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The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin, Ch. 14, by Dr. Peter H. Salus
Thursday, June 30 2005 @ 08:30 PM EDT

Here you are, Chapter 14 of Peter Salus' The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin. This chapter in his ongoing history of Free and Open Sources is on Plan 9 and Inferno. More information on Inferno on Freshmeat and on Plan 9 and Inferno in this interview with Michael Jeffrey, CEO of Vita Nuova, who says this:

"In the mid-80s Bell Labs stopped research and development into UNIX. It is reported that they considered ‘the problems with UNIX were too deep to fix’. Instead they focused their energies on the design and implementation of a new operating system that became known as Plan 9. The Plan 9 operating system at one level will feel familiar to anyone with a UNIX background; many of the UNIX commands and utilities are available in Plan 9 and programs are written in C. Plan 9 however, is fundamentally different in its structure."

Inferno is dual licensed; the Free version is distributed with subcomponents under the GPL/LGPL, the MIT-template, the Lucent Public License, and Free Type, or, "if the result of your work using Inferno will not or cannot be made Free Software," you can choose the Vita Nuova Commercial Developer Licence. Plan 9 is distributed under the Lucent Public License Vs. 1.02.

Here are the earlier chapters of Dr. Salus' book:


The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin

~ by Peter H. Salus

Chapter 14. BTL after UNIX: Plan 9 and Inferno

In July 1990, I flew from Boston to London for the UKUUG Conference. (I was to give a talk on UNIX standards and specifications.) But there were three talks on the program that blew me away.

They concerned "Plan 9" a new OS being worked on at Bell Labs. It was named Plan 9 from Bell Labs after "Plan 9 from Outer Space," perhaps the worst science fiction movie ever filmed.

Plan 9 is a UNIX clone. But it presents a consistent interface which is easy to use. I am not going to go into it at any length. But, it was the successor to UNIX, which, Rob Pike said, was dead: "It's been dead for so long it doesn't even stink any more." 1

Rob delivered the keynote address at the UKUUG: "Plan 9 from Bell Labs." He's now at Google.

Dave Presotto then spoke about "Multiprocessor Streams for Plan 9." He's at Google, too.

Tom Duff talked about "Rc -- A Shell for Plan 9 and UNIX Systems." Tom's now at Pixar, the proud owner of parts of several Oscars.

Fifteen years later, what had been the UNIX group (1127) has been dispersed. In addition to Rob, Dave and Tom,

  • Ken Thompson retired to California;
  • Brian Kernighan is a Professor at Princeton;
  • Phil Winterbottom is CTO at Entrisphere;
  • Gerard Holzmann is at NASA/JPL Laboratory for Reliable Software;
  • Bob Flandrena is at Morgan Stanley;
  • Sean Dorward is at Google;
Dennis Ritchie and Howard Trickey remain at Lucent/BTL.

But, before it disappeared, the "1127 group" made yet another contribution to OS development: Inferno.

Inferno is a compact OS designed for building "cross-platform distributed systems." It can run on top of an existing OS, or as a stand-alone. The nomenclature owes much to Dave Presotto, who founded it firmly in Dante. The company marketing Inferno is Vita Nuova; the communications protocol is Styx; applications are written in type-safe Limbo, which has C-like syntax.

The 4th edition of Inferno was released in 2005 as free software, but under a mixture of licenses.

1In the July 2005 issue of IEEE Spectrum, there's an article "The End of AT&T" with the blurb:

Once the world's largest company, Ma Bell will soon vanish. But its innovations -- from the transistor to communications satellites to laser cooling-live on. By Michael Riordan

Note what's important. CS isn't.

Dr. Salus is the author of "A Quarter Century of UNIX" and several other books, including "HPL: Little Languages and Tools", "Big Book of Ipv6 Addressing Rfcs", "Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Imperative Programming Languages", "Casting the Net: From ARPANET to INTERNET and Beyond", and "The Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Functional, Concurrent and Logic Programming Languages". There is an interview with him, audio and video,"codebytes: A History of UNIX and UNIX Licences" which was done in 2001 at a USENIX conference. Dr. Salus has served as Executive Director of the USENIX Association.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin, Ch. 14, by Dr. Peter H. Salus | 50 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections if any, Please.
Authored by: iceworm on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 04:35 AM EDT
Don't forget to prievew =:-)}}}

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT Here
Authored by: iceworm on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 04:37 AM EDT
Please include clickable links.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Plan 9 etc.
Authored by: iceworm on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 04:55 AM EDT

As usual amongst Geeks, the names are most intriguing. I can't imagine why "Unix" is dead any more than I can imagine what goes on within the Linux kernel running this box on which I am logged in and making this reply. Well, I shall stick to evangelizing and system engineering.


[ Reply to This | # ]

(OT sorta) Perl's Chip Salzenberg Sued, Home Raided
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 05:32 AM EDT

I think this is a good place to bring this up as this guy is and was a pretty influential person in the history of Perl development. He managed the release (the so called Pumpking) of one of the longer lasting perl versions. And his company has now used the law to have all of his computer equipment confiscated, apparently with little justification.

What is happening is not right, and people on Groklaw should know about it. It could happen apparently to almost any Open Source developer that works at home.

See the article on slashdot.

Please Support Chips cause. If you've used Perl then you've benefited from his help whether you know it or not.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Oscar parts
Authored by: dopple on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 07:42 AM EDT
Tom's now at Pixar, the proud owner of parts of several Oscars.

"See, over here we have an arm... Here's a leg.. oh, and here's a head, we're especially proud of that one. Sooner or later we'll put together a Frankenstein Oscar and rule the world!"

*ahem*. Sorry. :)

Never play chicken with Nazgul. It only gets you wounds
that never heal and an annoyed judge.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin, Ch. 14, by Dr. Peter H. Salus
Authored by: Groklaw Lurker on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 10:47 AM EDT
"...It was named Plan 9 from Bell Labs after "Plan 9 from Outer
Space," perhaps the worst science fiction movie ever filmed..."

Perhaps the worst?

Dr. Salus, you may have understated the film's paucity of redeeming value as a
serious science fiction film. As a comical spoof of the genre however,
"Plan 9 from Outer Space" is likely to enjoy a cult following well
into the current century.

God bless your soul Ed Woods...

(GL) Groklaw Lurker
End the tyranny, abolish software patents.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Is that a "chapter"?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 01:07 PM EDT
With all due deference to Dr. Salus, these "chapters" consisting of a
couple of paragraphs fail to satisfy ... I'm left hungering for more meat.
These are more like outlines of chapters, no?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Tin Hat Time, Maybe Microsoft was right.
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 02:04 PM EDT
A while back I read a report that Microsoft was concerned at the job postings
from Google. Seems the people being searched for were those whose expertise
would apply to operating systems, as opposed to search engines.

Then we see here the following people from Bell Labs who were working on a new
operating system:
Rob Pike, Dave Presotto and Sean Dorward.

That a quarter of this high powered team ended up at Google could explain a lot.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Peter, I really have to ask
Authored by: inode_buddha on Friday, July 01 2005 @ 11:21 PM EDT
"In the mid-80s Bell Labs stopped research and development into UNIX. It is
reported that they considered ‘the problems with UNIX were too deep to

Now, I have seen this quoted many times before, particularly during the time of
sale to the current SCO Group.

Look at the time-frame.

My question is, "Were the problems mentioned of a legal nature, a financial
nature, or a technical nature?"

AFAICT Ransom Love (Caldera CEO) said as much during the SCO purchase, if you
want to take the legal perspective.

The financial perspective, you say? What about Novell and Sun?

What about the technical stuff? Is *any* of it protectable? And this, after
being promulgated in universities worldwide for decades?

Copyright info in bio

"When we speak of free software,
we are referring to freedom, not price"
-- Richard M. Stallman

[ Reply to This | # ]

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