Side-by-side, comparing VMS to UNIX, and VMS's approach to a few key areas like I/O, ASTs and tiered interrupt levels are simply just more sophisticated. NT inherited all of that. It was fundamentally superior, as a kernel, to UNIX, from day 1.
I haven't met a single person that has understood NT and Linux/UNIX, and still thinks UNIX is superior as far as the kernels go. I have definitely alienated myself the more I've discovered that though, as it's such a wildly unpopular sentiment in open source land.
Cutler got a call from Gates in 89, and from 89-93, NT was built. He was 47 at the time, and was one of the lead developers of VMS, which was a rock-solid operating system.
In 93, Linus was 22, and starting "implementing enough syscalls until bash ran" as a fun project to work on.
Cutler despised the UNIX I/O model. "Getta byte getta byte getta byte byte byte." The I/O request packet approach to I/O (and tiered interrupts) is one of the key reasons behind NT's superiority. And once you've grok'd things like APCs and structured exception handling, signals just seem absolutely ghastly in comparison.
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