Close

The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix

The classic operating system turns 40, and its progeny abound

12 min read
Photo: Alcatel-Lucent
Key Figures: Ken Thompson (seated) types as Dennis Ritchie looks on in 1972, shortly after they and their Bell Labs colleagues invented Unix.
Photo: Alcatel-Lucent

They say that when one door closes on you, another opens. People generally offer this bit of wisdom just to lend some solace after a misfortune. But sometimes it's actually true. It certainly was for Ken Thompson and the late Dennis Ritchie, two of the greats of 20th-century information technology, when they created the Unix operating system, now considered one of the most inspiring and influential pieces of software ever written.

A door had slammed shut for Thompson and Ritchie in March of 1969, when their employer, the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., withdrew from a collaborative project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and General Electric to create an interactive time-sharing system called Multics, which stood for “Multiplexed Information and Computing Service." Time-sharing, a technique that lets multiple people use a single computer simultaneously, had been invented only a decade earlier. Multics was to combine time-sharing with other technological advances of the era, allowing users to phone a computer from remote terminals and then read e-mail, edit documents, run calculations, and so forth. It was to be a great leap forward from the way computers were mostly being used, with people tediously preparing and submitting batch jobs on punch cards to be run one by one.

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Medal of Honor Goes to Microsensor and Systems Pioneer

The UCLA professor developed aerospace and automotive safety systems

3 min read
Photo of a man in a blue jacket in front of a brick wall.
UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

IEEE Life Fellow Asad M. Madni is the recipient of this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor. He is being recognized “for pioneering contributions to the development and commercialization of innovative sensing and systems technologies, and for distinguished research leadership.”

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Video Friday: An Agile Year

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
Video Friday: An Agile Year

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

ICRA 2022: 23–27 May 2022, Philadelphia
ERF 2022: 28–30 June 2022, Rotterdam, Germany
CLAWAR 2022: 12–14 September 2022, Açores, Portugal

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less