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In their own words: Unix pioneers remember the good times

Julie Sartain | Aug. 20, 2013
We caught up with the pioneers who brought us the Unix operating system and asked them to share some memories of the early days of Unix development.

Bill Joy reveals the beginnings of Berkeley Unix: "More than 30 years ago, I had changed Unix to run with virtual memory on the VAX. I was at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J., hanging out with the original Unix research group. I was talking with Steve Bourne who, like me, had written a new shell' (command line interpreter) for Unix."

"He mentioned another machine, in a different department, where they would love to have my new-fangled Unix. One night, we stayed up all night and changed the OS -- when people came in the next morning, they had Berkeley Unix, rather than the internal (non-research) Bell Labs version they were previously running. It was quite an audacious change to make with no wide notice or permission requested (and; therefore, denied)."

"But it all went quite smoothly; the new system was more reliable and faster. It was a coals to Newcastle' moment and, for me, marked the arrival of Berkeley Unix as a real thing. Berkeley Unix, as it is well known, brought a quality implementation of the TCP/IP Internet protocols. It was really the first high-performance one and with, what is now called, software defined networking.'"

"I have never understood the focus on hardware black boxes for networking. To me, software defined networking was the way to go. Perhaps that's why Sun and Cisco were separate companies, even though both came out of Stanford and on similar hardware."

David Korn tells the cookie story, plus a true Woody Allen moment':

"When I joined Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1976, my supervisor was Mike Pilla, who was one of the first Unix adopters for an internal operations support system. Mike liked to play practical jokes on his people; often as a learning experience. One day, Mike was trying to resolve a Unix problem, so he called Ken Thompson, the co-inventor of Unix. While he was on the phone in front of his terminal deep in conversation, one of the members of the group named John, used the write' command to write on his terminal, Panic; no cookie.' Mike then reported to Ken, Ken, I just got a panic, no cookie, what does this mean?' After a couple of minutes back and forth between Mike and Ken, John came into his room with a box of cookies and reported what he had done."

"Years later, in the mid 90s, I started on the UWIN (Unix for Windows) project. In the late 90s, there was a workshop in Seattle aimed at Unix users with an interest in Windows NT, which I attended. Since the audience was primarily Unix or Linux users, I knew many of the people. One talk that was presented by a speaker from Microsoft was an announcement and description of their Unix on Windows product."


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