Nuke wrote:What made IRIX a good operating system? Some additional information in terms of comparison to Solaris, Linux, Windows, etc. is good, too.
There are a couple of reasons why I have enjoyed IRIX.
Through the 90s and early 2000s, IRIX had the most polished, sophisticated desktop environment of any UNIX. By far. I think this partly explains why it became so popular in the graphics/animation/cinema/design/life sciences industries. There were enough Mac-like influences that creative people (who were not necessarily computer scientists or engineers) could use IRIX to perform mission critical tasks for which Macs or PCs weren't quite ready for prime time; week-long renderings or computations, for example. (It might be interesting to think about how IRIX influenced Apple and vice/versa, but in another thread, I think.) While it certainly lacks some more recent desktop developments, I find that even today, IRIX has the best balance between GUI features and **NOT** getting in the way with over-hyped GUI distractions and fancy bells and whistles. It was a GUI environment that allowed you to focus on the reason why you were using the machine, instead of trying to figure out why a GUI widget that worked yesterday wasn't working today.
There was also an emphasis on system bandwidth. The hardware and software were closely integrated, and IRIX systems could often complete tasks more quickly than systems with faster CPUs since the entire system was so well optimized. This was particularly noticeable on large systems performing large tasks, like multi-CPU Challenges and Origins. In those cases, things like memory bandwidth, disk I/O, and scheduling the work of individual CPUs sometimes have more impact on performance than raw CPU speed, and IRIX was able to manage all of that extremely well.
This leads me into an area where SGI machines were a bit surprising, given their image as graphics workstations: database operations and general enterprise computing. In the mid-90s and late-90s, if you needed to run a large Oracle or Sybase database, or if you needed to run a complex, dynamic website, IRIX was often the platform of choice. I worked for a very large company that used just about every platform you could imagine, and when we did serious pilot projects for some major initiatives, IRIX came out on top several times for performance, scalability, cost of ownership, and ease of management. On those occasions, the competition included Solaris, AIX and HP-UX.
From an admin standpoint, IRIX machines were very easy to administer. Again, the IRIX advantage was particularly clear for large systems; there was no real equivalent to SGI's Performance Co-Pilot suite of tools on other platforms as recently as probably eight years ago; even more basic tools, like gr_osview, were miles ahead of the competition when they came out.
As a biologist who had some big computational problems, IRIX came along at exactly the right time to take my career in directions I couldn't have imagined. It's been a great ride!