The prehistory of Unix and the role of Bell Labs

The prehistory of Unix

Although Linux is not Unix, its development was strongly influenced by it. The same as Hurd, the project for which Stallman began developing the GNU project tools. So we can say that free software as we know it would not have existed without Unix, and Unix would not have existed without Bell Labs.

Daniel coyle is a journalist who has researched and written two books on the topic of talent production. He discusses the idea of ​​innate talent, of the person who out of nowhere possesses a skill in which he excels. For Coyle, the appearance of talent is the result of a series of factors that include being exposed to stimuli to develop them. These stimuli are produced at a time and in a specific geographic location.

According to Coyle, geniuses are not evenly distributed across time and space. They arise at certain times and places in environments where sufficiently motivated people come together to learn from each other and those who know best to learn, practice and experiment.

Of the group of six people who wrote the original protocols for network communication, three came from the same high school. The computer revolution of the XNUMXs had its epicenter in Silicon Valley. Linux and free software found their place on the web, making distances no longer an obstacle.

Why am I writing about this instead of a tutorial on how to hack the coffee maker from the terminal?

Because the key to successful development is the existence of communities in which frank and open communication is allowed among their participants. And, today what we have are communities where the dictatorship of political correctness, personalities and economic interests are more important than the free discussion that characterized the origins of the free software movement.

I return to the statement of the beginning. Linux and GNU would not have been possible without Unix and Unix would not have been possible without the open innovation culture of Bell Labs.

The prehistory of Unix. The role of Bell Labs

For most of the XNUMXth century, Bell Labs were among the most innovative organizations in the world. Created to support the research and development efforts of the then monopolistic telephone company in the country, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), those of its inventions that were not related to the business of the parent company were transferred at little or no cost to companies. and institutions that could take advantage of them.

When Alexander Graham Bell's patents expired in 1890, other companies went into business, AT&T wasn't exactly a fan of the free market. He not only resorted to the courts but also to sabotage the competitors.

Whenever possible, it acquired from equipment suppliers as well as refusing to carry phone calls generated by other companies on its long-distance lines.

It is said that companies and professionals had to have two or three telephone lines to be able to communicate with all their clients.

Not that the service was very good either; there were interruptions, poor sound quality, and mixed conversations. In rural areas, users had to share the same line.

This would begin to change in 1907 when Theodore Vail assumed the presidency of the company.. Vail had started from the bottom starting his career as a telegraph operator.

After careful analysis, It found that aggressive competition was undermining the profitability of the industry so it opted for a different strategy. He abandoned the litigation in court and decided to cooperate with small telephone companies, absorbing them when he could or transporting his calls for a fee when it wasn't possible.

The new president believed that Allowing the federal government to set expenses, prices, and profits for your company was an acceptable price for it to become the dominant force in the industry.ay get reasonable profits.

The other leg of the strategy was transform AT&T into an industry leader with an army of engineers working to improve the system not only today but for the future as well.

All of these engineers would serve Vail's vision of "One Universal Policy, One System, and Service."

In the next article we will see what it would be the great impulse of Bell laboratories, the incorporation of scientists.


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