The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix

Also from Slashdot a feature about The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix. Warren Toomey, a historian of Unix, wrote this feature for the IEEE Spectrum in honour of Unix turning 40.

The creation of Unix (which originally stood for “Un-multiplexed Information and Computing Service”) is tied to text editing as Thomson and Ritchie pitched a proposal to Bell Labs management not as an operating system project but as a project to “create tools for editing and formatting text, what you might call a word-processing system today.” One of the first programs was roff, a text formatting tool. The first tests where for entering and formatting patent applications.

At the end of the feature Toomey talks about the historical work he and others are involved in curating old Unix versions through the Unix Heritage Society.

Our goal is not only to save the history of Unix but also to collect and curate these old systems and, where possible, bring them back to life. With help from many talented members of this society, I was able to restore much of the old Unix software to working order, including Ritchie’s first C compiler from 1972 and the first Unix system to be written in C, dating from 1973.