Creeping Unix featurism
Doug McIlroy once said, "write programs that do one thing and do it well," but even Linux developers aren't immune to the desire to add more features over time.
We counted the number of options described in the man pages of 16 common commands, and compared them across three Unix/Linux distributions. Read on to see just how some of the core Unix commands have, er, "blossomed" over the years...
The first column below shows the results from the manual for sixth edition Unix, circa 1975. The second column is from the User's Reference Manual for System V Release 4, dated 1990, and third column is from the man pages for Ubuntu 9.04, in 2009. In some cases we had to exercise some judgement about what counted as a separate option, so there's a little give and take on the numbers, but we think the general trend is clear...
* Note: this figure is for the GCC compiler and excludes architecture-specific options.