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Creators Admit Unix and C Language Hoax

In an announcement that stunned the computer industry, Ken 
Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan admitted the 
Unix operating system and C programming language created by 
them is an elaborate prank, kept alive 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' 

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 
recoded 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 50k 
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. All to no avail. 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 to comment on the 
announcement. Officials of Borland International, a leading vendor of 
object-oriented tools, including Turbo Pascal and Borland C++, stated 
they suspected this for a couple of years. 

In fact, the notoriously late Quattro Pro for Windows was originally 
written in C++. Borland CEO Del Yocam said: "I'm told that, after two and 
a half years of programming, and massive programmer burn-out, we recoded 
the whole thing in Turbo Pascal in three months. It's fair to say that 
Turbo Pascal saved our bacon back then". Another Borland spokesman said 
that they would continue to enhance their Pascal products, and halt 
further efforts to develop C/C++. 

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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