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The UNIX Operating System [Technology]
posted May 29 2014 3:40.50 by spic0m

In the late 1960s, Bell Laboratories computer scientists Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson started work on a project that was inspired by an operating system called Multics, a joint project of MIT, GE, and Bell Labs. The host and narrator of this film, Victor Vyssotsky, also had worked on the Multics project. Ritchie and Thompson, recognizing some of the problems with the Multics OS, set out to create a more useful, flexible, and portable system for programmers to work with.

What's fascinating about the growth of UNIX is the long amount of time that it was given to develop, almost organically, and based on the needs of the users and programmers. The first installation of the program was done as late as 1972 (on a NY Telephone branch computer). It was in conjunction with the refinement of the C programming language, principally designed by Dennis Ritchie.

Because the Bell System had limitations placed by the government that prevented them from selling software, UNIX was made available under license to universities and the government. This helped further its development, as well as making it a more "open" system.

This film "The UNIX System: Making Computers More Productive", is one of two that Bell Labs made in 1982 about UNIX's significance, impact and usability. Even 10 years after its first installation, it's still an introduction to the system. The other film, "The UNIX System: Making Computers Easier to Use", is roughly the same, only a little shorter. The former film was geared towards software developers and computer science students, the latter towards programmers specifically.

The film contains interviews with primary developers Ritchie, Thompson, Brian Kernighan, and many others.

While widespread use of UNIX has waned, most modern operating systems have at least a conceptual foundation in UNIX.

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ.

[Link: AT&T Tech Channel]

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  • At 29 May 2014, 15:45:49 user alan wrote:   [reply @ alan]
    • I agree with Kernighan's assessment of pipelining as the tool that made
      UNIX so powerful. And that input/output redirection is incorporated
      into UNIX as an aspect of the shell, using special characters to create
      and direct the pipelines. These pipelines carry bytes. Kernighan
      made a good point--that pipelines can be used in many, many, many dif-
      ferent tasks that a general-purpose computer has to do during the course
      of a day.

      Structuring complicated computer algorithms in terms of simple "primitives"
      that only did one thing is explained as one aspect of UNIX that made it
      so powerful and flexible at the same time.

      Two other aspects of UNIX make it powerful and flexible. These aspects
      were not mentioned in this introductory film. UNIX is a
      multi-user and multi-tasking operating system. This means many different
      people can run multiple simultaneous, independent jobs (called "processes"
      with no trouble.
      (This and the primitives made UNIX add a whole new genre of computer
      primitives--interprocess communication (IPC). For example, if you are
      printing a text file you want UNIX to finish printing a file before you
      allow the author to edit it.)

      The other aspect is the concept of users and user-privileges, the set of
      things a user is permitted to do with files. This aspect of UNIX was
      absolutely necessary to allow its multiple users to work independently
      of one another without clobbering the work done by others (or by oneself).

      The reason these aspects weren't mentioned in the film is that the 1960's
      and 1970's predated the personal computer (PC). During this time that
      UNIX was developed, everybody was used to using a computer that was not even
      in the same building, let alone in your office.

      Yet today during twenty-first century, these same aspects of UNIX make
      it the most powerful and versatile operating system, in my opinion, of
      PC's, in such instances as BSD, linux, and Apple OSX.

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