Back in 2008

HOW IT ALL GOT STARTED

In 2008, mycroftiv had been using free-software operating systems for just a couple years. He had been a microcomputer hobbyist as a kid in the 1980s, but had lost interest with the growth of overly-complex, do-everything-for-you operating systems and software, and had never been exposed to unix. His first experience of free software was discovering Linux in 2006, and liking the basic unix commandline environment and the idea of being free to modify the source code of the system. By 2008, some disillusionment was setting in - the operating system and standard application stack was complicated and intractable. He started exploring alternatives - the BSDs, Solaris. There were differences and sometimes improvements, but it was mostly just more of the same.

Then he saw a post on 4chan's technolo/g/y board telling him to install Plan 9, and with nothing to lose, he did. For the first few hours, things seemed strange and awkward, but at least they felt different, not like Just Another Unix Clone. Then he typed the ns(1) command for the first time, and everything changed.

Seeing that list of binds and mounts which define the system was a revelation. Finally, an os structured in a way that was fundamentally clear and consistent and infinitely flexible. The whole environment was just interactive filesystems working together. No mismatched, special purpose interfaces. No disorganized pile of programs where everything worked according to different conventions. Instead, a brilliant and beautiful unifying principle.

Pretty soon, mycroftiv was obsessed, and possessed by a vision that Plan 9 provided a way out of the corporate-controlled data ecosystem that was already taking shape. If everyone just used 9p resource sharing rather than relying on centralized webservers, we could have a mesh of independent nodes that we controlled, not them. This was not a new vision, but Plan 9's network transparency seemed highly suitable for a new approach to a less-centralized internet. The only problem was ignorance of how to actually administer Plan 9 systems and program them to accomplish these goals. The first attempt was a poorly written package of scripts to share files using the Inferno registry fs. The idea was sound, but amateurish implementation and a focus on static file-sharing made for a system with little practical value, which attracted a small wave of initial attention, but was abandoned by its few users after a couple of weeks. The remnants of this early, abortive project still linger on in the archives of the old 9gridchan.

Mycroftiv went on to do other Plan 9 programming projects, mostly abandoning the goals of a public service grid. Now, however, 10 years later, the time to make a more useful and usable version of a public grid seems to have arrived.