The Unix era

The Unix era

The Unix operating system found its beginnings in MULTICS, which stands for Multiplexed Operating and Computing System. The MULTICS project began in the mid 1960s as a joint effort by General Electric, Massachusetts Institute for Technology and Bell Laboratories. In 1969 Bell Laboratories pulled out of the project.

One of Bell Laboratories people involved in the project was Ken Thompson. He liked the potential MULTICS had, but felt it was too complex and that the same thing could be done in simpler way. In 1969 he wrote the first version of Unix, called UNICSUNICS stood for Uniplexed Operating and Computing System. Although the operating system has changed, the name stuck and was eventually shortened to Unix.
Ken Thompson teamed up with Dennis Ritchie, who wrote the first C compiler. In 1973 they rewrote the Unix kernel in C. The following year a version of Unix known as the Fifth Edition was first licensed to universities. The Seventh Edition, released in 1978, served as a dividing point for two divergent lines of Unix development. These two branches are known as SVR4 (System V) and BSD.
Ken Thompson spent a year’s sabbatical with the University of California at Berkeley. While there he and two graduate students, Bill Joy and Chuck Haley, wrote the first Berkely version of Unix, which was distributed to students. This resulted in the source code being worked on and developed by many different people. The Berkeley version of Unix is known as BSD, Berkeley Software Distribution. From BSD came the vi editor, C shell, virtual memory, Sendmail, and support for TCP/IP.
For several years SVR4 was the more conservative, commercial, and well supported. Today SVR4 and BSD look very much alike. Probably the biggest cosmetic difference between them is the way the ps command functions.
UNIX is an interactive timesharing system invented in 1969 by Ken Thompson after Bell Labs left the Multics project, originally so he could play games on his scavenged PDP-7. Dennis Ritchie, the inventor of C, is considered a co-author of the system. The turning point in Unix’s history came when it was reimplemented almost entirely in C during 1972—1974, making it the first source-portable OS.
Unix subsequently underwent mutations and expansions at the hands of many different people, resulting in a uniquely flexible and developer-friendly environment. By 1991, Unix had become the most widely used multiuser general-purpose operating system in the world — and since 1996 the variant called Linux has been at the cutting edge of the open source movement. Many people consider the success of Unix the most important victory yet of hackerdom over industry opposition.
Some people are confused over whether this word is appropriately ‘UNIX’ or ‘Unix’; both forms are common, and used interchangeably. Dennis Ritchie says that the ‘UNIX’ spelling originally happened in CACM’s 1974 paper The UNIX Time-Sharing System because “we had a new typesetter and troff had just been invented and we were intoxicated by being able to produce small caps.”
Later, dmr tried to get the spelling changed to ‘Unix’ in a couple of Bell Labs papers, on the grounds that the word is not acronymic. He failed, and eventually (his words) “wimped out” on the issue. So, while the trademark today is ‘UNIX’, both capitalizations are grounded in ancient usage; the Jargon File uses ‘Unix’ in deference to dmr’s wishes.
Operating System Background
By definition, an operating system (OS) is the set of programs which provide for the basic operation of a computer. For example, the computer’s display is controlled by the OS. Without an OS, a computer would not know what to project on its screen. The system used on Eos workstations is called UNIX. However, UNIX is not a single OS, but a family of OS’s that run on a wide variety of computers.
Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Brian Kernighan were authors of the first version of the UNIX. It was completed in November, 1971, a good ten years before the IBM PC and MacIntosh. All three men worked for AT&T at Bell Labs. The first version widely available commercially was edition 6, released in May, 1975.
There are currently several versions of UNIX on various hardware platforms, i.e. PC’s, Workstations, mainframes, etc. UNIX is a major competitor in the operating system marketplace and is threatening the MS-DOS and Windows world of the PC’s. Our version, written by Digital Equipment Corp, is known as ULTRIX. Others on the Eos system include:
• HP/UX
• IBM AIX
• SunOS
The version working at each lab location depends on the manufacturer of the computing equipment.
The Connection Between Unix and C
At the time the first Unix was written, most operating systems developers believed that an operating system must be written in an assembly language so that it could function effectively and gain access to the hardware. Not only was Unix innovative as an operating system, it was ground-breaking in that it was written in a language (C) that was not an assembly language.
The C language itself operates at a level that is just high enough to be portable to variety of computer hardware. A great deal of publicly available Unix software is distributed as C programs that must be complied before use.
Many Unix programs follow C’s syntax. Unix system calls are regarded as C functions. What this means for Unix system administrators is that an understanding of C can make Unix easier to understand.
Why Use Unix?
One of the biggest reasons for using Unix is networking capability. With other operating systems, additional software must be purchased for networking. With Unix, networking capability is simply part of the operating system. Unix is ideal for such things as world wide e-mail and connecting to the Internet.
Unix was founded on what could be called a “small is good” philosophy. The idea is that each program is designed to do one job well. Because Unix was developed by different people with different needs it has grown to an operating system that is both flexible and easy to adapt for specific needs.
Unix was written in a machine independent language. So Unix and unix-like operating systems can run on a variety of hardware. These systems are available from many different sources, some of them at no cost. Because of this diversity and the ability to utilize the same “user-interface” on many different systems, Unix is said to be an open system.
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