intended only to be a "joke"
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:
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.
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 environment.
We feel really
guilty about the chaos, confusion and truly awesome programming projects
that have resulted from our silly prank so long ago."
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.
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++.
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.