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Unix

Unix or UNIX is a computer operating system originally developed in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of AT&T Bell Labs employees including Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Douglas McIlroy. more...

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Today's Unix systems are split into various branches, developed over time by AT&T, several other commercial vendors, as well as several non-profit organizations.

Unix was designed to be portable, multi-tasking and multi-user. The Unix systems are characterized by various concepts: plain text files, command line interpreter, hierarchical file system, treating devices and certain types of inter-process communication as files, etc. In software engineering, Unix is mainly noted for its use of the C programming language and for the Unix philosophy.

The present owner of the UNIX trademark is The Open Group, while the present claimants on the rights to the UNIX source code are The SCO Group and Novell. Only systems fully compliant with and certified to the Single UNIX Specification qualify as "UNIX" (others are called "UNIX system-like" or Unix-like).

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Unix's influence in academic circles led to massive adoption (particularly of the BSD variant, originating from the University of California, Berkeley) of Unix by commercial startups, the most notable of which is Sun Microsystems.

History

1960s and 1970s

In the 1960s, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, AT&T Bell Labs, and General Electric worked on an experimental operating system called Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service), which was designed to run on the GE-645 mainframe computer. The aim was the creation of an interactive operating system with many novel capabilities, including enhanced security. The project did develop production releases, but initially these releases turned out to have poor performance.

AT&T Bell Labs pulled out and deployed its resources elsewhere. One of the developers on the Bell Labs team, Ken Thompson, continued to develop for the GE-645 mainframe, and wrote a game for that computer called Space Travel. However, he found that the game was slow on the GE machine and was costly, apparently costing $75 per go in scarce computing time.

Thompson thus re-wrote the game in DEC PDP-7 Assembly language with help from Dennis Ritchie. This experience, combined with his work on the Multics project, led Thompson to start a new operating system for the DEC PDP-7. Thompson and Ritchie led a team of developers, including Rudd Canaday, at Bell Labs developing a file system as well as the new multi-tasking operating system itself. They included a command interpreter and some small utility programs as well. This project was called Unics, short for Uniplexed Information and Computing System, and could support two simultaneous users. The name has been attributed to Brian Kernighan, and was a hack on Multics. Following bad puns of Unics (homophone of eunuchs) being a castrated Multics, the name was later changed to Unix, and thus a legacy was born. The name is also a criticism of the overly general and bloated Multics system - Unix would do one thing, and do it well.

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