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Early History

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie presented the first Unix paper at the Symposium on Operating Systems Principles at Purdue University in November 1973. Professor Bob Fabry, of the University of California at Berkeley, was in attendance and immediately became interested in obtaining a copy of the system to experiment with at Berkeley.

At the time, Berkeley had only large mainframe computer systems doing batch processing, so the first order of business was to get a PDP-11/45 suitable for running with the then-current Version 4 of Unix. The Computer Science Department at Berkeley, together with the Mathematics Department and the Statistics Department, were able to jointly purchase a PDP-11/45. In January 1974, a Version 4 tape was delivered and Unix was installed by graduate student Keith Standiford.

Although Ken Thompson at Purdue was not involved in the installation at Berkeley as he had been for most systems up to that time, his expertise was soon needed to determine the cause of several strange system crashes. Because Berkeley had only a 300-baud acoustic-coupled modem without auto answer capability, Thompson would call Standiford in the machine room and have him insert the phone into the modem; in this way Thompson was able to remotely debug crash dumps from New Jersey.

Many of the crashes were caused by the disk controller's inability to reliably do overlapped seeks, contrary to the documentation. Berkeley's 11/45 was among the first systems that Thompson had encountered that had two disks on the same controller! Thompson's remote debugging was the first example of the cooperation that sprang up between Berkeley and Bell Labs. The willingness of the researchers at the Labs to share their work with Berkeley was instrumental in the rapid improvement of the software available at Berkeley.

Though Unix was soon reliably up and running, the coalition of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Statistics began to run into problems; Math and Statistics wanted to run DEC's RSTS system. After much debate, a compromise was reached in which each department would get an eight-hour shift; Unix would run for eight hours followed by sixteen hours of RSTS. To promote fairness, the time slices were rotated each day. Thus, Unix ran 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. one day, 4 p.m. to midnight the next day, and midnight to 8 a.m. the third day. Despite the bizarre schedule, students taking the Operating Systems course preferred to do their projects on Unix rather than on the batch machine.

Professors Eugene Wong and Michael Stonebraker were both stymied by the confinements of the batch environment, so their INGRES database project was among the first groups to move from the batch machines to the interactive environment provided by Unix. They quickly found the shortage of machine time and the odd hours on the 11/45 intolerable, so in the spring of 1974, they purchased an 11/40 running the newly available Version 5. With their first distribution of INGRES in the fall of 1974, the INGRES project became the first group in the Computer Science department to distribute their software. Several hundred INGRES tapes were shipped over the next six years, helping to establish Berkeley's reputation for designing and building real systems.

Even with the departure of the INGRES project from the 11/45, there was still insufficient time available for the remaining students. To alleviate the shortage, Professors Michael Stonebraker and Bob Fabry set out in June 1974, to get two instructional 11/45's for the Computer Science department's own use. Early in 1975, the money was obtained. At nearly the same time, DEC announced the 11/70, a machine that appeared to be much superior to the 11/45. Money for the two 11/45s was pooled to buy a single 11/70 that arrived in the fall of 1975. Coincident with the arrival of the 11/70, Ken Thompson decided to take a one-year sabbatical as a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley, his alma mater. Thompson, together with Jeff Schriebman and Bob Kridle, brought up the latest Unix, Version 6, on the newly installed 11/70.

Also arriving in the fall of 1975 were two unnoticed graduate students, Bill Joy and Chuck Haley; they both took an immediate interest in the new system. Initially they began working on a Pascal system that Thompson had hacked together while hanging around the 11/70 machine room. They expanded and improved the Pascal interpreter to the point that it became the programming system of choice for students because of its excellent error recovery scheme and fast compile and execute time.

With the replacement of Model 33 teletypes by ADM-3 screen terminals, Joy and Haley began to feel stymied by the constraints of the ed editor. Working from an editor named em that they had obtained from Professor George Coulouris at Queen Mary's College in London, they worked to produce the line-at-a-time editor ex.

With Ken Thompson's departure at the end of the summer of 1976, Joy and Haley begin to take an interest in exploring the internals of the Unix kernel. Under Schriebman's watchful eye, they first installed the fixes and improvements provided on the ``fifty changes'' tape from Bell Labs. Having learned to maneuver through the source code, they suggested several small enhancements to streamline certain kernel bottlenecks.

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Next: Early Distributions Up: Twenty Years of Berkeley Previous: Twenty Years of Berkeley

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Last updated: 1999-08-06