and the Birth of Open-Source Software
In 1969, UC Berkeley electrical engineering graduate Kenneth Thompson and his
Bell Laboratories colleague Dennis Ritchie wanted to play a computer
game called "Space Travel" on a dusty old mainframe computer.
To do it, the two were forced to write a new operating system for
the machines. The end result was UNIX, still the industry standard
operating system, in various flavors, for workstation and networked
computing and a key component in the Internet's infrastructure.
Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, spent hours tricking
out code for the UNIX operating system as a Berkeley Engineering
graduate student. Sun Microsystems photo
Three years after Bell Laboratories released the first commercial
version of UNIX in 1971, UC Berkeley computer science professor
Bob Fabry obtained a copy of the $99 operating system to cut costs
in setting up the campus' computing resources and, of course,
for his students' experimentation. These were hardcore hackers
in the original sense of the word - individuals who use technical
know-how to push a computer to its limits and beyond. Spearheaded
by graduate student Bill Joy, who went on to co-found Sun Microsystems,
Fabry's students spent infinite hours tricking out Thompson and
Ritchie's original code with new features. (Coincidentally, Thompson
returned to Berkeley that same year as a visiting professor on
sabbatical from Bell Labs.)
Early in 1977, responding to requests for copies of their tricked-out version
of the operating system, Joy released Berkeley UNIX under the
official moniker BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution). While Joy
charged a small fee for copies of BSD, it was essentially available
to anyone who wanted it, enabling a world of hackers to improve
on his group's improvements. Those upgrades were then filtered
by Joy and his team for incorporation into future releases. This
revolutionary paradigm in software distribution is now known as
Open Source - the source code, the raw programming behind the
software, is accessible for anyone to build upon and change.
Almost immediately, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
became BSD buffs, enabling Fabry to negotiate the funding of additional
research and the formation of the Computer Science Research Group
at the University. One of the CSRG's tasks was outfitting BSD
with a way for BSD-running computers to talk with each other over
ARPANET, the governmental predecessor to the Internet. Rising
to the occasion, Bill Joy created an elegant framework for how
Arpanet computers could interconnect and integrated the TCP/IP
protocol, the lingua franca of today's Internet, into Berkeley
After legal battles in the early 1990s with an AT&T (formerly Bell Labs) subsidiary, BSD became truly free. Today, with its direct descendants behind Web sites like Yahoo! and Microsoft Hotmail, Berkeley UNIX is holding its ground against the wildly popular UNIX derivative Linux in the battle for industry dominance.
From AT&T Owned to Freely Redistributable: www.oreilly.com/catalog/opensources/book/kirkmck.html
BSD UNIX: Power to the people, from the code: www.salon.com/tech/fsp/2000/05/16/chapter_2_part_one/print.html
UNIX BSD Information: www.computerhope.com/UNIX/bsd.htm
The Open Source Initiative: www.opensource.org
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Lab Notes is written by David Pescovitz.
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© 2001 UC Regents. Updated 9/19/01.