Interview with Berk Tague

Summary by Steve Chen

Tague studied math at MIT. It was at MIT that he was introduced to Bell Labs. There, he worked in the system research department and was involved in the creation of simulation programs. He later became involved in Multics, working with the documentation. Tague was one of the people who saw the Mutics project start off. During this time, there seemed to be some problems and conflicts between people who were writing the code and those who were supervising the project. Tague later left Multics in ’67, and went on to work for Safeguard.

Tague talks about the reasons why GE was picked over IBM to work on the Multics project. When Tague left Mutics to go work for Safeguard, one major reason was his desire for a management position instead of a position in research. After two years at Safeguard, Tague left the company and returned to Murray Hill in the Comp Center just at the time that Multics had died. It was Bill Baker who made the decision to kill Multics. "Like Viet Nam he [Bill Baker] declared victory and got out of Multics." This decision arose partly out of a dispute between Bill Baker and Doug Macelroy over the nature of the Multics project. Tague returned to Safeguard in September of ’69.

In his interview, Tague mentions how the Brooks Bill affected the computer market and in particular the situations at Safeguard and Bell Labs. Tague’s position at Bell Labs dealt with the purchases of computers and other equipment for research. It was his job to review all the purchases that were being made at Bell Labs. In doing this, it was discovered that the majority of purchases were for mini computers. The vendors from which the purchases were made included GE, IBM, and Honeywell. Tague also talks about the CMS project going on at the Cambridge Center.

Tague gets into the UNIX project in September of ’73. He was the one to set up the first UNIX support group at Bell Labs. He mentions that at first the customers knew more about the product than did the staff in the support group. The first time period was spent learning more about the product until they knew as much about it as the customers. He mentions how selling UNIX was like selling telephones at that time.

Tague knew about UNIX through Ritchie and Thompson. He talks about how Thompson was a legend in Multics. While working in UNIX, Tague did a good deal of work in marketing UNIX. PWB came under him at this time.

Tague talks about the conflicts that existed in UNIX. "Weir and Research didn’t always get along very well. And Dick Hague was a very prickly character. He was working for me again up until last year… And Dick had strongly held opinions which he made no bones about sliding. On the other hand he was frequently right. My arguments with Dick generally were that I really believed that there were such things as large developments and they had to be handled somewhat differently than what I would consider kind of ?????? which Dick was very good at running."

Tague brings up a point that was made in "The Mythical Man-Month." "In credit to Dick there’s not many people I would find as credible in promising to bring a small project off on schedule. He was very good at moving in the requirements, cutting them down to feasibility, hiring a lean and mean team. He very much believed in the 10 to 1 ratio of programmers. He knew who the 10’s were and who the 1’s were. He’d end up with the 10’s and he didn’t care what he had to pay. And there’s no question in my mind that if you run a project that way it’s very effective, cost effective."

Tague mentions the development of the PDP10, PDP8, and PDP7. He recounts the debate over which language to use in UNIX. Tague at one point decided to take over the latest version of Unix and standardize it.