high. What I'm saying is that sometimes the self-help culture becomes an end in itself, and blinds the experts to seeing that some actual paying customers are turned off by the harshness. I'm not implying that Windows or commercial developers are paragons of virtue, either. I'm saying that "RTFM quoting" is misused by many and does hurt non-geek's perception of Linux and OSS as a draconian culture. 

YMMV, of course.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 15, 2003

It seems this has all been gone over so many times.  I will add my pet point however.  There is a difference between ease of learning and ease of use.  As a programmer I have access to a large collection of free or inexpesive editing environments.  What do I use most of the time? vi.  Yes, it's supposed to be lower case, it's a Unix thing, you wouldn't understand :-).  Why in the world would I use a 25+ year old editor?  Because it works very well.  It works better than anything I have seen since I was forced to learn how to use it.  I was forced, and it took about 18 months.  Obviously that is completely unacceptable learning curve for a text editor.  However no text editor I have used since comes anywhere near being as powerful.  If you look at a program like MS Word on the other hand, it is very easy to learn to use.  Anyone with a modicum of computer skills (i.e. mouse skills, a basic understanding of file, etc) can use Word to get a fair amount done.  The issue is that the speed and ease with wich you get things done does not increase as you use the software.  Sure you learn where things are in the menu so you stop having to hunt for them, and the shortcut keys, but that is about it.  Though Word is constantly adding new Functions to it's list, very little work is being done to address actually processing words better.  This is a result of the business culture that is typically associated with Windows.
Like the unrelenting zeal that the Unix programmer has for the "perfect" minimalist interface.  The Windows culture is very centered on market share and what has been called functionitism.  Functional software is good, so multi-functional software is better.  Ergo software that does everything, must be the best?  I don't see the distinction so much as End user vs programmer, or Client vs Server as much as single thing done well vs one thing that does all. 
Before you start slinging mud I should warn you that I have worked not only as a Unix programmer on end user business apps and a Windows programmer on system services, but as a Cobol programmer when it was fashionable to be a Cobol programmer.

Let the mud slinging begin :-)

Pat O'Hara the Practical Programmer
Monday, December 15, 2003

Pat, just like many of the generalizations on this thread, I'm not sure that the "problem" of programs that should do everything is restricted to Windows. There is an equivalent in the programmer-only world: programmers that like to build enormous abstract frameworks that start out with good intentions, but just become too damn difficult to understand later on. It's a very similar concept.

Monday, December 15, 2003

At work, if I'm supposed to use the programming components or a system interface written by someone in another department or another office in my company, I look first for their documentation. Often, it's missing. Worse, it exists but is unreadable or incomplete. Worse still, it's complete, but huge.

In any case, if I want to get something done, I just hit them with a question. I get my job done quickly this way. Certainly I do some reading, but more often than not, dialogue gets me through my day a whole lot quicker than searching for the right document.

The point is... RTFM is not a natural activity. We all just want to get where we're going, and not spend time to take in the design of the road. While I can appreciate why people being told to read the manual, it really is the last thing you want hear if you're just trying to solve a problem, or make a little progress.

Good documentation - like training - is not easy to produce, some people are actually paid good money to write it. It is therefore unlikely that docs for every single project out there are going to be helpful. I've read documentation that made me more confused.

There may well be "idiotic" users with "idiotic" questions, but I wouldn't tar everyone with the same brush. Is it so hard to conceive that some people don't want to trawl through disordered archives and documentation on the web?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Bored: Of course my statement was a generalization: there are some people who are hostile no matter how hard the questioner tries to provide relevant information, just as there are those who will gently try to determine what the questioner is really asking.  I participate in quite a few Unix/OSS fora (mostly lurking, though I post occasionally), and I can think of far more examples of the latter than the former.  But, as you said, YMMV.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Shodan- the problem is that you may save yourself 20 minutes by asking a question, and cost the other guy 30 (or more, depending on how distracting your question is).

Though it's still sometimes the best way. Like if you save yourself 20 and cost the other person 2.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Would there be a web without *nix's textuality?

Would there be Tivo and the current outburst of innovative devices without Linux?

Would there be cheap, high quality hosting without Linux, Apache, PHP, PERL and MySQL?

Would there be Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Google, etc. without *nix, Apache, etc.?

Would there be email without SMTP and SendMail?

Monday, December 15, 2003

mb, yes I know, the trade-off is difficult to work out. Personally, if I think it's going to take too much time, I give up and decide its not worth it - I find another way of doing it. (Lots of personal examples recently...)

But if you're trying to create something pretty cool for other people to use, I think the onus would be on the developer to make it accessable in some way. I do practice what I preach and I know how difficult this really is. So even if it *is* read, great documentation is really difficult to pull off (as is concise yet useful commenting if we're talking open source) which probably leaves you staring at a whole load of questions.

Sad, though, that these sort of debates polarise our opinions rather too easily. I respect those people who put time into open source/free projects, and none of this is black and white.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Answer to pb's "would there be" question: hardly anything about computing would be affordable if open source didn't exist. And everything about the internet would be proprietary and locked into licensed vendors if the common networking protocols had not risen up out of the open source and Unix world.

The internet would probably work like Compuserve's graphical interface circa 1994 if the sharing culture of the Unix world had not existed. A few corporations would own competing, incompatible online systems with stupid secretive terms of usage. But because openly documented  protocols and reference implementations existed in the wild, *stupid* vendors like Compuserve with adversarial consumer-unfriendly policies were eventually driven out of business or forced to adapt. And good riddance, except that some excellent content was hosted by Compuserve (despite themselves.)

I simply find prevailing attitudes in the open source world that amount to bad documentation being desirable - as being very unfortunate and short-sighted. It reminds me of the boys' clubhouse with "NO GURLS" stenciled on the outside. 

I guess in the larger scheme of things, that kind of immature reactionism is an exceedingly small price to pay for the freedom of computing that has developed.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 15, 2003

Shodon: if you're using the components from another group in your company, or if you're using software that you bought support for, either as an explicit support contract or as part of the purchase price, "RTFM" isn't usually an acceptable answer.

But when you're using open source, you're probably using a package that you got for free, that was developed for free, and is supported for free by people who are just so damn happy to have something that fits their needs so well that they volunteer their time.

In that case, it is rude to make demands on the time and attention of people who have given so much already without exhausting all of the available alternatives first.

I'm quite happy to help people who do did their homework and still can't figure it out.  I've spent hours tracking down obscure bugs in OSS projects, because I'm grateful to the original authors and want to give back to the community.  I'm also quite happy to spoon feed someone who is paying me to do so.  What I won't do is to waste time helping people who prove, by not doing their homework, that they think that their time is more valuable than everyone else's.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Bored, all I know about those times were from a few papers/discussions, that claimed:
- Unix ran ok on orphaned, slow hardware
- small gulp factor -- tried to be integrateable into existing environments; no massive change in programming techniques; can help maintain old code
- "relatively inexpensive"
- Lion's book (piracy) may have negated need for $40k source license

Soo... $1k/user license fits in with my sense of reality, since I heard that computers in the pre-PC times were unaffordable except for orgs and the hardcore.  But I'd be happy to have my reality corrected.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

In my opinion this is one of the most one sided articles Joel has ever written.  I felt personally insulted by it as a Unix AND Windows developer.  Joel's articles skip between insightful and pretentious.  Sometimes I read them and feel and think, "right on!  All the way."  Other times I read them and think, "ahh is this the same person who wrote the last article?"

Here are my thoughts on the topic:

christopher baus (
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

"In that case, it is rude to make demands on the time and attention of people who have given so much already without exhausting all of the available alternatives first."

I thought they coded for the love of it.  If you are doing something you love what is the big deal about coming down to the level of the rest of us and answering a f'ing question.

Yeah, that's how I feel.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I can make due (doo?) with the Japanese toilets. It's the Indian toilets that baffle me.

Fortunately the hotel I stayed at in Mumbai had a  bi-cultural toilet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

As the poet said:

"there are 9 and 90 ways of constructing tribal lays and every single one of them is right"

A cynic writes
Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Oh, that'll be Bombay I presume.

I've never understood why countries start renaming their own city/country names under the pretense that the original name was a foreign one foisted upon them.

Last I noted, "Bombay" is not an English word.

When I was a student, a Sri Lankan girlfriend had a go at me because a packet of tea I had was labelled "Ceylon".  I had to point out that the "Ceylon" part was the inner packaging, as sent from Sri Lanka, and that the external packaging provided in the UK said "Sri Lanka".

Oh, and "Ceylon" isn't an English word either.

David B. Wildgoose
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I suspect the naming thing has more to do with how we pronounce foreign names - badly.  Good non-colonial example - the battle of Blenheim (and the palace named after it) were named for the villiage of Blindheim. 

Another route would be where there was more than one local language and the colonial power took the name from the minority (but politically dominant) one.

A cynic writes
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Didn't know about the "Blenheim" naming - interesting.

I agree with what you say about the "politically dominant" name, but in any case it would still be an original name rather than one foisted.  Actually, iirc Bombay was actually founded by the British in the first place - it was a trading outpost.

The classic case is probably "Myanmar" rather than Burma.  Although in this case "Myanmar" is insisted upon by the ruling military junta, and abhorred by the oppressed Burmese people themselves.

David B. Wildgoose
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

"I thought they coded for the love of it.  If you are doing something you love what is the big deal about coming down to the level of the rest of us and answering a f'ing question."

Well noted: they _code_ for the love of it (or maybe because they think they'll profit in some way by making whatever open-source). They don't do tech-support for whiners who are too lazy to read documentation for the love of it.

The people complaining about the lack of "support" for open-source are usually those using open-source only because they can't find the crack for the comparable for-pay software, i.e. they're too cheap to buy any software.

If you're willing to pay industry average support rates, I'm sure most open-source developers would be willing to answer stupid questions.


Tuesday, December 16, 2003

RTFM!!  I have seen many people here, in  both this thread and others complain about the  RTFM attitude present in OSS, or UNIX or in  "any forum I need an answer from".

When you get a RTFM, it is rude.  You feel slighted and think "how dare they!".  Might I  suggest another interpretation?  (Those with 7 year old children will appreciate this)

RTFM is there because the alternative is silence, which is second only to RTFM in complaints.  While RTFM is a slam, it is suppose to be.  It is to remind you of the  following:
- People provide their time for free.  They don't need to, but they do, so please make an effort to not waste it.  We all may need an answer and if they do nothing but field FAQs they stop answering.
- People spend time creating manuals, FAQs, goggle search-able indexes, etc. to assist  in  finding information and answering questions, because...other people complain "the problem is no documentation exists"

If someone makes the effort to at least look for an answer to "How Do I Keep Track of Bookmarks in MSIE?"  before posting, it seems a reasonable request. 

Consider looking at this more like calling  your neighbor, who is a mechanic, to ask a car question.  You  would probably spend more time doing research before you went to him.  The thought that you do not want to waste your neighbor's time is not insulting, especially when asking a simple question like "How often should I change the oil?"  Sadly, some people have no reservations about posting to a forum without the least bit of research, and then complaining when people point out  that the information is available, along with a host of other, if you will just read the users guide, found  in the glove box.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

On small projects, a manual is usually only written when the primary developer no longer wants to answer the same questions posed by every new user. Most people who have gotten to that point treat the existance of a manual as a Do-Not-Disturb sign. Or perhaps like a bouncer who keeps the riff-raff questions out.

Devil's Advocate
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Whatever "Ceylon" is it is not a Sinhala word.

Ceylon tea will stick because plenty of people are used to the brand, and fewer associate it with the country Sri Lanka. The drink is still called sherry even if the area is called Jerez.

Now if Brussels took over the UK for three centuries, and renamed London, Londres together with a few hundred other renamings, then I suspect the same person making a fuss now would be the first to demand that the capital be given back its old name of London, even though the name was a foreign name to start with.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Dear Christopher,
                          If you want people to contribute to discussions on your web site, then I would get rid of the requirement to give an email address. And at least put a label after the field saying required so that I don't bother typing out the whole message and submitting it only to have it spat back because I've left the email address field blank.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

"I thought they coded for the love of it.  If you are doing something you love what is the big deal about coming down to the level of the rest of us and answering a f'ing question."

What an ironic question.  Your question is a great example of the inconsiderate attitude I've been talking about: the answer to your question is pretty well explained on the page I linked to above.  I could spoon feed you and excerpt parts of it, but why should I waste my time doing so when you haven't made any effort to use the provided resources to educate yourself?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Bring back Londinium you know it makes sense...

...actually there's several Welshman I used to know who'd say that's more or less what happened. ("Bloody Anglo-saxons coming over here.." etc.)

BTW It appears "Bombay" was an English corruption of the Portugese for "good bay" part of the age old English method of international communication - shout slowly in English. 

A cynic writes
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I think the Biculturalism essay best demonstrated *Joel's* strengths: while he's very grounded in the work he's done, he's willing to explore other approaches with an unusual degree of open-mindedness. His willingness to look at other people's work and honest assessment of its strengths and weaknesses are what attracted me to this board in the first place.

One of the weaknesses of the essay, IMO, is that the middle ground between the two cultures is quite large, much bigger in fact than either of the poles. There is so much crossover and crosspollination that Eric Raymond's essay comes across as somewhat fundamentalist.

An additional point is that Web development has always been interesting because it mixes the two cultures.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003



christopher baus (
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Thanks, I'll go over and add the comment now

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

*** Taysir: about "cheap Unix" - I was cleaning in the basement recently and found sales brochures from BSD Systems for their Unix, dated 1993. Price was $900 or so and up. I recall hearing in the 1980s that AT&T's license fee for source code to Unix was said to be around $40K. All I'm saying is that "cheap Unix" and cheap Unix clones are a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1980s the only game in town for low end adopters and hobbyists was Minix and others. ***

Bored: History didn't start in 1980. Unix in the first decade or so was quite cheap, both in terms of the license (essentially free; you could get it for little more than the cost of media) and the relative cost of the hardware it needed to run, which was at the low end of the scale.

Even in the late 1980s, moreover, Unix was no more expensive than lots of other software. I bought Microport System V/AT for the 286 in 1987 for $500. How much does a new copy of Windows XP cost if you're not upgrading or buying with a new PC?

Jay Maynard
Thursday, December 18, 2003

" that the capital be given back its old name of London, even though the name was a foreign name to start with"

Which is actually reinforcing my point.  We didn't found London, the Romans did.  And neither did we rename it.

This does appear to be another British distinction though, we don't have a habit of renaming our towns and cities like so much of the world.

For example St Petersburg, no make that Petrograd, no, we'll now call it Leningrad, oops, time for another rename, St Petersburg again, etc.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, December 18, 2003

It's true the Brits don't rename their towns and cities so often. They do however make a point of renaming everybody else's :)

Look at Rhodesia or Salisbury, let alone all the Australian and New Zealand names.

For almost a third of the world the British occupation was an unfortunate blip in the current of history. They have every right not to wish to be reminded of it every day, particularly when the best that can be said about the British Empire in most places was that it didn't really do too much.

One of the reasons we leave our own alone is that we don't have violent political change. Street, and even city names, are used in much of the world as the outward manifestation of political power, so of course when the old power is overthrown the new regime, often with popular support, wants to reflect the new reality.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I'm not aware of wholesale deliberate renaming of original city names.  Would you care to provide a link to back up this claim?

As for your comment "unfortunate blip in the current of history", I'm afraid that I'm going to have to disagree with that one massively.

Britain gained an empire as much by accident as anything else, and in any event, much of the original impetus was out of competition with European powers, particularly France.

Read Tolstoy's "Letter to a Hindu" and ask yourself how one tiny island could forcibly subjugate a sixth of the World's population (India), and a third of the World's surface?  Answer: it couldn't.  That's not how the British Empire happened.  You need to do some historical reading.

And it may have been "imperialist" to set the Royal Navy the task of stamping out the international slave trade, (there were protests and delegations sent from various African governments), but that doesn't count as "unfortunate" in my book.  (Incidentally, Britain was the second country to outlaw slavery, with Denmark being the first).

Then there's the promotion of the Rule of Law, and the banning of acts like "Suttee", (burning widows alive on their husband's funeral pyre).  More "imperialism", but then we appear to differ in our opinion of "unfortunate".

I'm afraid I don't believe in cultural relativism.  On the contrary, I believe there are absolute human rights.  On balance, I believe the British Empire did more to promote these beliefs than anything before, or since.  It wasn't perfect, far from it, but it was undoubtedly better than being incorporated in any of the other Empires being built at that time.  For example, I suggest you read up on the atrocities carried out by Belgium in the Congo, and Japan in Manchuria.

There is no "culture" in Human Rights.  They're absolutes.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Oh, and as for "let alone all the Australian and New Zealand names", there weren't any cities in either prior to the arrival of the British.

There were aboriginal inhabitants in New Zealand though.

Unfortunately, these people were colonised by the Maoris rather than by the British.  (The Maoris arrived in NZ just a few centuries before we did).

The Maoris committed genocide on the original inhabitants.

It's a shame that we can't ask these people which "unfortunate current" they would prefer to have been swept up in.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I actually agree with you about absolute human rights. It's just that I hardly believe the British Empire did much for them.

To suggest that Britain brought the rule of law to India is a sub-Kiplingesque joke. What it did was replace indigenous laws and society with a diluted variety of the latest theories in Victorian England. It is possible that it stopped a couple of isolated acts of suttee, but basically it used the practice to bolster the idea of Victorian Britain's superiority.

The rule of law in Sri Lanka for example meant the wastelands ordinance of 1857, which deprived a not inconsiderable number of Sinahlese peasantry of the right to cultiivate their traditional lands which were given over to Western coffee planters. It meant the licensing of arrack (alcohol distilled from coconut toddy) to arrack renters who paid money to the British government on their profits, so that the salaries of British colonial rulers was paid for by the whole scale alcoholization of the Kandyan peasantry. It meant the claiming of "debts" to the government from impoverished farmers in the 1970's with the result that many of them literally starved to death, as attested by the British government representative in Kandy at the time whose pleas for a tax amnesty fell on deaf ears.

It is also worth noting that the only time there has been famine in India was under the British. The first time Lord Curzon was so concerned with organizing the Queens coronation as Empress of India that he deliberately refused to do anyting about it, defending his actions on the grounds that stopping people from dying of starvation was doing them a disservice and stopping them from being self-reliant (presumably in their next reincarnation!). In 1943 Britain was so occupied with the struggle against Germany and Japan that it did nothing to alleviate the Bengal famine. Since independence there has been no case of mass famine in India.

Then we can talk about straightforward oppression. The British planters who went around shooting those natives they disliked after the Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915 (which riots were caused by British contempt for Buddhist traditions in the first place). Or elsewhere in Palestine, where the British left a legislation so contemptous of human rights that the Israelis are still using it decades later to oppress the Palestinians. And of course there is the massacre at Amritsar in 1920.

But the British bought education and the railways ! Well the railways went where the colonists wanted, not where the ruled people wished. In Sri Lanka the first railway, built like the road using "rajakiria" or forced labout, went up to the coffee (later to be tea plantations after the coffee crop was wiped out by disease) plantations, where the majority of the population was, after the Ula massacres of 1818-1819 and the depopulation caused by the previously mentioned waste-lands ordinance, British planters and semi-slave labour from South India. As for education the highest rate of literacy in India was and is in the State of Kerala, which was never part of British India, belonging to an independent and enlightened Maharaja up to independence who introduced universal education in the 1920's, and to the communists who have governed it without respite afterwards.

As for the British claiming kudos for being the second to ban the slave trade,  that is a joke. The whole wealth of Liverpool was based on the slave trade, and the British were the leading slave traders until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Slavery was incidentally always illegal in the Spanish colonies, and the Spanish government did its, admittedly insufficient, best to try and stamp it out (with the possible exception of Cuba, which may have had a special legal dispensation).

Sure the Belgians in the Congo were worse (though of course the direct person responsible for the mass murders was a Welshman from Conwy - Stanly of "Dr. Livingstone I presume" fame), and the number of Iraquis gassed by the British in the 1920's is small compared to the number of Iraquis put to the sword by the Mongols) but neither of those last two nations are still claiming that their action was for the good of the vicitims, or running nauseating nostalgia programs on the BBC about the glories of Empire.

Incidentally yesterday in Bahrain, which is over the water from where I am, there were demonstrations demanding the repeal of an amnesty granted to those responsible for over 50 deaths by torture or shooting in the small island (population under a million) between the 1970's and mid-nineties. The person they want tried is the person who was the chief of police during that period, who happens to be a British citizen and ex-British policeman called Ian Henderson. If you believe so much in absolute human rights, then perhaps you could lobby your MP's to pressure the Bahraini government to repeal the amnesty law, and then to request the extradition of the culprit to Bahrain. Of course, I rather suspect you will suddenly discover cultural relativism at this point.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Government doesn't tend to be a ethically clean occupation...
authoritarian government is even less likely to be so....
and an Empire is BIG authoritarian government. 

That said I don't feel that the British Empire was different to any other empire.  Bigger perhaps.  The people who ran it seem generally to have *meant* well even if they behaved terribly. 

In my experience in any group of 10 people there's 2 diamonds and 1 git.  Unfortunately a heavily armed git can do a lot of damage, especially if he's in charge of other people. 

BTW - an apology, I misquoted earlier - it should read "...9 and 60 ways.." from a poem called "In the Neolithic Age" by Kipling.

A cynic writes
Thursday, December 18, 2003

With regards to Sri Lanka, not knowing further I will accept what you say.  However, I would like to point out that nobody *forced* people to drink alcohol.

On India however, you have it completely wrong.  It is usually accepted that the incidence of famine was *reduced* under British rule, and the assertion that none happened before or since is, well, complete garbage.

Kerala by the way has a matriarchal society, and it is well known that the best way to educate a population is to educate the mothers of that population.  It is also one of the *poorest* of the Indian states, so perhaps we should blame that on its ruling communists?

The wealth of Liverpool was based on it being one of the primary trading ports in the world.  At one point, Manchester was responsible for more than 50% of the world's manufactured goods.  Liverpool was the port that Manchester used.  The slave trade only contributed financially early on.  Surely you are not trying to claim that Liverpool's wealth never increased when it was the primary port exporting to the world during the enormous growth of the industrial revolution prior to the First World War?

And anyway, the leading slave traders were Arab, not British.

And finally, your accusation that the British gassed Iraquis in the 1920's is lying propaganda, pure and simple.  If I may quote from a recent letter by Sebastian Cox, Head of the Air Historical Branch of the RAF about just this:

"The National Archives at Kew show that, although Winston Churchill and some RAF officers did consider the use of gas, their interest was focused on tear gas and not poison gas, and that part of their rationale was a desire to reduce fatalities."

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Nobody forced people to take opium either but the British did have two wars with China because the Chinese wanted to stop them selling it.

Could you please give me your evidence about how the British reduced famine. The 1879 is well documented. Just do a Google Search on India famine + 1879.

I'll give you a quote from one of the sources:

"The late-19th-century famines in India and China, the briefing paper brings out, were the result of imperial policies. The crucial role of these imperial policies in tackling the extensive climate-caused droughts is contrasted with similar extreme climate events in both countries some 200 years earlier, when the state policies (of the feudal regimes) ensured that far fewer people died.

The briefing paper (as the book itself) also explains how Europe and North America made China and India into “peripheries” in the world economy: by forcibly imposing trade deficits, promoting exports that diminished food security, levying excessive taxes and introducing predatory merchant capital taking control of key revenues and resources, waging war, and decreeing a monetary system (the Gold Standard) that picked the pockets of Asian peasants."

Another source gives us these figures for famines in India.
# 1943-1944 3 million dead
# 1896-1900 19 million dead
# 1876-1879 10 million dead

Note that there is no famine mentioned after Independence though there obviously have been many deaths related to malnutrition.

China on the other hand had it's most serious famine between 1958-1961 as a direct result of Mao's policy. The fact that few people knew about this at the time is linked to the reason that India has not had a famine since Independence. India is a democracy (admittedly very "sui generis") and it would have been impossible to hide the death toll, as it was in totalitarian China or British India where the Indians weren't considered to really matter.

Famine is in fact nearly always linked to messy government policies, and the famines in India were the direct result of a lunatic adherence to free market ideas, just as the China famine was the result of a lunatic adherence to "communism", and the Ukrainian famine a lunatic adherence to "collectivism".

Your comments on Arab slave traders is also somewhat inaccurate. The Arabs had no influence whatsoever on the slave trade to the New World, which was run entirely by Europeans as far as transport went, and Africans as far as capturing the slaves initially went. The Arab slave traders certainly stepped up their activities in the 19th century but this was in the East of Africa. Moreover in general the Arabs treated their slaves considerably better than slave owners in the New World did (presuming the slaves survived the voyage), even if only for practical reasons, so the effect on demography was probably less.

And on the subject of slavery, may I recommend a book called "The Highland Clearances", which describes the depopulation of the Highlands of Scotland in the name of economic efficiency. Two details stand out. One that the dispossessed who paid for their passages to the New World, travelled in conditions that would not have been tolerated had they been slaves, the number of which per vessel had been legislated for, and one of the leading Scottish aristocrats responsible for the dispossesions spent most of her time in London acting as a host for Alcott and campaigning against slavery in the US.

Oh, and on the subject of the Celts, I am looking forward to you telling me how the British reduced famine in India using the same methods they had used to get rid of it in Ireland.

On the subject of the British gassing the Kurds in the 1920's I will try and check it out. It is an oft repeated story but may not be true; what is certainly true is that they caused a large number of deaths among the civilian population they had "liberated", and they certainly gassed the Germans in WWI (and of course were gassed back).

Stephen Jones
Thursday, December 18, 2003

A cursory check suggests that the British Air Force did not gas the Kurds, though it seems the army used poison gas against the insurrectionists in the South in 1920, and it is possible that gas was not dropped from planes because of technical difficulties rather than any outburst of humanitarianism.

Your suggestion of a compassionate Churchill suggesting tear gas as a way of saving lives doesn't seem to fit in with his actual words.

" Churchill was particularly keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment". He dismissed objections as "unreasonable". "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes _ [to] spread a lively terror _" In today's terms, "the Arab" needed to be shocked and awed. A good gassing might well do the job. "

The bombing of the Kurds was carried out by Bomber Harris, later famed for killing more people in the fire bombing of Dresden than the Americans killed with both Atom Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Here is his description of his actions in Iraq: "Wing-Commander Sir Arthur Harris (later Bomber Harris, head of wartime  Bomber Command) was happy to emphasise that *The Arab and Kurd now  know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within forty-five  minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.* "

Stephen Jones
Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Opium Wars actually started after the Emperor's son died of an overdose which prompted China to imprison merchants, burn warehouses and seize ships.  These are usually considered acts of war.

As for famine, I have never denied they occurred.  You are the one who insists that they never occurred before the British arrived in India.  Seeing as you are the one making the sweeping generalisation, you should be the one to back up your claims.  As for the source you quoted from, I read the article.  It contains statistics about the relative sizes of the British and Indian economies, and then uses these to make sweeping claims that because Britain ended up with a bigger economy this was because Britain "destroyed" the Indian economy.  Most reasonable people consider Britain's economic growth to have been caused by the Industrial Revolution.  I shouldn't have to explain that faster growth will eventually lead to a bigger economy.

Scotland has a separate legal system to England and Wales, and the actions of Scottish lairds was appalling.  But it was a *Scottish* action, against *Scottish* people.  You might also want to consider that the same people using their disproportionate influence in Westminster also helped pass various Enclosure Acts that had the exact same effect on English peasantry.  So that would be Celts oppressing other Celts *and* oppressing the English as well.

Famine in Ireland was the result of a fungus attacking potato crops.  It was not deliberate.  You appear to be suggesting otherwise.

The Mayor of Dresden himself stated that it was German actions that were ultimately responsible for the destruction wrought in Dresden.  I shouldn't have to point out that the Germans had been firebombing our cities for years, you must have heard of the "Blitz".  Coventry was hit so badly that the Germans removed it from their maps claiming that "it no longer existed".  And it was the German airforce that used Stuka divebombers to bomb refugee columns as a matter of deliberate policy.  We were liberating concentration camps when Dresden was bombed.  It's not surprising that horrors happen when so much horror is being inflicted.

David B. Wildgoose
Friday, December 19, 2003

Oh, and by the way, gas attacks made by the Allied forces in the First World War were actually made in *response* to gas attacks by the Germans, who started the whole horrible process.  They were not initiated by the British as you are implying.

You seem to have an irrational hatred of the British, and seem to be willing to misrepresent any and all facts in order to back up this vitriol.

I am perfectly happy to accept that horrible things have happened in the past, and that in some of those cases the British government of the day was responsible.  I am not prepared to believe that the British are invariably villains, and other peoples invariably saintly.

As a result I see no point in continuing this discussion further, but considering the time of year, have a Happy Christmas anyway.

David B. Wildgoose
Friday, December 19, 2003

Dear David,
                  --"I am not prepared to believe that the British are invariably villains, and other peoples invariably saintly."----

                  I didn't of course suggest this in the least, but to accuse me of it is a common cheap rhetorical trick. The reason we are concentrating on British atrocities is because you are denying their existence, and seem to think that the British Empire was some kind of utopian solution.

                  I don't have an irrational hatred of my fellow Britons; just a perfectly rational aversion to hypocrisy, and the wish of certain people to view history like some kind of middle-brow BBC costume drama.

Stephen Jones
Friday, December 19, 2003

Continuing the thread..............

You wave your flag. You burn your flag. I'll just regard mine.

Adding my comments to the initial contents of this thread..........

I've just been reading the full book, without paying a p. to ESR, of course, and it is not true that he is

o A zealot

o Anti proprietory software

o Promoting his agenda _in_exclusion_of sympathysing with other agenda

Picking ad-hoc example paragraphs from the book. All emphases are mine.

<quote zealot=false>
The case for this attitude is easy to make (indeed, we spend much of this book making it). Clean minimalism makes us feel virtuous on many levels, and designing for it is a valuable counter to the natural tendency of software systems to develop ever-more-elaborate encrustations of ill-considered features.

But computing resources and human thinking time, like wealth, find their justification not in being hoarded but in being spent.

As with other forms of asceticism, one has to ask when design minimalism stops being a valuable form of self-discipline and starts being a mere hair shirt — a way to indulge those feelings of virtue at the expense of actually using that wealth to get work done.

This is a perilous question, all too easily turned into an argument for abandoning good design discipline altogether. Unix old hands often shy away from it, fearing that failing to hold the hardest possible line against complexity and bloat will lead us inexorably to damnation. But it's also a necessary question. We'll tackle it directly when analyzing this chapter's case studies.

<quote anti-proprietory=false>
You'll get more insight from using profilers if you think of them less as ways to collect individual performance numbers, and more as ways to learn how performance varies as a function of interesting parameters (e.g., problem size, CPU speed, disc speed, memory size, compiler optimization, or whatever else is relevant). Try fitting those numbers to a model, using open-source software like R or <em>a good-quality proprietary tool like MATLAB.</em>

He just says "Its a good system, a functional one, an established one and I strongly recommend you use it." Nothing wrong with that, including the reccomendation. Upto us to choose it or not, he's made that clear.

Note: I have absolutely no required involvement with Unix, Linux or Macs in either my work or personal environments. At least, not yet.

Linux has been recently installed and configured _at_home_ for purely educational purposes.

Indian Developer in India
Saturday, December 20, 2003

What I have read by Raymond seems perfectly reasonable; there are probably things he's wrong about but that is normal. People also seem to have forgotten that Joel thought the book good enough to recommend for book of the month., and he's hardly a Unix zealot.

However this forum does contain a large contingent of the rabid right who are an exact mirror image of the slashdot "hacker boy".

Stephen Jones
Saturday, December 20, 2003

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