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A Quarter Century of UNIX 1st Edition

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0201547771
ISBN-10: 0201547775
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

On June 12, 1972, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie wrote, "the number of UNIX installations has grown to 10, with more expected." Two years later the number was 50. It is estimated that there are over 3 million UNIX systems in operation today ...

UNIX is a software system that is simple, elegant, portable, and powerful. It grew in popularity without the benefit of a large marketing organization. Programmers kept using it; big companies kept fighting it. After a decade, it was clear that the users had won. A Quarter Century of UNIX is the first book to explain this incredible success, using the words of its creators, developers, and users to illustrate how the sociology of a technical group can overwhelm the intent of multi-billion-dollar corporations. In preparing to write this book, Peter Salus interviewed over 100 of these key figures and gathered relevant information from Australia to Austria. This is the book that turns UNIX folklore into UNIX history.

The book provides the first documented history of the development of the UNIX operating system, includes interviews with over 100 key figures in the UNIX community, contains classic photos and illustrations, and explains why UNIX succeeded.


About the Author

About Peter H. Salus

Peter H. Salus is an internationally recognized UNIX enthusiast and author of A Quarter Century of UNIX, also published by Addison-Wesley. He is the managing editor of the quarterly journal, Computer Systems. He is the author of a number of books, articles and reviews. Salus has an undergraduate degree in chemistry, a master's in Germanic languages, and a doctorate in linguistics from New York University.



Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (June 10, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201547775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201547771
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By kievite on July 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is an expensive short book with mainly trivial chronological information, 90% of which are freely available on the Internet. As for the history of the first 25 year of Unix it is both incomplete and superficial. Salus is reasonably good as a facts collector (although for a person with his level of access to the Unix pioneers he looks extremely lazy and he essentially missed an opportunity to write a real history, setting for a glossy superficial chronology instead). He probably just felt the market need for such a book and decided to fill the niche.

In my humble opinion Salus lacks real understanding of the technical and social dynamics of Unix development, understanding that can be found, say, in chapter "Twenty Years of Berkeley Unix from AT&T-Owned to Freely Redistributable" in the book "Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution (O'Reilly, 1999)" (available online). The extended version of this chapter will be published in the second edition of "The Design and Implementation of the 4.4BSD Operating System (Unix and Open Systems Series)" which I highly recommend (I read a preprint at Usenix.)

In any case Kirk McKusick is a real insider, not a former Usenix bureaucrat like Salus. Salus was definitely close to the center of the events; but it is unclear to what extent he understood the events he was close to.
Unix history is a very interesting example how interests of military (DAPRA) shape modern technical projects (not always to the detriment of technical quality, quite opposite in case of Unix) and how DAPRA investment in Unix created completely unforeseen side effect: BSD Unix that later became the first free/open Unix ever (Net2 tape and then Free/Open/NetBSD distributions).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By FePe on October 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
In 1969 the Unix operating system was born. The main developers were Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, two programmers at Bell Telephone Labs. Unix was born because of the cancellation of another operating system developed at BTL, Multics. Learning from the experience they gained from Multics, Thompson and Ritchie began working on Unix, which would later prove to be a good choice. At first they used the PDP-7 machine, assembler language, and the programming language B (by Dennis Ritchie). Only later did BTL upgrade to PDP-11. Because of the upgrade and because of the development of the C programming language, Unix could mature.
The book has six parts: Genesis, Birth of a System, What makes UNIX Unix?, Unix Spreads and Blossoms, The Unix Industry, and The Currents of Change. In the first part, Peter Salus introduces us to Thompson and Ritchie; there's also a chapter on computers in general. Part two, Birth of a System, tells the story about how Unix came to be with what today is seen as much outdated hardware. Later parts give information on the many companies and groups involved in the Unix history, most notably the development of the BSD systems.
Peter Salus has been involved in the Unix history himself, and therefore he writes about it with sympathetic understanding. That means that we don't get introduced properly to the persons. And it means that the pages are full of acronyms. The writing is very compact and full of quotes from interviews, magazines, books and other sources, and that makes the book difficult to read. The book also has some minor errors.
But if you can live with these flaws, "A Quarter Century of Unix" is a good read. It gives an overview of the Unix world, and shows that Linux is just a small part of the whole operating system landscape, and that there are alternatives.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Santosh Raghavan on January 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
By far the coolest book on Unix!!
The little stories on Unix are amazing.
e.g. Bill Joy's start of BSD distribution or Steve Johnson's lex and yacc development. This book is full of zany characters that we just know names of. This book gives a picture of their personality. The best of the lot are of
Ken T, Dennis R, Robert Morris, Bill Joy, McKusick, and the rest of the looney unix toons. These guys are awesome. A must read for any Unix Lover.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is an excellent overview of the history of Unix. It will help you to understand how Unix came to be, and how it came to be split up into so many different versions. A must for every Unix nerd.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Abdulmajed Dakkak on May 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is the first one I read about the history on Unix and I really appreciate the author's for the taking the time trying to preserve the history about Unix before it is lost. The book starts with a very early mention of computers, from 1870s and then ends with around the year 1994. Of course keep in mind that this is a Unix history and not Linux. And because it is published in 1994 do not expect it to tell you the history of Unix of the past decade. The book, however, cover the Unix history from 1969 till 1994 extensively.

The one thing that I did not like about the book - and it is very minor - was that the quoted text should have been italicized. Sometimes during the reading I would get confused as to whether the author is talking or he is quoting someone else. Other than that minor inconvenience the book is worth to look at.
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Format: Paperback
This isn't really a big-picture history of Unix, it's more a collection of excerpts of interviews with a bunch of people, arranged in roughly chronological order. Between each excerpt is a few paragraphs or pages that gives the context for the next excerpt. It covers the period from 1969 to 1994, although it seems like everything after 1980 is breezed through in the last part of the book. Things like the various window systems or the workstation wars of the '80s and early '90s are alluded to if they're mentioned at all.

It felt like the author was too close to his subject matter, as this book leans heavily towards people he knew personally or events he was involved with. Anything else is barely mentioned. The end result is, you have a book where the vast majority of the page count is covering the period from 1969-1980, and a really surprising number of the pages are just retellings of a similar story told over and over again:

"Professor X at University Y heard about Unix from Z, so he called up Ken Thompson personally to get ahold of a V4 tape, but then when he got the tape, his department didn't want to shell out for another minicomputer to run it on, so Professor X hacked the software so he could boot it on some old/unused/novel machine that he already had. Everyone in the CS department fell in love with Unix afterwards, and soon were using troff to write all of their papers."

Seriously, I don't know what the actual page count is, but I could swear that like half of this book is a variation on that story told over and over again for various faculty members or scientists at various universities or research facilities. And it feels like that's 90% of the book.
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