It was a windy spring day in Boulder, back in April 1981, when a
half-dozen or so people met in a conference room at Micro Decisionware's
Riverbend Drive offices. It was the first meeting of the Boulder User's
Group, or "BUG." The word "UNIX" was omitted to avoid any hint of question about the
misuse of the sacred UNIX trademark.
BUG was the idea of Dick Hackathorn and Rick Patch, founders of
Micro Decisionware (now part of Sybase).
"Hack and Patch," as BUG members preferred to call them, were working on
a contract with Microsoft, which was one of the first purchasers of a
UNIX master license. The master license was a strategic move in
Microsoft's plan to develop a UNIX-compatible operating system for the
IBM PC. The operating system's name? Microsoft Disk Operating System, or
The work done at Micro Decisionware involved an Onyx machine, running
the "Onyx" operating system, a very early port of UNIX to a non-PDP-11
architecture. The Onyx machine was based on the Zilog Z8000 chip, and was
one of the first small boxes that ran UNIX. At the same time, the larger
DEC machines were more commonly-used for running UNIX. The Onyx box
crashed all of the time, staying up for literally only a few minutes at a
shot. Rick Patch saw this as a perfect opportunity to get together some
people in the area who were also pioneering in the use of the UNIX
operating system. Rick made some phone calls, visited folks at NCAR and
Cray Laboratories, and the first BUG meeting took shape.
The early meetings took place at the different companies in the area that
were trying to use UNIX for one purpose or another. The meetings would
start with a brief talk about what the company was trying to accomplish
with UNIX, usually followed by a tour of the facility. The bulk of each
meeting was devoted to informal exchange of ideas. This was partly mutual
problem-solving and partly sharing experience and advice on hardware
preferences, tuning, bugs, and so on. These meetings were critical from
the standpoint that, at the time, UNIX was not well-known, and was not
supported by Bell Laboratories. If you couldn't find someone in BUG to
help with a question, there was often nowhere else to turn. Beyond the
technical importance of the group, there was also the question in many
members' minds: "what would it be like to work at this company?"
Meetings would always close with a decision on who would host the next
meeting, and Hackathorn and Patch would use their PC data base for
maintaining the membership list.
The first BUG meeting I attended was in October, 1981, after moving to
Boulder to take a position with the long-defunct Cray Laboratories.
The meeting was only six months after the group started; it was already
getting close to having 40 members, and it was quickly spreading far
beyond the focus in Boulder. The October meeting was held at Interactive
Systems' Estes Park office, housed in the old National Park headquarters
downtown. The meeting was a cozy one, with a fire burning in the huge
fireplace and snow falling outside.
As the group continued to expand, with meetings taking place up and down
the Front Range from Denver to Fort Collins, the members voted to change
the name to FRUUG, the Front Range UNIX Users' Group, pronounced "froog,"
as in the late-60's dance. (A few of the more stubborn members who
preferred the name "BUG" still insist on the "frug" pronunciation).
As the first year of FRUUG came to a close, Hackathorn and Patch turned
the membership list over to Bill Riddle, and the keeping of the
membership list became a task that rotated from member to member on a
yearly basis. As the size of the group grew, it became more and more
difficult to pin down someone to host the next meeting, and the group
entered a period of dormancy. After about a year without any meetings,
Ben Domenico from NCAR and I revived the group in 1983, and we
co-coordinated the meetings, sharing the load. A few years later, when it
became too much for two people's spare time, the FRUUG "Executive
Committee" was born. The "Executive Committee," always in quotes as a
reminder that this is really an informal group, is a group of those
with the interest and appetites for getting together once a month for
lunch and planning meetings.
Despite efforts to keep it a small, intimate, group (by yearly
membership list purges), FRUUG usually pushes 300-400 members, and the
character of the group has changed considerably in the last decade
and a half. Ten years ago, a talk about porting UNIX to a new
architecture was of interest to everybody. With UNIX running on just
about everything now, meeting topics often flirt with other open
systems topics such as Internetworking. The group is also large enough
to attract well-known speakers from outside Colorado, giving diversity
that was impossible in FRUUG's early days.
Now that UNIX manages to run for more than a few minutes at a time
without crashing-- not the case when FRUUG was formed-- the group
continues to serve an important function in the community of
professionals involved with UNIX and open systems-- sharing knowledge,
experience, and innovations in our areas of expertise.