[TUHS] Is the Teletype the unsung hero of Unix?

Aharon Robbins arnold at skeeve.com
Sat Mar 26 00:43:08 AEST 2016

Hi TUHSers,

For a long time now, I have had a theory that I've never seen
substantiated (or disproved) in print.  After Steve Johnson's recollection
of how hard it was to type on the Teletype terminals, I'm going to throw
this thought out for consideration.

One of Unix's signature hallmarks is its terseness: short command names
like mv, ln, cp, cc, ed; short options (a dash and a single letter),
programs with just a few, if any, options at all, and short path names:
"usr" instead of "user", "src" instead of "source" and so on.

I have long theorized that the reason for the short names is that since
typing was so physically demanding, it was natural to make the command
names (and all the rest) be short and easier to type.  I don't know if
this was a conscious decision, but I suspect it more likely to have been
an unconscious / natural one.

Today, I started wondering if this wasn't at least part of the reason
for commands being simple, with few if any options.  After all, if I
have to type 'man foo' to remember how foo works, I don't want to wait
for 85 pages of printout (at 110 characters per second!) to finally see
what option -z does after wading through the descriptions of options -a
through -y.

I certainly think there's some truth to this idea; longer command
names and especially GNU style long options didn't appear until the
video terminal era when terminals were faster (9600 or 19200 baud!) and
much less physically demanding to use.  How MUCH correlation is there,
I don't claim to know, but I think there's definitely some.

For the record, I did use the paper teletypes some, mainly at a university
where I took summer classes, connected to a Univac system.  I remember
how hard it was to use them.  You could almost set your watch by when
it would crash around noon time, as the load went up. :-)  On Unix I
only used VDTs, except if I was at a console DECwriter.

Anyway, that's my thought. :-) Comments and or insights, especially from
those who were there, would be welcome.



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