FRUUG - Front Range Unix Users Group
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Happy Birthday FRUUGhistory
Happy 20th Birthday FRUUG!
April 1981 - April 2001

Steve Gaede
Steve Gaede has been FRUUG coordinator since 1984. In his early years, he created UNIX capacity planning tools. Today he undertakes a variety of research and prototyping projects through his company Lone Eagle Systems Inc.



April 2001 marked the 20th birthday of the Front Range UNIX Users Group (FRUUG), making it the oldest, still-running local UNIX user group around. Our ripe old age-- probably a century in high-tech years-- provides a good excuse for a bit of senile reminiscing about all we've managed to accomplish in these two decades. It turns out that we've been surprisingly on top of quite a few technological developments well before their time; and embarrassingly wrong about a few, too.

FRUUG's largest concentration of members is in Boulder, with membership extending along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains from Pueblo, Colorado to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The group meets roughly monthly, scheduling meetings around the availability of interesting talks and speakers rather than attempting to meet on a particular day each month. It currently has close to 300 members, with around 70 attending any given meeting.

Though it started as a sort of UNIX support group, it exists today more as a forward-looking computing technology group, not limited to UNIX operating system topics. Despite its changing role, one facet of FRUUG has remained consistent: it has served as a gathering place and a stable touchstone for computing professionals to meet and make contacts for more than two decades.

The Early Years

1982 NCAR Meeting Announcement In 1981, Dick Hackathorn and Rick Patch founded the Boulder Users' Group (BUG), named without the adjective describing what it was we used because in those days nobody dared toy with the sacred trademark of Bell Laboratories. The group quickly grew beyond the boundaries of Boulder and its members voted to re-name it the Front Range UNIX Users' Group (FRUUG) in early 1982. Those (including the author) who preferred the more colloquial sound of BUG still tend to pronounce FRUUG as if it rhymes with BUG. (Click for enlargement of antique NCAR meeting announcement)

In those days, Boulder was a relative hotbed of UNIX activity, with research institutions like the University of Colorado, the National Center of Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST); as well as commercial organizations like Bell Labs, Cray Labs, NBI, and Storage Technology working with the UNIX operating system. One of the first USENIX conferences was held in Boulder in 1980, pre-dating FRUUG's founding by a year. Though not officially affiliated with any national group, FRUUG's meetings for years included reports on current events from the most recent USENIX conferences.

One of the features that put Boulder on the UNIX map was the fact that the High Altitude Observatory's UNIX machine (hao) was a key component in the UUCP networking backbone that enabled UNIX systems to transfer mail from one to another. For those who didn't experience those days, UUCP stands for "UNIX-to-UNIX Copy" and was the basis for a store-and forward network that was used to copy messages to a remote system (usually over modem connections) and then remotely execute a mail program to send them on to their next hop. The network was completely ad-hoc. Mail addresses specified the route to be taken, and the whole thing depended on a lot of making personal contacts to establish connections.

The early meetings were small enough that they could be hosted by just about any company that had a few chairs. They usually included a brief talk, a tour of whatever facility we visited, and a round table discussion that provided a forum for people to ask questions like: "can I set up a UUCP connection to you," or: "do you have a driver for such and such a disk?" The un-spoken question often on members' minds was: "what would it be like to work here?"

The days in which meetings toured up and down the Front Range gave us a good feel for the UNIX activity in the environs. The community of those using the UNIX operating system was relatively small and insular, and there was a fair amount of circulation between companies as interesting projects came and went. A memorable fall 1981 meeting was held in an outpost of Interactive Systems that occupied the old Rocky Mountain National Park headquarters in downtown Estes Park; that round-table discussion took place around a roaring fire in a huge stone fireplace with a fall snow beginning outside.

The Dawn of Desktop Computing

The early 1980's saw the convergence of three technical advancements that would form the basis for the desktop computers that we all use today. The Motorola 68010 family of microprocessors provided support for memory mapping, enabling the UNIX operating system to run on desktop computers with isolated virtual memory for each process-- one of those basic features that the Wintel world wouldn't implement until more than a decade later. Winchester disks became smaller than a filing cabinet and could fit into desktop workstations. And bitmapped displays enabled the graphical user interfaces that brought a new meaning for the word `mouse' into the vernacular.

1985 NBI Meeting Article We heard from quite a number of Motorola 68000-based UNIX system vendors as the desktop computing world developed, and many of them have been long forgotten. We had a demonstration of a workstation by Fortune Systems in November 1982. Masscomp showed us multiprocessing based on Motorola processors in March 1984. We heard about UNIX workstations from NBI and Integrated Solutions in 1985. (Click for enlargement of NBI News article) Bill Joy, from an outfit called Sun Microsystems showed us a system that looked like many others at the time. The Sun 2/120 boasted a Motorola 68010 processor, bitmap display, optical mouse, and of course Berkeley 4.2BSD UNIX with a kernel-based windowing system. Who would have guessed how the landscape would change between then and now.

Although many of us hoped that the 68000 series would win the microprocessor cook-off by virtue of its clean design, the UNIX community didn't ignore Intel architecture processors. The IBM PC came on the market, and it didn't take long for the UNIX operating system to be ported to Intel 8086 processor-based machines even without memory mapping support. When Intel upgraded to the 286 processor, UNIX was ported to it before DOS was, and systems and software were available from AT&T, Microport, and Xenix. We've had meetings through the years on UNIX for the PC, including talks from the folks at BSDI, from Bob Gray and Dick Dunn on "Cheap UNIX," and meetings on Linux as it arrived on the scene.

In the early 1980's, Window systems were typically kernel-based, but in 1986 we hit it right with a talk on the X Window System. Despite how Sun came out ahead of all of the other workstation vendors we heard from, our Sun-sponsored talk on NeWS (Network Extensible Window System) was one of those innovations that didn't get very far. We still have (somewhere) a video of the Great X Windows Debate that pitted the X Window System against Sun's NeWS, Microsoft Windows, and Apple QuickDraw in February 1988.

Network computing became a hot topic in the late 1980's. We heard about Integrated Solutions' Transparent Remote File System (TRFS), Apollo's Network Computing System (NCS), and of course Sun's Network File System (NFS). For remote procedure calls, the debate raged between Open Network Computing (ONC) and Distributed Computing Environment (DCE).

The C programming language encountered some competition from its object-oriented cousin C++, on which we hosted our first meeting in 1988. Many related topics, like the Standard Template Library and Design Patterns following as the years went on.

The Internet Appears on the Radar Screen

Dining at Chautauqua, 1995 Our 10th Anniversary FRUUG meeting announcement in April 1991 was a double issue on real paper as we introduced Colorado SuperNet (CSN) to FRUUG members, with the first, local, commercial offering of dial-up UUCP and SLIP services. Colorado SuperNet was one of the first Internet service providers anywhere, receiving state funding to promote the use of the Internet within Colorado for research, education, and-- for the first time-- business. We promoted the non-profit, state-funded CSN for a number of newsletter issues, helping our members become aware of this great alternative to ad-hoc UUCP connectivity and the long-distance dial-up services provided by UUNET. CSN was eventually groomed for a corporate take-over. Qwest did the deed, and then shut them down over the holidays just this year-- bringing some finality to our tax-funded efforts.

Though at the time they were years away from becoming FRUUG Executive Committee members, Neal McBurnett and Joe VanAndel demonstrated tools for surfing the Internet in February 1994, including such classics as Mosaic and Lynx. Remember Lynx? In our 1994 meeting announcement we touted it as the less "resource-intensive" alternative to Mosaic, suggesting that the systems we used weren't quite as powerful as they are today. That February meeting was followed by an ISP cook-off with the Colorado-based ISPs presenting-- and debating-- their various benefits. Internet pioneer Mike O'Dell kicked off the meeting with a presentation on how the Internet worked at the time, and we had nearly a full house in the 500-seat NIST auditorium, the largest facility available to us. At right is the FRUUG Executive Committee as it appeared in 1995. (Click for enlargement)

Keeping Us Up-To-Date

1996 Daily Camera Photo The middle and late 1990's saw a continuation of our trend of keeping members up-to-date on emerging technologies including networking, window systems, security, Internet connectivity, software engineering, and programming languages. The acronyms describing some of our most recent five years of meetings are sometimes dizzying: Y2K, PDA, STL, RPC, ONC, DCE, ISDN, ADSL, MPEG, DNS, BIND, XML, RMI, AWT, and JDBC, OMG, CORBA, and even NT, COM, and OLE. Which of these will be forgotten in a decade?

We had Perl tutorials from Tom Christiansen and even an appearance by Larry Wall. John Ousterhout gave us his vision for TCL/TK and his concept of agents. We heard about open source from Richard Stallman, about cyberterrorism from Rob Kolstad, and the potential horrors of Y2K from Evi Nemeth. In 1995 James Gosling visited us to talk about his browser called HOTJAVA, and as a side note discussed the features of the experimental programming language called Java used to create it. At left is a photo from a 1996 Daily Camera article about local user groups. (Click for enlargement)

An Interesting Trip

In November 1999 Bill Joy chatted with us about his journey "from BSD to Jini," and shared quite a few interesting stories about the technology that has been developed during those years. It's been an interesting trip for FRUUG as well, and we hope that the next decade will bring us as intersting of a time as the last two have been-- and with the continued involvement of our FRUUG members, it no doubt will be.

An Invitation

We invite you to visit the FRUUG Web site at, and peruse some of the relics from our meeting archive. We're working on getting as many of the old artifacts online as possible.


Thanks to the FRUUG Executive Committee for contributing to this historical perspective and gathering for monthly lunches to discuss technical topics of the day-- and plan meetings. The FRUUG Executive Committee currently includes: Tom Cargill, Mark Carlson, Barb Dijker, Dick Dunn, Steve Gaede, Neal McBurnett, Carol Meier, Bill Meine, Joe VanAndel, and Wally Wedel.

Site Map Recruiter Info
February 15, 2009

February 2008: FRUUG Enters Quiescent Phase
After 27 years running, we're suspending operations.

Future Meetings:
None planned

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