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From the inventors of UNIX system comes Plan 9 from Bell Labs

FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, JULY 18, 1995


MURRAY HILL, N.J. -- AT&T today announced that Plan 9™, a new computer operating system from AT&T Bell Laboratories, is now available for research and educational use.

The Plan 9 operating system, named for the science-fiction cult movie "Plan 9 From Outer Space," was designed by the inventors of the UNIX® system, a widely used operating system created at Bell Labs 25 years ago.

The product, including source code, is available for $350. The full kit (ISBN 0-03-017143-1) will be shipped with a CD-ROM, four diskettes and two manuals. A partial kit (ISBN 0-03-017142-3), containing only the manuals, may be ordered separately for $125.

AT&T is distributing Plan 9 through Harcourt Brace & Co. The contact number in the U.S. for information and orders is 1-800-462-8146; elsewhere, +1-415-943-4076.

The Bell Labs Research Effectiveness Division and AT&T Software Solutions will also negotiate commercial licenses for the new operating system.

"Plan 9 is not in competition with UNIX or Windows," said Paul Fillinich, marketing manager for AT&T Software Soltuions. "It's a small, powerful system designed from the start to work in today's distributed, networked computing world."

"Bell Labs researchers are exploring its capabilities and working with networking products where very small size and efficiency are essential," said researcher Allen Eisdorfer of the Research Effectiveness Division. "We think Plan 9 will be especially useful in a small segment of the industry where many proprietary systems exist today."

The Plan 9 team was led by researchers Rob Pike, Ken Thompson, Dave Presotto and Phil Winterbottom, with contributions from others in the Computing Science Research Center and support from Dennis Ritchie, head of the Computing Techniques Research Department.

Thompson and Ritchie created the UNIX operating system in 1969. "Pike and Thompson took a look and said, 'What would we do differently if we started again?'" said Ritchie. "The Plan 9 operating system is the outgrowth of that analysis."

The Plan 9 system is based on the concept of distributed computing in a networked, client-server environment. The set of resources available to applications is transparently made accessible everywhere in the distributed system, so that it is irrelevant where the applications are actually running.

Ritchie noted that the Plan 9 system is not based on the UNIX system, which pioneered multitasking computing on small machines. "It's reworked from the ground up, and it has no UNIX code," he said.

The Plan 9 operating system currently controls the computer that maintains parts of the Bell Labs World Wide Web service, including the prototype WWW 800-number directory service, and has already been licensed to some 200 colleges and universities. It is also used in exploratory work within AT&T.

AT&T Software Solutions Group markets and supports software products developed by AT&T. Bell Labs is the research and development arm of AT&T, the global communications and computer company.


The Plan 9 Computer Operating System from AT&T Bell Laboratories

The Plan 9 operating system is a distributed system. In its most general configuration, it uses three kinds of components: terminals that sit on users' desks, file servers that store permanent data, and other servers that provide faster central-processing units, user authentication, and network gateways.

These components are connected by various kinds of networks, including Ethernet, Datakit, specially-built fiber networks, ordinary modem connections, and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN). In typical use, users interact with applications that run either on their terminals or on CPU servers, and the applications get their data from the file servers.

The system is divided along lines of service function. Central-processing-unit (CPU) servers concentrate computing power into large multiprocessors, file servers provide repositories for storage, and terminals give each user of the system a dedicated computer with a bitmap screen and mouse on which to run a window system.

The sharing of computing and file storage services provides a sense of community for a group of programmers, amortizes costs, and centralizes and simplifies management and administration.

The pieces of the system communicate by a single protocol, built above a reliable data-transport layer offered by an appropriate network, that defines each service as a rooted tree of files. Each process has a local file name space that contains attachments to all services the process is using and thereby to the files in those services.

Breaking the file server away from the CPU server enhances the possibilities for security. As the file server is a separate machine that can by accessed over the network only by the standard protocol, and therefore can only serve files, it cannot run programs.

The Plan 9 operating system exploits, as far as possible, three basic technical ideas: first, all the system objects present themselves as named files that are manipulated by read/write operations; second, all these files may exist either locally or remotely and respond to a standard protocol; third, the file system name space -- the set of objects visible to a program -- is dynamically and individually adjustable for each of the programs running on a particular machine.

The new operating system runs on four major machine architectures: Intel 386/486/Pentium, MIPS, SPARC, and Motorola 68020. It comes with its own compilers for C and other languages, together with all the commands and program-development tools originally pioneered in the UNIX environment.

It also provides newly designed software called Alef, Acid and Acme. Alef provides threads, inter-process and inter-machine communication through typed channels and abstract data types. Acid is a programmable debugger that understands multiple-process programs, and the programs it is debugging may be running on a hardware platform different from its own. Acme is a new user interface in which any word on the screen can be interpreted as a command by clicking on it, and any string can specify a file to be displayed.

The Plan 9 operating system was built over the past several years by members of the Computing Science Research Center at Bell Labs, Murray Hill, N.J., the same group that developed UNIX, C language and C++.

 

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