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Ghosts of Unix past, part 3: Unfixable designs

Nov 29, 2010, 22:33 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Neil Brown)

"In the second installment of this series, we documented two designs that were found to be imperfect and have largely (though not completely) been fixed through ongoing development. Though there was some evidence that the result was not as elegant as we might have achieved had the original mistakes not been made, it appears that the current design is at least adequate and on a path towards being good.

"However, there are some designs mistakes that are not so easily corrected. Sometimes a design is of such a character that fixing it is never going to produce something usable. In such cases it can be argued that the best way forward is to stop using the old design and to create something completely different that meets the same need. In this episode we will explore two designs in Unix which have seen multiple attempts at fixes but for which it isn't clear that the result is even heading towards "good". In one case a significant change in approach has produced a design which is both simpler and more functional than the original. In the other case, we are still waiting for a suitable replacement to emerge. After exploring these two "unfixable designs" we will try to address the question of how to distinguish an unfixable design from a poor design which can, as we saw last time, be fixed."

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