AT&T Archives: The UNIX Operating System

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AT&T Tech Channel
Published at : 29 Jan 2021
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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
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