• Subject: It sure is Friday...
  • From: Phil Hall <hallp@xxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 01 May 1998 16:45:21 -0500
  • Organization: SSA

Hi All,

I know this is sort of off topic, and I apologise now, but as we're all
probably fighting Unix in one way or another (in trying to use it, or defend a
project from being moved to Unix) I though this might make some sense of it

Unix is a spoof [Author unknown]

     In an announcement that has stunned the computer industry, Ken
     Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan admitted that the Unix
     operating system and C programming language created by them is an
     elaborate prank kept alive for over 20 years. Speaking at the recent
     UnixWorld Software Development Forum, Thompson revealed the following:

     "In 1969, AT&T had just terminated their work with the GE/ Honeywell/
     AT&T Multics project. Brian and I had started work with an early
     release of Pascal from Professor Niklaus Wirth's ETH labs in
     Switzerland and we were impressed with its elegant simplicity and
     power. Dennis had just finished reading 'Bored of the Rings', a
     National Lampoon parody of the Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy.
     As a lark, we decided to do parodies of the Multics environment and
     Pascal. Dennis and I were responsible for the operating environment.

     We looked at Multics and designed the new OS to be as complex and
     cryptic as possible to maximize casual users' frustration levels,
     calling it Unix as a parody of Multics, as well as other more risque
     allusions. We sold the terse command language to novitiates by telling
     them that it saved them typing.

     Then Dennis and Brian worked on a warped version of Pascal, called
     'A'.  'A' looked a lot like Pascal, but elevated the notion of the
     direct memory address (which Wirth had banished) to the central
     concept of the language.  This was Dennis's contribution, and he in
     fact coined the term "pointer" as an innocuous sounding name for a
     truly malevolent construct. Brian must be credited with the idea of
     having absolutely no standard I/O specification: this ensured that at
     least 50% of the typical commercial program would have to be re-coded
     when changing hardware platforms. Brian was also responsible for
     pitching this lack of I/O as a feature: it allowed us to describe the
     language as "truly portable".

     When we found others were actually creating real programs with A, we
     removed compulsory type-checking on function arguments. Later, we
     added a notion we called "casting": this allowed the programmer to
     treat an integer as though it were a 50kb user-defined structure. When
     we found that some programmers were simply not using pointers, we
     eliminated the ability to pass structures to functions, enforcing
     their use in even the Simplest applications. We sold this, and many
     other features, as enhancements to the efficiency of the language. In
     this way, our prank evolved into B, BCPL, and finally C. We stopped
     when we got a clean compile on the following syntax:


     At one time, we joked about selling this to the Soviets to set their
     computer science progress back 20 or more years.

     Unfortunately, AT&T and other US corporations actually began using
     Unix and C. We decided we'd better keep mum, assuming it was just a
     passing phase.  In fact, it's taken US companies over 20 years to
     develop enough expertise to generate useful applications using this
     1960's technological parody.  We are impressed with the tenacity of
     the general Unix and C programmer. In fact, Brian, Dennis and I have
     never ourselves attempted to write a commercial application in this

     We feel really guilty about the chaos, confusion and truly awesome
     programming projects that have resulted from our silly prank so long

     Dennis Ritchie said: "What really tore it (just when AIDA was catching
     on), was that Bjarne Stroustrup caught onto our joke.  He extended it
     to further parody, Smalltalk.  Like us, he was caught by surprise when
     nobody laughed. So he added multiple inheritance, virtual base
     classes, and later... templates. All to no avail. So we now have
     compilers that can compile 100,000 lines per second, but need to
     process header files for 25 minutes before they get to the meat of
     "Hello, World".

     Major Unix and C vendors and customers, including AT&T, Microsoft,
     Hewlett-Packard, GTE, NCR, and DEC have refused comment at this time.
     Borland International, a leading vendor of object-oriented tools,
     including the popular Turbo Pascal and Borland C++, stated they had
     suspected this for a couple of years. In fact, the notoriously late
     Quattro Pro for Windows was originally written in C++. Philippe Kahn
     said: "After two and a half years programming, and massive programmer
     burn-outs, we re-coded the whole thing in Turbo Pascal in three
     months. I think it's fair to say that Turbo Pascal saved our bacon".
     Another Borland spokesman said that they would continue to enhance
     their Pascal products and halt further efforts to develop C/C++.

     Professor Wirth of the ETH institute and father of the Pascal, Modula
     2 and Oberon structured languages, cryptically said "P.T. Barnum was
     right." He had no further comments.

Phil Hall

email . . . . : hallp@ssax.com   
phone(w). . . : (312) 258-6319

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