Practical Technology

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40 Years of Unix


Unix is 40-years old. 1969, the summer of love, was the summer of not having enough computer resources for AT&T Bell Lab employees Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie. After the failure of Multics, a timesharing operating system, the two needed a computer and an operating system to run Space Travel, an early computer game. Since there was a now famous “little-used DEC PDP-7” mini-computer at Bell Labs, they took it over and start programming the game into the computer using paper tape. Of course, to run a game, they also needed a file-system, some way of handling computer processes, and, to make a long story short, they used the lessons of Multics to create an operating system that, in time, became Unix.

Today, we often see Unix as an operating system on the way out. I don’t see that at all. Yes, specific versions of Unix, such as Sun Solaris aren’t doing well, and no one believes that HP’s HP-UX or IBM’s AIX are going to reclaim the server operating system market from Linux or Windows Server. As for SCO’s OpenServer and UnixWare, they’re both all but dead thanks to SCO’s focus on fighting with the Linux companies. A pity that since both of SCO’s Unix operating systems are actually good systems.

So why do I think that Unix is actually alive and well if its best known operating systems are either on the way out or slowly losing ground? Because, over the decades Unix has transformed from one form to several others that are doing quite well.

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