[TUHS] Ideas for a Unix paper I'm writing

Al Kossow aek at bitsavers.org
Wed Jun 29 01:22:24 AEST 2011

On 6/27/11 5:11 PM, Warren Toomey wrote:
> All, IEEE Spectrum have asked me to write a paper on Unix to celebrate the
> 40th anniversary of the release of 1st Edition in November 1971. I'm after
> ideas&  suggestions!

The notion that Unix provided a good enough set of system services that people
got on with building systems with a common set of tools. This included things
like the RATFOR-based portable operating systems that came out of Georgia Tech
and Laurence Livermore Labs. It took most of the 70's to get going, but by the
80's microprocessors were powerful enough that Unix would run well on them, and
that dovetailed with Stallman's efforts to get a freely available tool chain.

Contrast this with VMS/WinNT and the dozens of proprietary systems which survived
by vendor lock in.

Having lived through the OS wars inside Apple, it became clear that there weren't
enough developer resources available to build a new system from scratch, and the
value added wasn't in the core OS and tools, but the user environment. This appears
to have occurred to almost everyone else now as well. Go for product differentiators
and leverage as much freely available system infrastructure as you can.

I was just digging through some CDC documents we just received concerning the joint
CDC/NCR developments that happened in the early 70's, and was thinking how fast the
pace of system change is now. The system they started on in 1973 was ultimately
released almost 10 years later as the CYBER 180. By the end of the 80's they were
thinking of porting Unix to it. I can't imagine anyone taking 10 years today to
develop a new computer system, or thinking of writing an operating system and tool
chain from scratch.

Building on the 40 years of experience and not reinventing wheels
is the ultimate legacy of the Unix system.

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