Unix Celebrates 50 Years
Written by Sue Gee   
Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Today and tomorrow Nokia Bell Labs is hosting a two-day event  celebrating 50 years of the Unix operating system, reflecting on Unix’s past and exploring the future of computing. Speakers and panelists include many of the original team that built Unix and designed the C programming language. 


If you think that because Unix is now 50 and no longer being developed then it belongs to the past, think again. Not only is it still going, it still shapes the future.

This point is made when, opening this presentation to the audience at  the Nokia Bell Labs Murray Hill, N.J. campus, Marcus Hofmann contrasts the fate of the VHS video tape, dating from the 1970s and therefore younger, with that of Unix. Despite originating in  the 1960s, Unix is the operating system now universally used in the smartphones we all rely on - not to mention in servers and mainframes at one extreme and embedded devices at the other. The reason for this dominance he attributes to the Unix approach of "Perpetual Abstractions - Power of Simplicity". 

The session then looks at three topics:

The Kernel

The Languages

The Compute

with a view to the future as well as the past.

The second video comes from earlier this year when Brian Kernighan and Ken Thompson met for a "fireside chat" - or rather sat on a stage at the Vintage Computer Festival  to reminisce about the origins of Unix at Bell Labs.  


For some viewers, this will be a walk down memory lanes. For others an eyeopener. Thompson explains how the PDP-7 on which they started the project had 8K of memory in 18-byte words, 4K of which was used for the system. Writing FORTAN using a language called TMG - which in response to a question from the audience Kernighan says stood fro "Transmogrifer" to which Thompson says "I never knew that" - Thompson managed to get keep his new language, called B, into 4K - although it frequently blew the limit as he added features and the process had to be repeated. 

Much of what you can hear about in the video has made it into Kernighan's new book, Unix: A History and a Memoir written for the 50th anniversary. Yon can also find a brief account in our history article Ritchie & Thompson - Creators of C and Unix.



Further Information

Unix 50 Event

Celebrating 50 Years of Unix

Related Articles

Ritchie & Thompson - Creators of C and Unix

Dennis Ritchie, co-creator of Unix and C

Unix Pioneers Awarded Japan Prize


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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 October 2019 )