[TUHS] Three Questions

Norman Wilson norman at oclsc.org
Thu Mar 26 00:00:04 AEST 2015

Mark Longridge:

  What is the deal with Unix version 8? Except for the manuals v8 seems
  to have disappeared into the twilight zone. Wikipedia doesn't say
  much, only "Used internally, and only licensed for educational use".
  So can we look at the source code? Was it sold in binary form only?


The Eighth Edition system was never released in any general way,
only to a few educational institutions (I forget the number but
it was no more than a dozen) under specific letter agreements that
forbade redistribution.  It was never sold, in source or binary or
any other form; the tape included a bootstrap image and full source

I was involved in all this--in fact one of the first nontrivial
things I did after arriving at Bell Labs was to help Dennis assemble
the tape--but that was more than 30 years ago and the details have
faded.  The system as distributed ran only on the VAX-11/750 and
11/780.  The bootstrap image on the tape was probably more restrictive
than that; if one of the licensees needed something different to
get started we would have tried to make it, but I don't remember
whether that ever happened.

Later systems (loosely corresponding to the Ninth and Tenth editions
of the manual) ran on a somewhat wider set of VAXes, in particular
the MicroVAX II and III and the VAX 8700 and 8550 (but not the dual-
processor 8800).  There was never a real distribution of either of
those systems, though a few sites made special requests and got
hand-crafted snapshots under the same restrictive letter agreement.

So far as I know, no Research UNIX system after 7/e has ever been made
available under anything but a special letter agreement.  There was
at one point some discussion amongst several interested parties
(including me and The Esteemed Warren Toomey) about strategies to
open up the later source code, but that was quashed by the IBM vs
The SCO Group lawsuit.  It would likely be very hard to make happen
now, because I doubt there's anyone left inside Bell Labs with both
the influence and the interest, though I'd be quite happy to be
proven wrong on that.

I know of one place in the world where (a descendant of) that
system is still running, but I am not at the moment in a position
to say where that is.  I do know, however, of at least two places
where there are safe copies of the source code, so it is unlikely
to disappear from the historic record even if that record cannot
be made open for a long time.

Norman Wilson
Toronto ON
(Computing Science Research Centre, Bell Labs, 1984-1990)

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