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Unix Technology

Inventors of Unix Win Japan Prize 105

Posted by samzenpus
from the better-late-than-never dept.
jbrodkin writes "The inventors of Unix and the C programming language, one of whom also created the first master-level chess-playing machine, have been awarded the prestigious Japan Prize for their work in building the Unix operating system in 1969. Ken Thompson, who is now a distinguished engineer at Google, and Dennis Ritchie, who is retired, were researchers at Bell Labs four decades ago when they 'developed the Unix operating system which has significantly advanced computer software, hardware and networks over the past four decades, and facilitated the realization of the Internet,' the Japan Prize Foundation said Tuesday in awarding them the 2011 prize. The pair join previous winners such as Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee. In addition to developing Unix, Thompson also played a key role in building Belle, the first chess-playing computer to achieve a master-level rating and five-time winner of the now-defunct North American Computer Chess Championship in the 1970s and 1980s. Ritchie and Thompson have also been credited with developing the C programming language, a process that occurred in conjunction with the development of Unix."
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Inventors of Unix Win Japan Prize

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  • by inode_buddha (576844) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:17PM (#35014802) Journal

    and congrats... 40 years later their influence is still amazing.

    • by Sox2 (785958)

      Indeed, that this OS is still vibrant and alive after so long is a real acheivement.

      As a matter of curiousity, could someone please answer why Unix and the various derivatives are still so strong? Why are there so few new OSs that match this one in terms of security etc? Did these guys create the best OS it was possible to make first time or are there better, new OSs waiting in the wings? As you can probably tell, i dont know too much about this so please be gentle....

      • Re:mad props (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:51PM (#35015024)

        You apparently never used Unix during the 70s and 80s. Unix "security" was a constant joke at least until the mid 90s.

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          You apparently never used Unix during the 70s and 80s. Unix "security" was a constant joke at least until the mid 90s.

          Blasphemy!

      • Re:mad props (Score:4, Informative)

        by JWW (79176) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @08:14PM (#35015208)

        UNIX was designed to be as scalable, robust, and secure (relative to standards in those days) as they could possibly build it.

        Redirection, Pipes, shells, heck the whole IO structure of UNIX was/is IMHO a great work of art.

        Then other people started adding stuff to UNIX and eventually Linux that just kept making it better and better like PERL, Apache, X, .... many more.

        UNIX is just and has always been good stuff.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by phek (791955)

        The main reason i see for it is in comparison to most other OSs, everything* can be accessed as a file. This includes most devices and sockets. That has made unix very agile and has allowed it to adapt with the times. The only OS i can think of that goes further than unix in this respect is plan 9, which was also designed by bell labs as the successor to unix. Plan 9 goes as far as allowing peripherals on the network to be accessed as files.

        • by dwywit (1109409)
          Look up OS400 sometime. Sort of similar, but everything is accessed as an object. In fact for business purposes, as much as I admire Unix, I would choose OS400 over it every time - were it not for the expense of IBM hardware and software.
        • > The main reason i see for it is in comparison to most other OSs,
          > everything* can be accessed as a file. This includes most devices
          > and sockets. That has made unix very agile and has allowed it to
          > adapt with the times. The only OS i can think of that goes further
          > than unix in this respect is plan 9, which was also designed by
          > bell labs as the successor to unix. Plan 9 goes as far as allowing
          > peripherals on the network to be accessed as files.

          There is a reason NFS actually stands

      • by aliquis (678370)

        Beyond what JWW typed I assume not designing for the low-end desktops helped to. If there was any at the time.

        Since the machines it was built for had more capability maybe that helped it last until even the simplest machines has as much or more capability.

      • Unix succeeded so well because it encourages failure. The C language is Spartan and direct. There are no safety nets. People who can't keep their pointers straight soon find themselves working in a different profession, such as programming in Java. This is the same dynamic described by Adam Smith for the free market.

      • Re:mad props (Score:5, Insightful)

        by GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) <.almafuerte. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday January 27, 2011 @12:17AM (#35016684)

        It's not so much about security as it is about flexibility and a new way of doing things. At the time Unix was created, most operating systems where huge, ugly and complex beasts, developed in a bureaucratic way by enormous corporations. Software development was done similarly to the way processors are designed. It was a land of engineers, not a land of hackers. Unix was simpler, more elegant, modular and hacker friendly. At the time, OSs where written in assembly, almost no exceptions. Have you ever seen a mainframe sysadmin? Those guys where running the circus back then. Then this bunch of hippies came in and wrote an OS in a high-level language, and it turned out to be awesome. Unix was the software-world response to the social events and revolutions during the 60's.

        At first, it wasn't as evolved or secure as other systems, and it was ridiculed because of that. But Unix is like Lego, and there was a huge amount of young people in computing that related to this concept, and could do awesome things with the building blocks provided by Unix.

        It was the first OS to change the way things where done and introduce metaphors in computing. People think thap FApple and m$ started the metaphor-in-computing trend, with icons, menues and folders. That's just not true. "Everything is a file" was a revolution. The simple, short commands, pipes, advanced interactive shells, all of that made Unix the choice of a new generation. And it still is, anyone serious about software development is on some kind of Unix variant. It's wasn't the technical merits of Unix, it was the philosophy that made it so huge.

        I once asked RMS if he could imagine the Free Software world as it is today, developing something like the Incompatible time-sharing system. Of course, this is RMS and I didn't really get a straight answer, he just rambled about how it wasn't a valid question because the Incompatible time-sharing system wasn't modern enough to be usable nowdays. But I know the answer is NO. The Unix model and Free Software have a LOT in common, and Unix helped pave the way for the way the world works right now. Whether the usual suspects like it or not, Free Software runs most of the Internet, and the world as we know wouldn't exist without the internet. Unix has always been the man behind the curtain, but it's been more relevant in the last 40 years of history than many think. Even now, it's still obscure, think, for instance, how everyone has a Unix OS in their pocket (Android phones/tablets and other devices, ipods/iphones/ipads), and most don't even know about it. It was about damn time that it got some mainstream recognition.

      • by SETIGuy (33768)

        As a matter of curiousity, could someone please answer why Unix and the various derivatives are still so strong?

        I think that initially the primary strength of Unix was fork(). It allowed incredibly easy process creation and management. The file system was also incredible. Continued popularity was due to its penetration of the university market followed eventually by the availability of open source versions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The UNIX-HATERS Handbook [simson.net] [pdf]

      Foreword
      By Donald A. Norman

      The UNIX-HATERS Handbook? Why? Of what earthly good could it be? Who is the audience? What a perverted idea.

      But then again, I have been sitting here in my living room—still wearing my coat—for over an hour now, reading the manuscript. One and one-half hours. What a strange book. But appealing. Two hours. OK, I give up: I like it. It’s a perverse book, but it has an equally perverse appeal. Who would have thought it: Unix, the hacke

      • I never did get around to reading that before. Now I have, and I'm struck by the last line in the foreword you quote:

        "As for me? I switched to the Mac. No more grep, no more piping, no more SED scripts."

        I'm using a Mac right now, almost entirely because underneath all the shiny widgets, I can pull up a terminal window with the shell of my choice (zsh of course; but bash, csh, ksh, sh and tcsh are available straight out of the box) and still use sed, awk, pipes and all those other useful toys to get my
      • The irony is that OS X is now a SUS2k certified OS.
    • and congrats... 40 years later their influence is still amazing.

      Indeed. If a certain unnamed church recognizes them within the next 359 years it will beat their recognition of Galileo ;-)

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:21PM (#35014840) Homepage

    ...you can download all the Japanese anime tentacle pr0n you ever wanted!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      They've also given awards to Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee... I think you've hit on a hidden motivation here, they're giving out awards to the most important people involved in enabling the streaming of porn to one's own home! I'll put money on Al Gore getting the next award, after all, he was instrumental in the creation of the internet!
      • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@nOSpam.yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:53PM (#35015034) Journal

        Here is the actual Al Gore quote:

        During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

        Clumsy and self serving wording, yes. Claims to have invented the Internet? No, not at all. He was just saying that his policies helped create the Internet as we know it today, which is somewhat true. What he REALLY did was cosponsor the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act of 1992 which opened the Internet to commercial traffic.

        So, we can really thank Gore for pop-up ads and spam, not the whole Internet.

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Thanks to Unix you can download all the Japanese anime tentacle pr0n you ever wanted!

      Amazingly that's also what inspired them to write it in the first place!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      ...you can download all the Japanese anime tentacle pr0n you ever wanted!

      No, you host the pr0n on Unix. You download and view it using Windows. So really, both operating systems have been instrumental in creating the life we enjoy today.

    • The Japan prize is actually ONE HUNDRED DARA!!! You win ONE HUNDRED DARA for invent Unix operating system!!! You big winna!!! *insert loud obnoxious noises and strange mascot here* *insert crazy cheering audience here*

  • Google sure has an impressive amount of cool people working there...

    • by bhcompy (1877290)
      Just wait till Kenan Thompson gets a job there. That will make it cooler than Good Burger
    • by Archwyrm (670653)

      His current work has mostly been on a new programming language called Go [golang.org] (for those who have not heard of it). A young, but thus far impressive systems programming language.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      If by "cool" you mean "lured by the prospect of a lot of money and free time" then yes.
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:29PM (#35014882) Homepage

    Ken actually used his nifty hack [bell-labs.com] of the C compiler and the login program to break into the computer that stored the committee's votes and flipped his and Steve Ballmer's vote.

    • Re:The real story (Score:5, Insightful)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @09:24PM (#35015774)
      It's not a "nifty hack", it's the Greatest Hack of All Time - past, present and future, in all Time Lines, and in all Parallel Universes and Dimensions(TM). The fact that he did it in the 70's, before anybody else was really even trying, just adds to the wonderment of it. If there were a Nobel Prize for Deviousness, he would have won it hands down, and then they would have retired the prize, as having "been done".
  • I'm surprised to see that some Programming Language flame-war has started yet.

    Oh wait, it's still early.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm surprised to see that some Programming Language flame-war has started yet.

      Oh wait, it's still early.

      COBOL I tell you! It can do anything even grate cheese to a fine shredding! It will also clean your toilet! No other programming languages can do that. HA!

    • Wanna start one? They are so much fun...

    • The next Japan prize should go to Bill Joy for his invention of the world's best text editor.
      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by Denis Lemire (27713)

        Flame war? Flame wars are built around personal preferences. You're stating facts. :D

      • Best keybindings, maybe

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:47PM (#35015004)

    Thompson and Ritchie invented Unix and C because they needed a decent programming environment for the PDP-7 to develop their game "Space Wars". To my knowledge, the Bell Labs Space Wars title still hasn't shipped, thus inaugurating the tradition of galactic video game vaporware that continues to this day.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:56PM (#35015066) Homepage Journal

    After struggling for years with a dozen programming languages I instantly fell in love with C because I could write tight code which compiled tiny and executed swiftly. Libraries were friendly (compared to Fortran, PL/1, Cobol, etc.) and who could not love linked lists? I liked it so much I bought too copies of The C Programming Language by Dennis Ritchie & Brian Kernighan - one copy for work and one for home.

    It's sad to see the crap I have to code in now. =(

  • by PatPending (953482) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @07:58PM (#35015082)
    Let's not forget this: Google won't allow the co-inventor of Unix and the C language to check-in code, because he won't take the mandatory language test [gawker.com]. Quote: Legendary programmer Ken Thompson, for example, was required to prove his mettle at a programming language he himself co-invented before Google would deploy his programs. He never bothered, at least not by the time the book Coders at Work was published.
    • by c0lo (1497653)
      Old hacker mentality: you just don't comply with a restriction, you invent a new clever way to get around it ("go" in this case? As it was the PDP/UNIX?).
      Compliance is definitely not aligned with invention; not saying that non-compliance is sufficient for invention, but seems to me as being necessary.
    • by lordandmaker (960504) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @08:31PM (#35015346) Homepage
      I still don't really understand the problem here. He goes on to say (even in the quote in Coders At Work I think) that it's not some principled refusal to (why would you do that?), and it's not like stuff's being held up because he can't check in code. It's just that he's "found no need to". His ban on checking code in was just a technicality.

      Besides, he's since gone on to work on Go for them, so I'm guessing he did feel a need to be able to check code in, and probably just took the test.
      • by bcrowell (177657)

        Anyone here actually using Go? It seems like a sweet little language, basically an update of C that is true to the original spirit of the language (small, close to the hardware). When C was created, garbage collection wasn't a mature technology; now it is, so it makes sense to have it built in. However, Go seems pretty raw, and there are other carefully designed C-like languages (D, objective C) that have a huge head start. It's also a drag that Go's binary interface isn't compatible with C's, and I'm not a

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Prove his mettle" is not exactly correct. I took the Google C++ coding test. It's not to test that you can code well; it's just to test that you are aware of Google's internal style guidelines (things like indentation, variable naming conventions, and the like). It's a good way to emphasize the importance of stylistically consistent code.

      Incidentally, I love this approach because I HATE having to go through messy code. Ugh. For some bizarre reason, master's students with several years of industry expe

  • Article would have been way more awesome without the word "Prize"

  • by master_p (608214) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @08:09PM (#35015148)

    Bjarne Stroustrup, that is. After all, C++ has those ++ over C...

    • by Adambomb (118938) *

      Yeah but they gotta recognize Thompson first as Stroustrup's contributions only increment after C is parsed.

    • by berbo (671598)

      Bjarne Stroustrup, that is. After all, C++ has those ++ over C...

      its one awesomer than c.

  • Multics? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @08:09PM (#35015150) Homepage Journal

    Multics was heavily influential in the development of Unix. The inventor(s) of Multics perhaps deserve as much credit.

    • Indeed. And Multics was developed in the same spirit of open research into operating system design. A lot of great ideas came out of it, including the use of a high level implementation language, the hierarchical filesystem, and the ring model of security. Most of all, when I think of Multics, I think of it providing a set of abstract operating system services, in contrast to other operating systems of the day which were essentially used to sell hardware and to lock customers into that hardware. Historic
      • "Unix was prosaic; Multics remained exotic."

        Only up to a point: Many Unnecessarily Large Tables In Core Simultaneously.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      yes. they showed the unix team how not to do things.

      • by Tablizer (95088)

        yes. they showed the unix team how not to do things.

        Mostly in terms of implementation, not concept. Unix was largely an attempt to keep the good ideas of Multics but without the bloat. (However, if they waited a while, then hardware would catch up to the bloat.)
           

  • Platform neutral (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @08:14PM (#35015220)
    One of the greatest things of UNIX was that it was designed to be machine-neutral as much as possible. That meant you would have this common framework that would be available anywhere and everywhere.

    The C programming language was designed with the same platform-abstracting ideas in mind. Unfortunately later C libraries (past those of ANSI/ISO C) started becoming more and more platform specific (mostly as a result of vendors either doing it "their way" or deliberately tying people to their platform). Later on, Java would grow for the same reason again, but with far more extensive standardized libraries covering what people wanted to do in the Internet Age (sockets, HTTP, multi-threading, platform-independent GUI [Swing with Nimbus looks great and performs well ever since rendering was fully hardware accelerated in 1.6.0_u10]).

    Unfortunately we're at the stage where vendors are seeking to close things out again. Apple makes wonderful hardware but their walled garden approach is counterproductive from a global industry perspective (and why they will arguably 'fail' to set the standards for software a second time around, for the same reasons, but will make a colossal amount of money anyway). Google's Android is better, but is still a little bit of a walled garden. Hopefully innovation in profit will move elsewhere ('standardization' of one sort or another eventually comes to almost all technologies) and allow things to settle down in the phone space - and allow the cross-platform ideals of UNIX to once again return. One day I hope that phones are sufficiently powerful (processing and energy/battery life) that developing for them is as simple as for the embedded, desktop and server spaces (which have specialized libraries but are essentially the same these days [if you are using Java]).
    • Re:Platform neutral (Score:5, Informative)

      by jluzwick (1465485) on Wednesday January 26, 2011 @08:48PM (#35015452)
      Android is becoming more open with each update. If you look at some of Gingerbread's new features, they allow for more developers to code the way they want to, specifically you can now write a Android application completely in C and C++. The NDK has become much more evolved and allows for greater access to Google's Android. Chris Pruett has a great article on what Google has done with this latest update, particularly with the NDK. http://android-developers.blogspot.com/2011/01/gingerbread-ndk-awesomeness.html [blogspot.com]
    • by am 2k (217885)

      The philosophy behind Apple's way here is that their API is tied to their specific user interface concept anyways. They enabled developers to use C++ for the backend if they so choose (with all the downsides that come with it) by extending gcc (and llvm). It's perfectly possible to write games without ever touching an OS-specific API using libraries like GLUT, SDL and Ogre3D.

      Cross platform user interfaces are a stupid idea that only programmers could have come up with (I'm saying that as a programmer myself

      • > Cross platform user interfaces are a stupid idea that only programmers could have come up with (I'm saying that as a programmer myself). That just doesn't make any sense at all.

        This makes no sense whatsoever. Just because you might not be able to construct a good user interface doesn't mean others can't (not just "rich clients", but "filthy rich clients" can and are cross-platform, efficient, and intuitive to use - if you know what you are doing).
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If Ritchie had had any clue about how universal his "hello, world" program would become in the world of programming, maybe he and his book's co-author would've spent an extra afternoon kicking around the possibilities:


    #include "stdio.h"

    int main()
    {
          printf( "I'm here on the inside, and you're not.\n" );
          return 0;
    }

  • Congratulations to these two! It is richly deserved.
  • Not that these two don't deserve it, but I sometimes wonder if accepting awards is like a full-time job for them.

    (Currently taking a break from writing C code. In Unix.)

  • "Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie win Japan Prize."

    Skip useless introductions.
  • With this belated public recognition of UNIX, I predict that, finally, 2011 will be the year of UNIX on the desktop.
  • Read the headline: Inventors of Unix Win... what the heck is Unix Win? Is that anything like Lindows?

There's got to be more to life than compile-and-go.

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