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Anecdotes: The First Port of UNIX Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129621D
Original Publication Date: 1989-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 5 page(s) / 24K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Juris Reinfieds: AUTHOR [+2]


Department of Computing Science The University of Wollongong Wollongong, N.S.W. Australia

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Copyright ©; 1989 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: The First Port of UNIX

Juris Reinfieds

Department of Computing Science The University of Wollongong Wollongong, N.S.W. Australia


The first paper on the portability of UNIX was published by Richard Miller (Miller 1978a) in February 1978 and again in a more widely read publication (Miller 1978b) a little later. Although Ritchie and Johnson (Johnson and Ritchie 1978) referenced Miller's paper and described the Wollongong port in their paper on the portability of UNIX, almost all authors of UNIX books have ignored the first port of UNIX which was also the first commercially successful port of any operating system from one manufacturer's computer to another.

This trend was started by Steve Bourne (Bourne 1982) who gave the Bell Laboratories history of UNIX on page 3 of his widely read book without any concern for the existence of the rest of the world. Subsequent authors just copied word for word, or slightly paraphrased, Bourne's incomplete history of UNIX with little concern for historical accuracy or independent verification of facts.

The purpose of this anecdote is to describe how the first port of UNIX actually happened while diaries and notes are still available, and while most of the participants of both the Wollongong and the Bell Labs port are still able to recall past events accurately.


In the early 1970s, operating systems were formidable obstacles placed between a program and its successful execution on a computer. It was firmly believed that operating systems must be large, complex, and -- at least to some extent -- incomprehensible. This provided job security for an ever-increasing stream of system programmers who made heroic efforts to manage the unmanageable and to comprehend the incomprehensible.

It was strongly felt (without a shred of scientific evidence one way of the other) that an operating system must be tailor-made for a given computer architecture and that it must be written in the assembly language of the machine to achieve an efficient and compact system.

Dijkstra had shown in 1967 that this need not be the case by designing and implementing a small, compact, comprehensible, and powerful operating system called THE Operating system (for Technische Hochschule Eindoven). However, his work was either ignored or regarded as an academic curiosity especially because the system was implemented on an obscure Dutch computer. Some universities were studying the problems of portability of operating systems but all of those systems were designed to illustrate specific problems and concepts, and each of them was in at least one major way insufficient as a production operating system for a computer center service operation.

IEEE Computer Society, Jun 30, 1989 Page 1 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Volume 11 Number 3...