The Unix Timeline for Students

There are many, many important dates in the history of Unix and Linux. Indeed, a quick Internet search will turn up a variety of Unix timelines, showing when a particular version of Unix were released, when this or that organization adopted such-and-such standard, and so on. Beginning Unix students, however, require a different sort of timeline for two reasons.

First, students need to become aware of the events that are relevant to what they are doing: learning about Unix and Linux. For example, a beginning Unix student will find it useful to be aware that the IBM PC was introduced in 1981; that Richard Stallman wrote the GNU Manifesto in 1985; and that the first popular Linux distribution was released in 1993. The same student, however, has no real need to know that AT&T UNIX Fourth Edition was released in 1973; or that, in 1993, six major Unix vendors formed the Common Open Software Environment initiative.

Second, beginning students need a temporal framework for understanding the many new concepts that come their way as they are introduced to Unix. For example, when a student learns about the open source software movement of the 1990s, it helps him a lot to know the relevant dates regarding the creation of Usenet, the Free Software Foundation, the IBM PC, the GNU General Public License, the Linux Project, and so on.

What you see below is a timeline that has been carefully constructed to meet these requirements. For more details, refer to Harley Hahn's Guide to Unix and Linux, where you will find discussions of all the events listed here, as well as many others.

The following abbreviations used in the timeline:

ASCII American Standard Code for Information Interchange
BSD Berkeley Software Distribution (Berkeley Unix)
CACM Communications of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)
CSRG Computer Systems Research Group (at UCB)
DEC Digital Equipment Corporation
FSF Free Software Foundation
FSH Filesystem Hierarchy Standard
GNU GNU's Not Unix
GPL GNU General Public License
KDE K Desktop Environment 
PDP Programmed Data Processor (minicomputer from DEC)
POSIX Portable Operating System Interface
UCB University of California at Berkeley
XPG4 X/Open Portability Guide, Issue 4
The Unix Timeline for Students

For reference, the number at the end of each citation shows the page in Harley Hahn's Guide to Unix and Linux on which the event is discussed.

1967ASCII code created [465]
1969Ken Thompson (AT&T Bell Labs) creates the very first Unix system on a PDP-7 minicomputer [1]
1970Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (AT&T Bell Labs) port Unix to a PDP-11 minicomputer [39]
1971Ken Thompson writes the very first Unix shell (sh) [240]
Regular expressions supported by Unix with the release of the ed text editor by Ken Thompson (Bell Labs) [500]
1972Ken Thompson adds pipelines to Unix [369]
C programming language developed at Bell Labs [247]
1973Ken Thompson delivers the very first paper on Unix at a computer conference [40]
Unix development support group formed at Bell Labs [19]
Unix becomes a full-fledged multitasking operating system [40]
1974Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie publish "The UNIX Time-Sharing System" in CACM [40]
Unix is first used at U.C. Berkeley (UCB); it is AT&T UNIX version 4 [19]
1975Bill Joy (UCB) begins work on Berkeley Unix (BSD); continues until 1982 [19]
Ken Thompson goes to UCB for a one-year sabbatical [19]
Richard Stallman (MIT) releases the Emacs text editor [20]
1976Bill Joy releases vi text editor [20, 564]
Steve Bourne (Bell Labs) release the Bourne Shell (sh) [241]
1977Bill Joy compiles and releases first version of Berkeley Unix (1BSD)
1978Bill Joy releases the C-Shell (csh) [244]
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) introduces the VT100 terminal; will become the most popular Unix terminal of all time [53]
1979AT&T stops allowing outsiders to look at Unix source code [23]
Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott (Duke University) start Usenet [50]
Bjarne Stroustrup (Bell Labs) develops "C with Classes" to enhance the C programming language; in 1983, it is renamed C++ [247]
1980Bob Farby (UCB) founds the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) [21]
Dichotomy between East Coast Unix (AT&T UNIX) and West Coast Unix (BSD) grows quickly [20]
1981IBM introduces the IBM PC [144]
1982AT&T releases System III; first public (commercial) release of Unix [20]
Computer Systems Research Group (USB) releases 4.1BSD; becomes the basis of the Internet [21]
David Korn (Bell Labs) release the Korn Shell (ksh) [242]
Bill Joy co-founds Sun Microsystems [561]
1983AT&T releases System V, their first Unix with official support [21]
CSRG (USB) releases 4.2BSD; very popular [21]
1984Mark Vandevoorde (MIT student) releases xterm terminal emulator [112]
Project Athena (MIT) releases first version of X Window (X1) [76]
1985Richard Stallman (FSF) writes the GNU Manifesto [17]
Richard Stallman founds the Free Software Foundation (FSF) [15]
Mark Nudelman releases less paging program [527]
1986Project Athena (MIT) releases X Window (X10R3) to the outside world [76]
1987Andrew Tanenbaum (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam) releases Minix for the IBM PC [23]
Brian Fox releases Bash shell (bash) [244]
1988Bram Moolenaar releases Vim text editor [564]
First POSIX standards are released; standardizes Unix programming interface [242]
1989CSRG (UCB) releases first totally open source BSD (4.3BSD NET/1) [29]
Richard Stallman (FSF) releases the GPL (General Public License) [18]
1990By now, there are many types of Unix, especially commercial Unix [21]
Paul Falstad (Princeton University student) releases the Zsh shell (zsh) [243]
1991Linus Torvalds (University of Helsinki student) releases the first Linux kernel [26]
1992Bill Jolitz releases first Unix-like operating system completely independent of AT&T UNIX (386/BSD) [29]
John Bovey (University of Kent) releases xvt terminal emulator (replaces xterm) [112]
XPG4 (X/Open Portability Guide, Issue 4) released; standard for how Unix systems should behave [455]
Programmers around the world have begun to join the Linux Project [26]
1993Patrick Volkerding releases first successful Linux distribution (Slackware) [28]
1995Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FSH) released [640]
Tom Christiansen publishes "Csh Programming Considered Harmful" [245]
1996Matthias Ettrich (University of Tübingen student, Germany) founds the KDE (desktop environment) Project [82]
1997Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena found the Gnome (desktop environment) Project [84]
1998Lars Doelle releases Konsole terminal emulator [112]
2000AT&T allows the Korn shell to become an open source product [243]
2001For the first time, a Macintosh operating system (OS X) is based on Unix [485]
2002The end of the Plan 9, a Bell Labs project started by the same group that created Unix, C and C++ [637]
Microsoft releases the C## programming language (variation of C++ for use with .NET) [247]
2004Formation of X.Org to maintain X Window [77]
2005Virtually every niche in the world of computing — from cell phones to supercomputers — is now occupied by machines that can run some type of Linux [26]
By now, many Linux distributions have replaced vi with Vim [564]
The most recent major version of X Window is released (X11R7) [76]
2008Harley Hahn's Guide to Unix and Linux is published

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