Eras Always Have an Ending


    I admit to having a hero worship thing for Bell Labs…

    In today's SDTimes newsletter, a news item by Alex Handy, "Lucent Shutters Department That Developed Unix."

    Lucent Technologies has officially closed down department 1127, the research group responsible for the creation of Unix in 1969. The decision to dissolve the department was an attempt by Bell Labs earlier this month to shake up the research environment and get the innovation juices flowing more freely, said Lucent spokesman Dick Muldoon.

    The reorganization has not resulted in any layoffs, and Unix co-creator Dennis Ritchie is still working within Bell Labs, said Muldoon.

    Bell Labs, the research arm of AT&T, was created in 1924 out of the ashes of Western Electric's engineering department. In 1996, AT&T spun off its manufacturing and research divisions into Lucent, which now claims ownership of the Murray Hill, N.J., home of Bell Labs.

    Department 1127 was responsible for extending the functionality of Multics, an early time-sharing operating system created in 1964. Multics was a joint project developed by Bell Labs, General Electric and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unix was initially a slimmed-down form of Multics.

    In 1973, Unix was rewritten in the C programming language, making it one of the first portable operating systems. In the early 1980s, AT&T began selling Unix System III commercially. Eventually, the company incorporated numerous offshoots of the Unix code trunk into Unix System V, the most influential and common distribution of the operating system. System V introduced the Vi text editor and the terminal control library Curses.

    In the early 1990s, AT&T sold the rights to Unix and its source code to Novell, which used the software to create UnixWare, its integrated NetWare platform. In 1994, Novell sold off the myriad Unix properties it owned, with the source code going to The Santa Cruz Operation, later called The SCO Group.

    Bell Labs had not been working on Unix-related projects since the 1990s, so the closure of department 1127 can be seen as the final footnote in the company's history with the operating system.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, no Bell Labs press releases about it. But, Lucent offshores a lot of software research today, including (by my research) 4,000 researchers in Shanghai.


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