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MIT Releases the Source of MULTICS, Father of UNIX 276

Posted by Zonk
from the linux's-dad's-dad dept.
mlauzon writes "Extraordinary news for computer scientists and the Open Source community was announced over the weekend, as the source code of the MULTICS operating system (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service), the father of UNIX and all modern OSes, has finally been opened. Multics was an extremely influential early time-sharing operating system and introduced a large number of new concepts, including dynamic linking and a hierarchical file system. It was extremely powerful, and UNIX can in fact be considered to be a 'simplified' successor to MULTICS. The last running Multics installation was shut down on October 31, 2000. From now on, MULTICS can be downloaded from an official MIT site (it's the complete MR12.5 source dumped at CGI in Calgary in 2000, including the PL/1 compiler). Unfortunately you can't install this on any PC, as MULTICS requires dedicated hardware, and there's no operational computer system today that could run this OS. Nevertheless the software should be considered to be an outstanding source for computer research and scientists. It is not yet known if it will be possible to emulate the required hardware to run the OS."
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MIT Releases the Source of MULTICS, Father of UNIX

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  • how long (Score:4, Funny)

    by Trailer Trash (60756) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:26PM (#21339117) Homepage
    til I can run this under mame?
  • emulators? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:29PM (#21339163)
    Unfortunately you can't install this on any PC, as MULTICS requires dedicated hardware, and there's no operational computer system today that could run this OS.

    Any chance of an emulator being developed that can run this? Are the hardware specs open?
    • by ByOhTek (1181381)
      more likely, within a year we'll see the following article on /.:

      MULTICS ported to run on standard x86 hardware
    • All computers can emulate all computers. The big question is how efficiently.. Anyhow, I bet a very poor hardware emulation layer will make Multics fly compare to that multi-million dollar hardware it ran on back in the days when I was not even conceived.
  • by Unoti (731964) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:31PM (#21339187) Journal
    It is not yet known if it will be possible to emulate the required hardware to run the OS.

    Surely it's possible, it just may not be much fun or very practical. Unless perhaps that old hardware has some black boxes that talk to spirits or do other magic things.

  • oh good (Score:5, Funny)

    by colourmyeyes (1028804) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:33PM (#21339201)
    Now we can comb the source to find all the places where Linux has stolen from MULTICS too. Give SCO a call, they can help out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Etrias (1121031)
      Que the Empire references.

      "No Darl, (MULTICS breathing) I am your father."

      "No...that's not true. That's impossible!"

      "Search your feelings. You know it to be true."

      "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"
  • Imagine... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Unoti (731964) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:35PM (#21339233) Journal
    A beowulf cluster of these bad boys running on emulated hardware running COBOL.NET applications under Mono!
    • Imagine a beowulf cluster of these bad boys running on emulated hardware running COBOL.NET applications under Mono!
      Gah! Now you've done it! Already some poor government contractor is being asked to implement just that very system. You should never describe a system so completely absurd that no one in their right mind would implement it, because when you do some government organization rushes out to implement it. Please, won't someone think of the contractors?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BobNET (119675)

        Already some poor government contractor is being asked to implement just that very system.

        If they're a government contractor, I'm sure they're anything but poor...

        • by djh101010 (656795) *

          Already some poor government contractor is being asked to implement just that very system.

          If they're a government contractor, I'm sure they're anything but poor...

          I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. So are you saying that gummint jobs pay better than your average conslutancy gig?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      You forgot to have Mono running in BeOS on a PPC built in a FPGA
  • "It is not yet known if it will be possible to emulate the required hardware to run the OS"

    Currently taking bids on how long it will take.
  • by toby (759) * on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:35PM (#21339251) Homepage Journal

    Btw, it's "Multics" not "MULTICS".

    Probably the best source for Multics-related information is this site. [multicians.org]
  • by xrayspx (13127) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:36PM (#21339261) Homepage
    I thought they'd released the source code for Ken Thompson. Neat trick.
  • Now all we need is some hardware...
  • by meta coder (752563) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:41PM (#21339339)

    Unfortunately you can't install this on any PC
    it's seem like windows vista
  • by downix (84795) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:44PM (#21339423) Homepage
    I've never messed with a Multics system, but reading the code is facinating for me. Finding out about a dynamically changeable system, where you could plug in drives, CPU"s, and even RAM on the fly, amaazing stuff. In many ways, the design was more innovative than what we have today.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GE-600_series [wikipedia.org]

    The wiki article has links to the programmer's reference manual and the instruction timings. Another issue is the care and feeding of the peripherals. Even so, given the reference manuals, it is hard to see why it is difficult to build an emulator.

    The entire computer industry learned how to build PCs from the IBM technical reference. It looks to me like the same kind of information is available for the GE-600. So ...
  • emacs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FranTaylor (164577) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:47PM (#21339475)
    I miss emacs on Multics. My first word processor, I wrote a lot of papers using it. Even today I catch myself typing emacs commands that only existed on Multics emacs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by The_Dougster (308194)

      I miss emacs on Multics. My first word processor, I wrote a lot of papers using it. Even today I catch myself typing emacs commands that only existed on Multics emacs.

      Did you perchance happen to be using a MIT Space Cadet Keyboard [std.com] with that Multics system, or did you just enter your papers in using punch cards?

  • KISS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:48PM (#21339483) Homepage Journal

    UNIX can in fact be considered to be a 'simplified' successor to MULTICS.
    Which is precisely why Unix matters and MULTICS doesn't. The simplifications in Unix are its most important contribution to the art of OS design. For example, we now take it for granted that the OS should implement a disk file as a simple byte stream, with bigger structures, such as records or indexes, being implemented on the application level. But when Unix appeared, that idea was novel and controversial.

    The fact is, Unix was a fresh start, and a damned important one. Unix's creators' biggest accomplishment was clearing out all the feature crud and creating a simple model that has influenced computer science on many levels.

    MULTICS, by contrast, was doomed by its own complexity. The fact that Unix was created from the ashes of Bell Labs' participation in the MULTICS project is just a historical accident.

    • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:02PM (#21339701)

      Which is precisely why Unix matters and MULTICS doesn't. The simplifications in Unix are its most important contribution to the art of OS design. For example, we now take it for granted that the OS should implement a disk file as a simple byte stream, with bigger structures, such as records or indexes, being implemented on the application level. But when Unix appeared, that idea was novel and controversial.

      The fact is, Unix was a fresh start, and a damned important one. Unix's creators' biggest accomplishment was clearing out all the feature crud and creating a simple model that has influenced computer science on many levels.

      MULTICS, by contrast, was doomed by its own complexity. The fact that Unix was created from the ashes of Bell Labs' participation in the MULTICS project is just a historical accident.

      I beg to differ.

      At the time of Multics people were just figuring out what a computer should do in an interactive time-sharing environment. People had lots of ideas, and since Multics was, fundamentally, a research OS, they threw them in. Only with experience could they decide which were the good ideas and which were the bad ones. They couldn't know, in advance, which were the winners. They had to try them and see. That is the legacy of Multics.

      ...laura

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by suitti (447395)
        If Unix gave us just what we need in an OS, then Version 7 Unix gave us an OS written in a way to ease porting to new hardware. We even booted Unix on Pr1me hardware. The bit that makes a pointer point to an even or odd byte is not the least significant bit in a Pr1me address.

        Yeah, yeah, i know, other OS's have been ported. Windows and VMS on Alpha. CP/M on the 8086 and 680000. Mac OS on PPC. But Unix variants are everywhere.
      • by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:38PM (#21340263) Homepage Journal

        Multics was, fundamentally, a research OS
        Not true. Two of the three partners in the project were Bell Labs and GE. Bell Labs wanted an OS their researchers could actually use, and pulled out when they decided that the project wasn't going to come together in a useful time frame. GE's mainframe division wanted a new OS to differentiate their products from other mainframes, and went on to sell a small number of MULTICS-based systems. Or to be precise, Honeywell, Groupe Bull, and NEC, who owned the former GE mainframe division in turn, sold them. The last MULTICS-based commercial system was discontinued in 1987. Doesn't sound like a "research OS" to me.

        Have a look at http://www.multicians.org/myths.html [multicians.org]
        • I used Multics for a while at MIT, and even wrote some user documentation for it.

          From that point of view, it sure looked like a research OS. They were tinkering with the damn thing all the time, and it would have interesting new flaws and idiosyncrasies regularly, as well as be out of service at random intervals while they upgraded from version 35.6a to 35.6ab. If you wanted stability and reliability, you were expected to use the IBM CMS system.

          I don't say that Honeywell didn't try to sell it as a regular
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      For example, we now take it for granted that the OS should implement a disk file as a simple byte stream

      I would say, instead, that we take it for granted that the OS should provide access to a disk file as a simple byte stream. I don't think there is consensus at all that there is one true way to implement a disk file, or whether that is even necessarily the job of the OS, as such, rather than replaceable modules, different sets of which may be found in use with any particular instance of the same OS.

  • Source? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SnarfQuest (469614) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @01:49PM (#21339509)
    (it's the complete MR12.5 source dumped at CGI in Calgary in 2000, including the PL/1 compiler)

    Looking at random files, I see copyright notices dated 2006, so how can this be a dump from 2000?
    See the bottom of http://web.mit.edu/multics-history/source/Multics/tools/install_volume_backup.ec [mit.edu] for example.
  • It ran on GE Model 645 hardware, a not particularly complex nor fast CPU. Maybe someone will whip up a bunch of macros to convert that language to X86 or even C. Shouldnt take more than a couple of weeks of hacking.
  • by hoggoth (414195) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:03PM (#21339725) Journal
    > It is not yet known if it will be possible to emulate the required hardware to run the OS.

    Turing disagrees.
  • by Blackeagle_Falcon (784253) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:08PM (#21339809)
    Calling Unix a "simplified" version of Multics ignores one of the greatest puns in computer history. The name Unix was chosen because it's a castrated version of Multics.
  • It is not yet known if it will be possible to emulate the required hardware to run the OS.

    Would they consider it cheating unless they use something more complex than a 2,3 Turing Machine?
  • MULTICS requires dedicated hardware, and there's no operational computer system today that could run this OS
    i assure you that just as of now there are more than one project for an emulator (even hardware) are on the works in the half-dark recesses of many college/private sector labs.
  • by davecb (6526) * <davec-b@rogers.com> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:25PM (#21340067) Homepage Journal

    There are two hard parts

    1. Rings and ring-crossings, which are supported in intel hardware since the 286/386 era, and
    2. Long words, longer than 32 bits.

    Adresses and ints were 36 bits, longs were 72, and people used the 8th and 9th bits in in bytes for control and meta bits when manipulating raw terminal input.

    Expect most of your problems will be with porting things like bit_offset_ entry (ptr) returns(fixed bin(24)) reducible

    --dave (DRBrown.TSDC@HI-Multics.ARPA) c-b

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SnarfQuest (469614)
      simh already handles 36 bit emulation for the PDP10. There is one eample to use if nothing else.
  • by mihalis (28146) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:29PM (#21340113) Homepage
    (when I last saw the word MULTICS in a computer room, it was definitely spelt that way - maybe they were wrong then).

    I started college at the University of Birmingham in Edgbaston (near Birmingham), England in 1986. They had a MULTICS installation and on my registration day the university computer club took those of us interested in it to a terminal room to show us the ropes.

    The guy hit a key to get a login prompt. During the half-hour we were there the system did not manage to cough up even the prompt, so we got no demo. I never tried again.

    Instead I got involved in the local programming going on in my department (Mechanical Engineering) and hence learned about Turbo Pascal on PCs and then Apollo workstations running their unix-like Domain OS - much better.

    My final year project was an emulation of part of a mainframe/multics graphics library to the Apollo workstations so that the large deformation finite element analysis software they were developing could work entirely on the workstations, bypassing the central computing facilities entirely. They were already able to split jobs up and run work packets across multiple CPUs on the network. The combined computation performed by their workstation network was already outperforming their slice of the central mainframe. Before my project however they still had to transfer the output files over to the multics system so they could use the nice high speed plotters that the computer center had. With my project they could finally get nice large engineeering plots made locally.

    If I recall correctly I provided a "GINO" emulation library that output large F/E plots as CAD symbol files which could be read by the "DOGS" CAD system they had. My memory is rusty on any more details than that. It was very cool to be involved in that, even if it was all in FORTRAN 77.

    So I like to think I helped kill off Multics (if only infinitesimally).

  • by Jay Maynard (54798) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:32PM (#21340151) Homepage
    Hercules [hercules-390.org] shows that it's possible to emulate hardware that's quite different from the usual PC on a PC-class machine and get reasonable performance out of it. Assuming that the source on the MIT page is complete, it should be possible to work from there, along with whatever hardware docs are available, to emulate enough of the machine to get MULTICS running.

    You don't have to emulate the entire machine in every last detail. You only have to emulate those pieces of it that the OS talks to. You can also get away with not emulating the error detection and reporting features of the architecture any more than is required to deal with normal operation; the emulator will not encounter a failing instruction, for example.

    The biggest problem in getting it running is much more likely to be getting the software into a form the emulator can execute. There are binary images on the site; if those are enough to bootstrap your way into a running system, then the problem is manageable - you only have to create an emulated disk image that contains the files in the form that MULTICS expects to see. If you have to recreate things from source, you wind up having to build a cross-compiler - a much harder task.

    I'd love to see it running. It's possible, but a lot of work. There does seem to be a dedicated MULTICS crowd on the net, and I won't be at all surprised to see them take on the job.
  • by alta (1263) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:47PM (#21340359) Homepage Journal
    They talked them into releasing it so it would distract us from Linux. Don't fall for it! Don't spend time porting it! Don't even read the code because they probably planted bugs that are so advanced that just 'more sourcefile.c' would infect you and overwrite your bios and install Anna K pr0n!!!
  • by mihalis (28146) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:49PM (#21340389) Homepage
    In the "Dunnet" adventure game built-in to GNU Emacs there is a VAX cabinet. If you find the CPU board and plug it in the thing runs and you can logon to the system and even execute commands. So I think someone skilled in Emacs Lisp (certainly not me) should implement a MULTICS system inside this game also. Given the birthplace of the original Emacs, this would be somewhat ironic.
  • by AppleTwoGuru (830505) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @02:51PM (#21340417) Homepage
    Since MULTICS is the father of ALL modern OSes (which would include that trash heap, Windblows) it should provide a multitude of algorithms and processes that people are now trying to Patent and pass off as an Original Invention. This is a very good piece of history. Some people would rather you forget where you came from so they can take advantage of you in the marketplace.
    • by Bozdune (68800) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @03:30PM (#21341005)
      Actually, the Compatible Time Sharing System (Corbato, et al, 1962 or so) is a better candidate for the father of all modern operating systems. CTSS, for example, continued to provide reasonable response to the other users even when a process went spinning in a tight loop. This is something that Windows still hasn't solved.

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