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    The book that accompanied the software, and that we see in the advert, played a big part in my career. I was a mainframe (IBM) person with SAP R/2 experience (along with all sorts of MVS based OS and tool experience) about to move to SAP R/3 that ran on various Unixes, of which at the time I knew nothing. I got Coherent, not sure that I even installed it immediately, but took the book on holiday with me and read it, pretty much cover to cover. A few weeks later I was in Heidelberg staring at the (green terminal) screen of an HP-UX based early SAP R/3 installation. And I was ready.

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      So, the manual turned you into a UNIX disciple? So, they did make their mark, just not in the way they wanted.

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        Not so much a disciple, but I have grown to admire the UNIX design and legacy.

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      I saw that exact advert in a computer magazine when I was in college and becoming distinctly frustrated with Windows 3.1. I was strongly tempted to buy it, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get my non-CS schoolwork done with it (LaTeX would have been enough, really, but I didn’t know it at the time, and who knows about printer drivers in those days). In the end, I bought OS/2 2.1 for about the same price, and stuck with it until Linux was very well established and I jumped to it.

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        I just missed Coherent; I went from the Mac to NeXT to Linux right around that time. I always wanted to spend the $100 but by the time I could afford it, I was already using a NeXT cube at work, so.

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          You were sooo close.

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            I know! I remember reading Byte and seeing those ads and thinking, hmmm.

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              Me too – but back then, I used ARM kit, not PCs.

              When I finally did reluctantly switch to x86 machines, I tried and failed to install Slackware, so I ended up using OS/2 2.0 for several years. No-cost xNix beat low-cost xNix, I’m afraid…

              And in the early 1990s, OS/2 2.x easily beat Linux. It had a GUI, and a pretty good one. I wasn’t interested in networking or dial-up or internet yet.

              (US readers may not realise that dial-up access was way bigger in the USA than anywhere else, because basically every other country in the world paid for local calls as well, so dial-up was metered, by the minute. Downloading a web browser over a modem could cost $30-40 in call charges. So shareware etc. didn’t thrive because it was simply too expensive to download.)

              I wanted a multitasking GUI and the ability to run DOS apps (and at a push Windows ones); I wasn’t terribly interested in arcane xNix stuff. I did that at work, on SCO Xenix, running multiuser accounting suites for dozens of users on Wyse dumb terminals. No networking, no GUI, no C compiler. I knew xNix, and it was frankly really dull.

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          Hey I remember coherent! The company I worked for back in the 90s (NCM) produced protocol co-processor cards for TCP/IP, and we had software for Coherent to support our card.

          It was one of the craziest *NIX variants we supported in terms of being farthest from the AT&T System V base.

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            Very cool. It must have seen some success if your company wrote drivers for it.

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              You have to look at it in the context of its time. Back when Coherent was relevant, most PC versions of UNIX cost hundreds and thousands of dollars.

              a *NIX clone for $99? That was game changing.

              So yeah, admittedly it was a bit of a niche market but given that it was pretty successful :)

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            I used it for a little while before I switched to Linux. I don’t think I ended up using it too much, though I did manage it get UUCP set up and tested out, but you weren’t allowed to use it for regular email and Usenet news. That user manual was quite the door-stopper though.

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              Coherent is definitely an interesting part of computer history.

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                Wait, if you had UUCP set up and working, why weren’t you allowed to use it for regular email and Usenet news?

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                  I should have been more clear. Mark Williams provided a dial-in number for a test setup for UUCP, but it didn’t connect to the rest of the world. So you’d have to sign up with another provider (such as UU.net, if you remember them) for regular mail and news service.

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                Just because this kind of ancient stuff interests me, Id be keen to try out MGR on NetBSD. I wonder if anyone has attempted to port/package it before. Anyone here have any hints on how someone might go about getting MGR on a *BSD system?

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                  I remember looking at their independent implementation of a Unix shell some years ago. Not sure if it’s on Github but you can download it here:


                  These are the open source POSIX shell implementations I know of:

                  • AT&T ksh – also open sourced long after it was written
                  • GNU bash
                  • zsh
                  • pdksh -> mksh. These are all the same source code
                    • I don’t remember but I think OpenBSD ksh might be derived from this, or maybe it’s independent.
                    • Similarly not sure about FreeBSD but it used tcsh for awhile, which isn’t a POSIX shell
                  • Almquist shell -> busybox ash / Debian dash
                  • The Coherent shell

                  I think POSIX is basically a compromise between ksh and bash. ksh was more popular when the POSIX spec was developed, but now bash is more popular.

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                    I see bellcore… did it use MGR? That was a neat little windowing system with a bunch of interesting ideas.

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                      There was definitely an X port. I can’t remember if MGR was available or not though I wouldn’t be surprised.

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                        Coherent got X11 before it got TCP/IP. The X11 programs were compiled to use a library that provided IP over named pipes rather than using the network. I don’t remember there ever being a commercial networking stack for the product from Mark Williams. Someone did successfully add TCP/IP after Mark Williams went out of business. I dimly remember an AT&T MGR port but I could be wrong.

                        I wish that the effort that went into making X11 work had been used for TCP/IP networking instead. I believe that X11 would have been easier to port if TCP/IP was available and the delay would have also meant working with a later version of XFree86. XFree86 was improving rapidly at that time so the delay would have meant better quality code all around. It didn’t work out that way for a lot of reasons. The X11 vs networking issue seems like a big blunder but looking back with a realistic eye toward the fog of war reveals that the decision was not controversial at all. It should have been clear that TCP/IP would be a big player in networking between 1993 and 1997 but earlier on it wasn’t obvious that TCP/IP would subsume and replace all other networks.

                        The mid ‘90s were a weird time in Unix. There were a handful of sanctioned AT&T Unix OS’s for the i386. I remember SCO, Interactive Unix, and Xenix to mention 3. Bill Jolitz and his wife had just released 386BSD. There was Coherent which, ran on both the 286 and the 386, and wasn’t based on AT&T code. Coherent had been reviewed and vetted as such by Dennis Ritchie. And obviously, Linux had just appeared.

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                          Calling out all greybeards, can we get a MGR port to NetBSD, pretty please!?

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                        AFAIK, no.

                        There was a 3rd party X server, for X11R5: https://www.autometer.de/unix4fun/coherent/third_party.html

                        A relatively recent look at Coherent: https://virtuallyfun.com/wordpress/2017/12/19/coherent-3-0/

                        Later the company did its own version – here’s the manual: https://www.nesssoftware.com/home/mwc/doc/coherent/x/pdf/X11.pdf