UNIX seems small

I've been programming again in NetBSD, a kind of UNIX—an operating system. And as I work, I feel something creeping from the edges: the idea that UNIX is small

UNIX always seemed big to me in the past. It was the operating system used by big companies I worked for. It runs virtually everything in the world now, especially since Apple based its operating systems on BSD. It has the power to do big programming tasks and sift through huge amounts of data

So it seems big, right? Tons of code and infinite tools you can build and use

But today UNIX seems small to me

I use Darwin (UNIX) on my iPad and NetBSD on the box I program on. And when I issue commands, when I edit files and run programs on the NetBSD box, UNIX seems small

It seems this way partly because I've been so familiar with it for so long—the commands seem easy and everything I type is familiar. The tools seem like Legos, like Play-Doh, like Duplo—they're for kids

The command set seems small, the abilities of the boxes seem small to describe. Processes, threads, bytes, bits

It's also because my screen is small—smaller now than on any UNIX I've used before. In small I mean centimeters, not pixels. My screen is small—you can hold it in your hand. UNIX seems small because it's literally in my hand. UNIX used to fill rooms

It's because of virtualization—the ability to run OSs on top of OSs—which makes the creation of hosts programmable, that hosts seem small

It's because of the internet. Because what seemed like an all-powerful standalone (in the past) now seems like the tiny points in a mosaic of complexity. One UNIX system is as powerful as it's ever been (or more) it's just that now there are so many—that makes each one seem small

And it's because UNIX is everywhere. It's embedded. In robots. In rockets. In everything

UNIX, I love you. How do you like your new size in my growth-warped mind? I return to you now (digital lover) to program the largest thing I've programmed into your (somewhat smaller) shell. Wish me luck!