z3118338 on Thu, 31 Mar 2005 14:27:54 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> unix history

Thanks to everyone who replied on and off list.

here is my current dilemma

I have been using the interviews of the unix oral history project  
http://www.princeton.edu/~mike/unixhistory as a large source and am a little 
bit confused regarding some issues concerning Berk Tague, the Unix Support 
Group and the marketing of early unix.

Most of the *nix histories skirt over the Bell Labs experience, which the more 
I read I feel is a real big mistake.

Most histories of Linux/Unix start with a line such as  - because of the 1958 
consent decree Bell was forbidden from entering the computer business. 

Although I think the legal environment had its role to play in setting the 
climate, I think also the nature of the machine itself has a lot to do with 
why *nix is what it is. So I think maybe that sort of intro to the history is 
a little too simplistic. 

For example  Raymond says that "under the terms of the consent decree, Bell 
Labs was required to licence its nontelephone technology to anyone who asked" 
and this has been picked up by many who count themselves as analysing this 
topic. The given wisdom is that Bell couldn't market computer sytems prior to 
the later anti trust agreement and diverstiture. 

My research of the community memory list Alan pointed me to tells me  that 
during the 1970's commercial unix licences went to eg RAND for $100,000 USD 
and to universities such as Berekely and UNSW in 1974 for $150 USD.

So in this context I am intrigued by the role played by Berk Tague and 
the USG. In the oral history interviews he talks of his first unix sale and 
making unix into a product. 

i found this other interview with Tague today: 

Can anyone help me out a bit on this? Is he talking about Unix 
as a product internally? Within the wider telephone system? Or some much 
broader marketing? 

It seems to me that this standardisation by the USG was the first step on the 
road to the "commodification" of Unix. But prima facie  Tague's comments 
about product, marketing, sales seem at odds with the history as skirted over 
by luminaries such as Lessig and even Eric Raymond. 

I want to try and get this clear as I am about to tackle  the dissemination to 
universities part of the story. But to do that I need to understand better the 
dynamics within Bell itself. Intersting also is that Ken Thompson seems not to 
have been comfortable with the USG's role (see his interview) and talks of 
getting out for a while on sabbatical to Berkely in 1975 - Berkeley seems to 
have first got Unix is the 2nd half of 74. How much then did Thompson 
"activeley promote" an alternate noncorporate home for Unix as early as 

Any ideas? If not any leads that I  could chase up? 

Anyway, any ideas on this apparent contradiction or can anyone help me clarify 
who in fact the USG saw as its clients/market?


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