UNIX co-creator Ken Thompson is a… what person now?

Final weekend, the SCALE convention got here again from the pandemic with a bang: Ken Thompson as keynote speaker. Within the Q&A on the finish of his discuss, Thompson made a shocking confession.

Bell Labs researcher Ken Thompson was one of many builders of MULTICS, the ancestor of and inspiration for UNIX. He additionally developed House Journey in 1969, arguably one of many first video video games, after which ported it from MULTICS to GECOS… after which to a spare PDP-7 that was knocking across the lab, within the course of making a set of growth instruments that he and the late Dennis Ritchie subsequently become an working system they referred to as UNIX.

He additionally co-designed and co-wrote Plan 9 from Bell Labs, the better-architected successor to Unix. Plan 9 didn’t displace its far more primitive forebear, nevertheless it’s nonetheless being developed at present. He then went on to design Plan 9’s CPU-independent successor, Inferno. Though Thompson is now 80 years outdated, he most lately labored at Google, the place he co-developed Go… though his hiring brought on issues: he refused to take the corporate’s obligatory C proficiency take a look at, on the feeble pretext that he designed the C language.

Dwelling programmers do not get far more eminent than this. He’s a genius, who devised and constructed instruments which have deeply affected tens of millions of individuals – together with UTF-8 encoding, presumably the primary implementation of regex common expressions, and ed, which is, in fact, the usual editor on UNIX. So it will need to have been one thing of a coup when the Southern California Linux Expo 20x bagged Thompson as a keynote speaker.

His discuss is a bit shocking in a number of methods, however all the identical, it is very a lot price watching. Thompson admitted to struggling badly from stage fright, and struggled with transferring by his slides. All the identical, we suggest his discuss. It is about recorded music, and does not actually contact on Unix in any respect. It does have lots about early digital music encoding programs and codecs, Wurlitzer jukeboxes, participant pianos, and far more in addition to.

The actual shock is in the course of the question-and-answer part on the finish, although (on the 57¾ minute mark.) An viewers member requested “What’s your working system of selection at present?”

Thompson replies:

I’ve for many of my life – as a result of I used to be form of born into it – run Apple. Now lately, which means throughout the final 5 years, I’ve develop into increasingly and extra depressed… And what Apple is doing to one thing that ought to help you work is simply atrocious… However they are taking plenty of area and time to do it, so it is okay. And I’ve come, throughout the final month or two, to say: despite the fact that I’ve invested a zillion years in Apple, I am throwing it away, and I will Linux. To Raspbian, specifically.

The Reg FOSS desk can actually say that we didn’t see that coming.


We really feel that we should always be aware that Mr Thompson has an extended and storied historical past of trolling the pc trade, which we’ve touched on earlier than, notably his well-known 1984 paper “Reflections on Trusting Belief” [PDF], wherein he revealed, throughout his Turing Award lecture, that he had planted an basically untraceable again door within the unique C compiler… and it was nonetheless there. ®