I found this video produced by AT&T Bell Labs that explains the basics of the UNIX operating system. It seems to be from 1982. A few things struck me.
First, I’m fascinated by the look and feel of the machines they’re using. They were advanced in some ways, even in ’82, but they mostly seem rudimentary by today’s standards. I’ve never gotten the chance to visit The Computer History Museum, but I would love to go someday. There’s a ton of history to the devices that have come to dictate all aspects of our lives.
The content of the video explains the foundations of the UNIX operating system and focuses on the shell’s ability to pipe commands together. I take this for granted and use it almost every day, so I don’t see it as anything special. However, taking a step back, it is something that’s immensely useful. The ability to store shell scripts in files is also an amazing convenience that I take for granted. It showed me that a ton of work needed to be done to get to that point, and a ton more work has been done using these features as a basis. It’s important to appreciate these things.
They describe C as being a high-level language, which I guess it still is in some circles. They show footage of someone programming in Assembly. They show people designing integrated circuits. The tools have changed, but the fundamental acts of what you can do with computer hasn’t changed too much since the early 80s. That’s interesting, too.
Separately from the machines, the type of people who programmed on these machines seem fascinating by themselves. I’d love to see what they’re doing now, and how their career progressed after this video. They must have been at the top of their field if they were working at Bell Labs in the 70s and 80s. I wonder what kind of stories they could tell us if we could have a dinner party with them now.