Earlier today, October 25, 2019, a former colleague of mine sent a e-mail to a group of people who used to work at AT&T Bell Laboratories. He noted that the Unix operating system turned 50 years old this month. This operating system, more than any other advance in computer science since John Von Neumann invented the stored program computer in the 1940s, has defined modern computing.
This friend went on to describe, not the operating system, but the people with whom we worked, and supervisors who allowed us to push the limits of our job assignments. One of our division heads wrote a book, The Slingshot Syndrome ( https://www.amazon.com/Slingshot-Syndrome-Americas-Technology-Innovation/dp/0595208134), which discusses many of the advancements our division at Bell Labs invented. But he, too, discusses people rather than the technology.
Why is this 50 year milestone important? If it was not for the Unix operating system which inspired the Linux operating system, we wouldn’t have this church website. I could not afford the hardware or software to run the site. But because of the Unix operating system and its offspring, I can use Open Source tools to bring you sermons, news of the congregation, and even these simple musings. The computer on which this site is running cost under $45, and the software is free. That is quite a legacy.
That which we were doing in the 1980s at Bell Labs is now showing up in the marketplace. We pioneered e-commerce, we pioneered data communications, we pioneered networking. Where we didn’t invent a concept, we did improve upon it. Our ideas are now part of education, commerce, and communications.
The sermons that you read on this site were produced using Unix tools, word processing and document formatting programs which date from the early 1970s. Unlike the commercial word processing programs, which change or disappear leaving orphaned files which cannot be opened by existing programs, I can go back to papers and articles I wrote a quarter century ago to determine just how my sermon writing skills have changed.
Consider, in the past 27 years churches all over the world have been able to share the good news of salvation by grace through faith for the sake of Christ. (Tim Berners-Lee at the CERN laboratory in Europe invented the concept of the World Wide Web in 1992, the mechanism we use for most of our transactions on the Internet.) Technology is being used to bring sermons to shut-ins, to offer Bible study tools to everyone which were formerly available to very few, and to enable education or Bible studies across many miles.
We do thank God for giving us the intelligence to devise new technologies which help us to better communicate the Gospel. We pray that those who would pervert the inventions of mankind for evil be thwarted, and that good will prevail. More importantly, we thank Him for allowing us to proclaim what Christ has done, redeeming us by His precious blood, using every means of communication.
So, happy birthday, Unix operating system, whoever owns your copyright. May the fruits of the labors of many throughout the world continue to be a blessing to the church and to society.