Back in the Day: UNIX, Minix and Linux

by Dave Taylor

Columnist Dave Taylor reminisces about the early days of UNIX and howLinux evolved and grew from that seed.

Twenty five years of Linux Journal. This also marks my 161st column withthe magazine too, which means I’ve been a part of this publication foralmost 14 years. Where does the time go?

In honor of the historical significance of this issue, I wanted to sharesome of my memories of the very early days of UNIX, Minix and Linux. Ifyou’re a regular reader of my column, you’ll recall that I’min the middle of developing a mail merge Bash utility, but that’ll just haveto wait until next time. I promise, the shell ain’t goinganywhere in the meantime!

Back in the Day

I first stepped foot on campus at UC San Diego in late 1980, a declaredcomputer science major. At that point, a lot of our compsci program wasbased on USCD Pascal on Apple II systems. I still have fond memories offloppy drives and those dorky, pixelated—but oh so fun!—Apple II gameswe’d play during lab time.

For more serious classes, however, we had some big iron—a mainframe withaccounts and remote computer lab terminals set up in designated rooms. Theoperating system on those systems? UNIX—an early version of BSD UNIX is myguess. It had networking using a modem-to-modem connection calledUNIX-to-UNIX Copy Protocol, or UUCP. If you wanted to send email tosomeone, you used addresses where it was:

unique-hostname ! unique-hostname ! account

I don’t remember my UCSD email address, but some years later, I was partof the admin team on the major UUCP hub hplabs, and my email address wassimply hplabs!taylor.

Somewhere along the way, networking leaped forward with TCP/IP (we hadTCP/IP “Bake Offs” to test interoperability). Once we hadmany-to-many connectivity, it was clear that the “bang” notation wasunusable and unnecessarily complicated. We didn’t want to worry aboutrouting, just destination. Enter the “@” sign. I becametaylor@hplabs.com.

Meanwhile, UNIX kept growing, and the X Window System from MIT gainedpopularity as a UI layer atop the UNIX command line. In fact, X is a publicdomain implementation of the windowing system my colleagues and I first sawat the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. PARC had computers where multipleprograms were on the screen simultaneously in “windows”, and therewas a pointer device used to control them—so cool. Doug Englebart wasinspired too; he went back to Stanford Research Institute and invented themouse to make control of those windows easier. At Apple, they also saw whatwas being created at PARC and were inspired to create the Macintosh withall its windowing goodness.

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