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Monday, June 21, 2004

UNIX: BSD Unix: Power to the people, from the code

salon :: :: tech :: fsp :: BSD Unix: Power to the people, from the code, By Andrew Leonard :: Page 1


How Berkeley hackers built the Net's most fabled free operating system on the ashes of the '60s -- and then lost the lead to Linux.

By Andrew Leonard
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May 16, 2000 | B y the time Bill Joy arrived in Berkeley, Calif., in 1975 to attend graduate school, the fabled capital of leftist radicalism was a bit ragged around the edges. If the 21-year-old programming wunderkind had glanced at the headlines blasting out of the local alternative weeklies, he might have wondered just what kind of insane mess he had gotten himself into. In San Francisco, Patty Hearst was on trial for a bank robbery committed while the newspaper heiress was toting machine guns for the Symbionese Liberation Army. In Oakland, the Weather Underground botched a bombing of a Defense Department building. Even the reliable bugaboo of CIA recruitment on the University of California's Berkeley campus failed to generate more than a token protest.

Berkeley was burned out, its radical energy wasting away in infantile terrorism, conspiracy theorizing and drug overdoses. The Free Speech Movement that had galvanized the university in the '60s belonged to another geological age. Ken Thompson, co-creator of the Unix operating system, graduated from Berkeley in 1966 with a degree in electrical engineering. He returned to the university from Bell Labs for a sabbatical in 1975. But the campus on which he had once walked to class through clouds of tear gas had changed. That year, says Thompson, Berkeley "had turned into the most politically apathetic place I'd seen."

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