Why AT&T licensed UNIX to universities

Here are  a couple details of UNIX history I ran across this week.

Why AT&T first licensed UNIX to universities:

At this time [1974], AT&T held a government-sanctioned monopoly on the US telephone system. The terms of AT&T’s agreement with the US government prevented it from selling software, which meant that it could not sell UNIX as a product. Instead … AT&T licensed UNIX for use in universities for a nominal distribution fee.

And why later they turned it into a commercial product:

… US antitrust legislation forced the breakup of AT&T (… the break-up became effective in 1982) with the consequence that, since it no longer held a monopoly on the telephone system, the company was permitted to market UNIX.

Source: The Linux Programming Interface

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3 thoughts on “Why AT&T licensed UNIX to universities

  1. John.

    You’re essentially correct, though a few details need to be corrected. In 1956, AT&T entered into a decree with the government which restricted AT&T to the telephone business and required it to give licenses to its patent portfolio without charge. That was why the company gave Unix away; it couldn;t commercialize it. The divestiture, which was signed in 1982, but became effective on 1/1//84, lifted the line of business restrictions. It really wasn’t connected to principles re the local companies. I’ve done extensive research on this which will be included in a book on the subject that will come out shortly. dan

  2. I came across this information recently as well as part of a desire I’ve had recently to learn how the OS and programming language landscape worked out the way it has; I think a mythology has developed around Unix and C that are missing a lot of the real facts of their origins and expansion into the their positions of dominance in the OS and systems programming worlds. The actual history is plenty interesting, though key figures look a tad less heroic in actual context.

    Although I am a child of the PC generation, I think one needs to look a little further back to see just how transformative the arrival of the “minicomputer” class of machines was to the shape of today’s computing systems and how important the timing of the creation of Unix and C was along with the rise of affordable minicomputers and the window in which Unix was basically given away for free to universities.

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