FreeBSD at Walnut Creek CDROM
by Bob Bruce <> &
Jordan Hubbard <>
In early 1993, Walnut Creek CDROM was publishing CDROMs for MS-DOS,
Windows, SunOS, and Linux. We also ran a public FTP site that, at the
time, was running on a Sun SparcStation. I had heard about the 386BSD
Project, a group of people working on a free version of BSD Unix. Rod
Grimes contacted us and asked for some space on our FTP server to make
the 386BSD source code available for download. I was happy to help,
and gave him the disk space. I asked him if he would be interested in
helping us put the 386BSD system onto a CDROM. He agreed to do it, and
came to Concord, California to work on the CDROM, which we estimated
would take about five weeks.
Which is all true, though there's another wrinkle to this which
involves why Rod came to you guys in the first place. There was never
any intention to put 386BSD on CDROM since Bill Jolitz reserved that
right for himself and Dr Dobb's Journal, a point he made very clear to
everyone. The principal 386BSD reference site for Bill and us was
also actually gatekeeper.dec.com at the time, not ftp.cdrom.com, and
the main development machine was at TFS in Oakland (ref.tfs.com), a
machine administered by Julian Elischer of "SCSI support for
The idea of a CD distribution didn't really come up as a serious
option for us (Rod, Nate, DG and myself) until we had firmly decided
to "fork" from 386BSD and call ourselves FreeBSD. At that
point, I went to my data CD collection on the wall back in Ireland
and selected what I thought was the CD with the best "production
values" among them, that being the AmiNet CD from Walnut Creek
CDROM (I was also a big amiga-head back in those days). I liked the
artwork and the general layout, certainly a lot better than I liked
the "blank CD in a clear jewel box with inserted single sheet"
sort of stuff I was getting from Germany and the US, and so I called the
sales number at what was probably 3am California time and, of course,
Jack instantly picked up the phone.
Jack was also fortunately in one of his "up" moods and immediately
seized on the idea of a BSD-on-CD distribution to go compete with BSDI
and Dr Dobbs and take over the Internet. He also expressed a strong
desire for someone to come out and do the compilation work rather than
trying to have someone "in house" do it and "oh by the
way we could really use some work done around here if you know of
someone technical" was sort of how we finished up the call. I then
quickly emailed Rod and Nate about the conversation, Rod expressed an
interest in being "that someone", information was exchanged,
more conversations with Jack were had, and the rest is history. :-)
In summary, it was already "FreeBSD" when it came to Walnut
Creek CDROM and 386BSD was always Bill's baby, never for the likes of
anyone but Dr Dobbs to press onto CD and sell for more money than we
ever charged for FreeBSD.
Rod ended up staying nearly six months. Rod not only produced the
first CDROM, but also converted our FTP and fileservers over to
FreeBSD. We have used FreeBSD as our Server OS ever since.
In June 1994, Jordan Hubbard moved back to the US from Ireland, and
accepted a job at Walnut Creek CDROM. His job was to work on FreeBSD
and do regular releases that we could publish on CDROMs.
In October of 1994, David Greenman began working for Walnut Creek
CDROM as the sysadmin for our FTP server. In addition to routine
maintenance, David used the server as a testbed for improvements to
FreeBSD. Over the years our server has set numerous records, and is
currently the busiest single CPU server on the Internet, with more
than 1.2 terabytes of downloads on a typical day.
During most of 1994 we were unable to publish any FreeBSD products
because of the AT&T lawsuit. Once the lawsuit was settled, we began
publishing again in January 1995. Many people were interested in
getting regular updates, so we began offering the FreeBSD CDROMs on
a subscription plan, and we also began publishing snapshots of the
current track. In 1996 we teamed up with Greg Lehey, and began
publishing FreeBSD books, including "Installing and Running
FreeBSD" and "The Complete FreeBSD".
FreeBSD's popularity grew steadily, and by 1997, it was our most
successful product. We began publishing a FreeBSD newsletter, but we
still haven't got it onto a regular update schedule. In 1999 we
sponsored the first FreeBSD Conference, in Berkeley, California. It
was attended by over 325 people, and 18 exhibitors, which was the
maximum the conference center could accommodate.
Walnut Creek CDROM uses FreeBSD for all our servers. Most of our
developers use FreeBSD, and some of our sales people and shipping crew
run FreeBSD. We hope to be a Windows-free workplace soon.
Beginning in the Fall of 1999 we increased our marketing budget for
FreeBSD, in an effort to get the FreeBSD story out and grow our user
base. We did more advertising, more publicity, and increased our
tradeshow presence. We had a positive reaction to these efforts, so we
will be doing even more during 2000. You should expect to see more
FreeBSD products from Walnut Creek CDROM, including new FreeBSD books and
applications. We will be sponsoring and organizing BSD'Con 2000, and are
planning to attract up to 600 attendees this year.
I am very enthusiastic about FreeBSD. It is great software, created by
skilled and dedicated developers. At Walnut Creek CDROM, we will be
doing everything we can to help it succeed.
Bob Bruce, President, Walnut Creek CDROM