The famous The UNIX-HATERS Handbook claims this mailing list had been inspired by TWENEX-HATERS(1) and other *-LOVERS mailing lists, a long tradition of MIT.

Moreover, the quote below implies there were long-time complaints against mainframe platforms by hacker-hated IBM and wry-regarded DEC.

Users said that they wanted Unix because it was better than the "stone knives and bear skins" FORTRAN and COBOL development environments that they had been using for three decades.

But, in choosing Unix, they unknowingly ignored years of research on operating systems that would have done a far better job of solving their problems. It didn’t really matter, they thought: Unix was better than what they had.

By 1984, according to DEC’s own figures, one quarter of the VAX installations in the United States were running Unix, even though DEC wouldn’t support it.

There also seems to have been disputes between the mainframe community and minicomputer community:

So, were there any equivalents of The UNIX-HATERS Handbook for mainframes like the IBM S/370, or minis like the DEC PDP-10 or DEC VAX, covering aspects including, but not limited to, hardware architecture, programming difficulties, user experience, and so on?

Other links:

(1) TWENEX is the nick name of TOPS-20, a mainframe operating system by DEC.

(2) A quote from ctrl​‑alt​‑delor, in the chat room for that question, states:

Unix is an old system, that should have been replaced years ago. Unfortunately it is the most modern system we have, and still years ahead of MS-Windows.It seems to have been at least 10 years ahead of MS for at least the last 30 years (probably longer).

  • 1
    Hmm, interesting, but why should someone write such a 'book' when mainframes were already years ahead, as the quote supports, carrying way less deficit to complain about? (All beside the fact that I wouldn't call any DEC system a mainframe. They are minis).
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 28, 2023 at 13:49
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    VAX wasn't a mainframe by any standards (though the ill-fated VAX 9000 aspired to that label).
    – dave
    Jan 28, 2023 at 14:25
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    Your question sees oddly unbalanced - Unix Haters is about software (which runs on several hardware bases) and the question is asking about hating hardware (each instance of which can run several different operating systems).
    – dave
    Jan 28, 2023 at 14:36
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    Sign me up for getting a copy of the x86-Haters Handbook though.
    – dave
    Jan 28, 2023 at 14:47
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    I feel similarly about extended (multiple section) addressing on the PDP-10. It's a wart on an otherwise-handsome face.
    – dave
    Jan 28, 2023 at 23:47

1 Answer 1


"The Unix-Haters Handbook" is a product of a particular time and place that made an entire book possible, the rise of RISC workstations and the Internet.

People had been grumbling about mainframes and then minicomputers before then. For an example that is very much in the spirit of the Unix-Haters Handbook, search for "Darryl Rubin A Problem in the Making". This is a very funny comparison of HAL 9000 and IBM mainframes that was published in a major professional IT magazine. It's so good that the most common version now circulating is a copy with IBM mainframes replaced by Microsoft.

However there were a lot less mainframes and minicomputers around, so a lot less people who read this kind of writing. By the 1970s there weren't any real prospects for introducing a new kind of mainframe because it would have cost too much, and by the 1980s it was getting almost as expensive to introduce a new kind of minicomputer. So complaints were mostly aimed at improving existing products, not replacing them with new ones. A "Mainframe Haters Handbook" would have had a very small potential audience, and no Internet to spread by recommendation rather than an expensive advertising campaign.

The Unix-Haters mailing list starts in the late 1980s and the book is published in 1994. This is the time when RISC is the hot new thing, a revolutionary new CPU architecture making high performance computing much more available. Personal computers existed, but at that time they were very much considered toys, not powerful enough for real work. Personal computers do mean that there is a much larger audience reading about computer technology: magazines such as Byte would cover advanced research as something expected to arrive on PCs in the future.

RISC builds on the latest decade or so of research in computer architecture. There's also been a decade or more of research into operating systems and user environments going on, so the OS on your brand new RISC box will be equally advanced, right? The sort of advanced environment from Xerox PARC or MIT will now be generally available?

Nope. These super duper RISC workstations are all running some variant of Unix from the early 1970s. From the viewpoint of the people who worked in OS and related research, it's as if the Concorde or Boeing 777 were being built as biplanes.

So The Unix-Haters Handbook is not just a rant against Unix, but also pointing out all the better alternatives that were being ignored. The Internet meant that these people could easily find each other and generate informal publicity, personal computing had created a wider potential audience, RISC computers had introduced a time of transition with a lot of people unsure about what might come next and looking for information. Enough to persuade a publisher to make an actual physical book.

More modern versions of the theme expressed in The Unix-Haters Handbook are found on YouTube. For example, Rob Pike "Systems Software Research is Dead" and Timothy Roscoe "It's Time for Operating Systems to Rediscover Hardware".


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