FRUUG - Front Range Unix Users Group
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FRUUG Then and Now

Steve Gaede

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 MS/DOS.

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.

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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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