I have fond memories of COHERENT, the first Unix system I could afford on my own PC. Its manual made me grok Unix and its philosophy.
Developed by Mark Williams Company, COHERENT was a clone of System 7 Unix that run on PCs with at least an 80286 CPU. The BYTE magazine ads of this $99.95 Unix, and what I read about the operating system, had intrigued me for the great value. The product was affordable even for a computer enthusiast and hobby programmer like me.
I bought COHERENT around 1991 and installed it on a 386 laptop with a 40 MB HD, reserving a 20 MB partition for COHERENT and the rest for DR-DOS.
I loved the product. COHERENT worked beautifully, was a lot of fun, and I used it daily for a couple of years. It was my first opportunity to explore Unix.
I loved COHERENT's manual too. I read it front-to-back several times and browsed it frequently. That thick book gave me the first comprehensive, clear, coherent (no pun intended) introduction to Unix.
I valued the manual so much because, back then, it was difficult to acquire technical books and software documentation in my country, Italy. I had only limited access to foreign mail-order vendors of technical publications.
COHERENT's manual had everything I wanted to know. I often browsed it just to serendipitously come across something interesting.
My favorite parts were the
awk tutorial, which made me fall in love with the language, and the coverage of
uucp, which unlocked my access to email. I got a modem and the COHERENT manual helped me set up
uucp to read and send email with
It was a joy to discover the full COHERENT manual is available online.
Robert Swartz, the founder of Mark Williams Company, gave permission to publish the document. Steve Ness, who was in charge of documentation in the very early days of COHERENT, reformatted and posted the manual. I got in touch with Steve to thank him for the many pleasant hours I spent with his work.
In the early 1990s I bought additional COHERENT software from Mark Williams Company, such as the device driver SDK and X Window, and possibly also Promula Fortran. I never got to use that software much, as the SDK was challenging and my PC didn't have enough RAM for X Window.
By then Linux was already too prominent not to notice. I eventually switched to Linux, which became my desktop operating system for the next couple of decades.
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