SLIDESHOW: CIO Blast from the Past - 40 years of Multics

Multics helped pioneer the concept of computer time-sharing

  • Multics turns 40 in 2009. CIO's Blast from the Past series also includes an interview with [[artnid:325323|Multics co-developer Fernando Corbato|new]].

  • Professor Fernando J "Corby" Corbato is the father of Multics. Corbato lead the Multics development team at MIT after his work on its predecessor the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS). Corbato won a Turing Award in 1990 for his work on time-sharing systems.

  • The GE 645 mainframe was the first computer to run the new Multics operating system. After Honeywell acquired GE's computer business the Honeywell 6180 mainframe (pictured) was the main Multics production machine after 1969. [Photo by Tom Van Vleck, 1974. Used by permission.]

  • Multics joins the Internet! In the early 70s MIT's Multics was one of the very first sites (circled) on the Internet's predecessor, ARPANET. Multics' network implementation was also one of the first. In October 1971 the MIT 645 was connected to the ARPANet and two years later the the MIT 6180 machine was also connected.

  • Multics time-sharing gives rise to the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc. According to its developers Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin, VisiCalc was first coded in assembler for the MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor used in the Apple II (pictured). The assembler Bob started with ran on the MIT Multics system. Bricklin said it was much less expensive to use Multics late at night than during the prime-time of day, so Bob slept during the day, waking up when he came over after classes in the afternoon. They dialed in to MIT using a modem and a DEC LA-120 printing terminal.

  • Multics gives rise to Unix. Corbato praises Ken Thompson (top right) for taking ideas and concepts from Multics and -- with Dennis Ritchie -- creating the Unix operating system in 1969. Unlike Multics, Unix is developed in the C language and becomes widely adopted among universities. In 1983 Thompson and Ritchie win the Turing Award. In 1999 they also win the National Medal of Technology (presented by President Bill Clinton) for co-inventing Unix and C.

  • 17 years ago in November 1992 the source code for the final Multics release, MR 12.5, is made available to the public through MIT. The Multics source consists of 5839 files of PL/I code in 337 archives. The licence is quite permissive and grants anyone the right to use, copy, modify and distribute the code and its documentation for any purpose and without fee, provided that the copyright notice and historical background appear in all copies.

  • The Unix legacy. Multics' time-sharing design was adopted by Unix. Since the days "Unics" was launched in 1969 as a friendly pun on Multics, Unix has blossomed to produce a vibrant ecosystem of proprietary and open source operating systems that are used on millions of computers. Unix variants run on everything from the world's largest supercomputers to handheld devices like the iPhone and Android.

  • Long live the Multicians! Multics may have come to the end of its production life, but the community is making sure it will never be forgotten. The Web site was started 15 years ago in November 1994 by Tom Van Vleck. Van Vleck worked on Multics for almost 16 years during the 60s and 70s. Who is a "Multician"? According to the Multicians, "anybody who contributed to the development and success of Multics, who advocated it to others and tried to make it better, who loves the system (with all its faults). As long as we have Multicians, we have the best part of Multics."

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