Creators Admit UNIX, C Hoax
Posted by Bal Vallah on September 07, 1998 at 21:16:08:

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:

for(;P("\n"),R-;P("|"))for(e=3DC;e-;P("_"+(*u++/8)%2))P("| "+(*u/4)%2);

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 environment.

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

Dennis Ritchie said: "What really tore it (just when ADA 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.
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

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.

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