The year was 1973, and the computer operating system UNIX, invented at Bell Labs by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, had just morphed into its third iteration or improvement. The first version was released within the company 2 years prior, and at this point there were machines running UNIX at 16 computer centers within the Bell System. These were primarily at Bell Labs locations — Whippany, NJ; Columbus, OH; Indian Hill, IL; and of course Murray Hill, NJ and Holmdel, NJ — among others. This film, made as a new employee’s orientation to the Holmdel location’s center, is a rare glimpse into the operations and procedures of an early 1970s research-oriented computing center.
UNIX evolved out of necessity at Bell Labs. The system’s creators were looking for better ways to integrate a shared computer environment. (Read Ritchie’s time-sharing system reminiscences) At this point, computers in the Bell System weren’t just relegated to computer science or the development of computer language. They were employed for all kinds of complex engineering calculations, and sometimes, after hours, for making art and music.