Unix or UNIX?
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Pure Unix is all about ingenious design, neat code, writing tools, and making tools work together. The design of the kernel is all around creating an environment where you can have processes that can talk to each other. It is fully "object-oriented" in pratcical terms, but it was invented before the term OO was invented; and it was not a 300 man-month project... The whole thing was about two men working together for a few months, and they had a system up and running. It took a third man to let people know about what was going on in those genius minds, and demonstrate the concepts by writing tools that could be naturally applied to that environment...
Ken Thompson
"... I allocated a week each to the operating system, the shell, the editor, and the assembler... Yeh, essentially one person for a month." [1]

Ken is the most talented programmer computer industry has ever seen. He wrote Unix, which changed the history of computing. Practical implementations of hierarchical filesystem, regular expressions, quicksort, and B (the ancestor of C) are among the things he brought to the software industry with Unix. It's been an agreed upon rule in Unix newsgroups for years, that ken (all small letters and no last name) means Ken Thompson.

Ken is is an orthogonal thinker. He sees things in a different way, and that is the main reason why not only Unix, but every project he works on ends up into some sort of innovation or a new concept. Implementation of unicode in Plan9 (UTF8) and the compiler architecture he invented for Plan9 are good examples.

Ken usually thinks of solutions for problems other people are yet to see, and the result is that in the super fast moving world of computer industry, Unix with 30+ years of age is still rock solid, and almost all key concepts in modern Unix implementations are still those you can find in the original design. The design of Plan9 and specially its underlying protocol 9P gives you an idea what he sees to be the problem in the future, while he has already moved to Inferno...

Ken joined Bell Labs after finishing his study at UCB in summer 1969, to work on Multics. Bell Labs withdrawn from the project but Ken stayed there and started Unix... He was there for more than 31 years, until he decided to retire in December 2000.

Now he works with Entrisphere on building next generation networking solutions, while spending more time on flight which is his hobby.

Ken's home page His very brief home page, with his famous MiG-29 flight report!
Unix and Beyond: An Interview with Ken Thompson Interviews with Ken are very Rare!
Reflections on Trusting Trust His classic chicken and egg paper.


Dennis M. Ritchie
"... Our inclinations tended to trying to build neat small things, instead of grandiose ones." [1]

Dennis's contribution to Unix is as important as Ken's. He got involved in Unix in the very early days, and coded side by side with Ken. If you look at the V6 source code, you'll see two directories under the kernel source hierarchy: ken and dmr. Dennis contributed to IO as much as Ken did to process management, so it's not surprising those two directories were later renamed to uts (Unix Time Sharing) and io (Input/Output) respectively.

Dennis invented the C programming language, which is appreciated by a huge number of programmers around the world, and despite its age is still one of the most used programming languages around. C and Unix are simply interwoven; you cannot separate them from each other.

Just to have an idea what kind of programmer Dennis is, read this quote from Ken's ACM award speech:

That brings me to Dennis Ritchie. Our collaboration has been a thing of beauty. In the ten years that we have worked together, I can recall only one case of miscoordination of work. On that occasion, I discovered that we both had written the same 20-line assembly language program. I compared the sources and was astounded to find that they matched character-for-character. The result of our work together has been far greater than the work that we each contributed.

Dennis's home page which is very well organized and contains a lot of great historical as well as technical material.
The "White" Book The bible on C language as well as a source for good programming "phrases". Required reading - several times!
An Interview with Dennis by Manuel Bennet
Future According to Dennis Ritchie from ITWorld
Chat with Unix Designer Dennis Ritchie from ABCNews


Brian W. Kernighan
Make it right before make it faster. [BWK78]

Brian's name is somehow inseparable from Ken's and Dennis's. As much as those two contributed to the software itself, Brian added value by creating great tools and presenting the whole Unix concept to the world. In a way, Brian was the voice of the team. No hardcore Unix fellow has missed his "The UNIX Programming Environment", and no Unix fellow has used Unix without using Awk.

Brian's home page with lots of interesting papers
The Unix book which should be read so many times... And every time you read it you find new things in it.
Practice of Programming Brian's latest masterpiece on programming.

You will find a list of his books in the Unix Literature section. Did I mention that "any" Brian Kernighan book is a must-read for serious Unix programmers?



Other Bell Labs people       Berkeley CSRG people       Other key contributors

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