[TUHS] How Unix made it to the top

Steve Johnson scj at yaccman.com
Sun Dec 18 15:48:55 AEST 2016

As a postscript, on at least one occasion, the speech was finished so
close to
the time of delivery that a helicopter was sent to land on the lawn at
Bell Labs
to pick up the large-print version so it would get to the CEO in


----- Original Message -----
From: "Doug McIlroy" <doug at cs.dartmouth.edu>
To:<tuhs at minnie.tuhs.org>
Sent:Fri, 16 Dec 2016 21:09:16 -0500
Subject:[TUHS] How Unix made it to the top

 It has often been told how the Bell Labs law department became the
 first non-research department to use Unix, displacing a newly
 stand-alone word-processing system that fell short of the
 hopes because it couldn't number the lines on patent applications,
 as USPTO required. When Joe Ossanna heard of this, he told them about
 roff and promised to give it line-numbering capability the next day.
 They tried it and were hooked. Patent secretaries became remote
 members of the fellowship of the Unix lab. In due time the law
 department got its own machine.

 Less well known is how Unix made it into the head office of AT&T. It
 seems that the CEO, Charlie Brown, did not like to be seen wearing
 glasses when he read speeches. Somehow his PR assistant learned of
 the CAT phototypesetter in the Unix lab and asked whether it might be
 possible to use it to produce scripts in large type. Of course it
 As connections to the top never hurt, the CEO's office was welcomed
 as another ouside user. The cost--occasionally having to develop film
 for the final copy of a speech--was not onerous.

 Having teethed on speeches, the head office realized that Unix could
 also be useful for things that didn't need phototypesetting. Other
 documents began to accumulate in their directory. By the time we
 aware of it, the hoard came to include minutes of AT&T board
 It didn't seem like a very good idea for us to be keeping records
 the inner sanctum of the corporation on a computer where most
 had super-user privileges. A call to the PR guy convinced him of the
 wisdom of keeping such things on their own premises. And so the CEO's
 office bought a Unix system.

 Just as one hears of cars chosen for their cupholders, so were these
 users converted to Unix for trivial reasons: line numbers and vanity.


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