Darwin at 200 and Linux at 20


This post is definitely not for the Creationists. I have learned my lesson: don't mention creationism in blogs, so I won't.

It is in fact an homage to Darwin on his forthcoming 200th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species comes in a week where for the first time it is shown conclusively that a group of Dung Beetles have switched from a dung to a millipede diet, heradling a start of a new species.

And so, with dung and new species in mind, we look to the future when Windows 7 is released and Linux will be 20.

Charles Darwin and friendThis post is about things that look like other things but really are very different in origin and structure. For example dolphins and sharks look pretty similar ( grey, big, sleek, fast sea going creatures with fins) but under the hood neither are even fish; one has no bones at all and is covered in tiny teeth and the other is a mammal that breaths through lungs just like us.

Ok, so Bats and Swifts both have wings and can fly but admittedly few mistake Swifts for Bats and vice versa. The former is a mammal and the latter a direct 'reptilianish' descendant of the Dinosaurs. They occupy similar ecological niches but one takes the night shift and the other the day shift.

But, so too it is with Operating Systems. Desktop interfaces now look pretty similar to me. Is this an example of convergent evolution as the above biological phenomena are termed? Let's look closer at the OS phenotypes or GUIs as they are better known.


In one single day I have experienced: Windows 7 beta and a bit more beta; the latest Mac OSx named after an endangered big animal (as usual) and the latest Linux Ubuntu named after a fantasy animal (as usual). Well what do you know?..they all sported snazzy docks, widgets, similar zeitgeist skins and.. guess what?. they all run the same applications...some newer netbooks are unashamed mashups of all three...

(By the way have you noticed it's getting tough nowadays to find a decent free open source application that does not run on all three traditional OSes)

...to all but the OS-taxonomist these GUI'd OSes look the much the same, act the same and do the same things.

However, from an evolutionary point of view they are very different creatures indeed. Does this matter?

Common Ancestors

OSx and Linux are direct descendants of an old beast, Unix, which inhabited an ecosystem defined by 'mainframes' and server-client networks. Unix itself seems to be have emerged spontaneously from A & AT labs in the late 60's (I can't admit it was 'created' or I'll be back to paragraph 1).

Windows 7 is however a direct descendant of the first Digital Operating Systems which were adapted to a new eco-sytem provided by the appearance of the first Microcomputers. Sudden radical and rapid code mutations occurred at this time, many betraying Unix-like features, which may have given rise to the following OSes which dominated the early Micro-period in the every late 70's:

MS DOS, Apple DOS (Apple II), CP/M, PC-DOS to name but a few; most are now extinct but one more than just survived. It was MS-DOS which was soon to acquire an odd looking but resilient GUI.