published on 16.12.2011 19:56.

The origin of vi

<b>vi</b>: /V-I/, *not* /vi/ and *never* /siks/ n. 
[from `Visual Interface'] A screen editor crufted 
together by Bill Joy for an early {BSD} release. 
Became the de facto standard UNIX editor and a nearly
undisputed hacker favorite outside of MIT until the
rise of {EMACS} after about 1984. Tends to frustrate
new users no end, as it will neither take commands
while expecting input text nor vice versa, and the
default setup provides no indication of which mode
the editor is in (one correspondent accordingly 
reports that he has often heard the editor's name 
pronounced /vi:l/). Nevertheless it is still widely
used (about half the respondents in a 1991 Usenet
poll preferred it), and even EMACS fans often
resort to it as a mail editor and for small editing
jobs (mainly because it starts up faster than the
bulkier versions of EMACS). See {holy wars}.

LM:: What inspired you to write vi?
Billy Joy: What happened is that Ken Thompson came to Berkeley and brought this broken Pascal system, and we got this summer job to fix it. While we were fixing it, we got frustrated with the ed­itor we were using which was named ed. ed is certainly frustrating. We got this code from a guy named George Coulouris at University College in London called em - Editor for Mortals - since only immortals could use ed to do anything. By the way, before that summer, we could only type in uppercase. That summer we got lowercase ROMs for our terminals. It was really exciting to finally use lowercase.

LM: What year was that?
BJ: ‘76 or ‘77. It was the summer Carter was president. So we modified em and created en. I don’t know if there was an eo or an ep but finally there was ex. [laughter] I remember en but I don’t know how it got to ex. So I had a terminal at home and a 300 baud modem so the cursor could move around and I just stayed up all night for a few months and wrote vi.

LM: So you didn’t really write vi in one weekend like everybody says?
BJ: No. It took a long time. It was really hard to do because you’ve got to remember that I was try­ing to make it usable over a 300 baud modem. That’s also the reason you have all these funny commands. It just barely worked to use a screen editor over a modem. It was just barely fast enough. A 1200 baud modem was an upgrade. 1200 baud now is pretty slow. 9600 baud is faster than you can read. 1200 baud is way slower. So the editor was optimized so that you could edit and feel productive when it was painting slower than you could think. Now that computers are so much faster than you can think, nobody understands this anymore. The people doing Emacs were sitting in labs at MIT with what were essentially fibre-channel links to the host, in contemporary terms. They were working on a PDP-10, which was a huge machine by comparison, with infinitely fast screens. So they could have funny commands with the screen shimmering and all that, and meanwhile, I’m sitting at home in sort of World War II surplus housing at Berkeley with a -modem and a terminal that can just barely get the cursor off the bottom line. It was a world that is now extinct. People don’t know that vi was written for a world that doesn’t exist anymore—unless you decide to get a satellite phone and use it to connect to the Net at 2400 baud, in which case you’ll realize that the Net is not usable at 2400 baud. It used to be perfectly usable at 1200 baud. But these days you can’t use the Web at 2400 baud because the ads are 24 kilobytes.

Peter Salus in his Open Source Library – Papers gives the following version of events: The original UNIX editor was ed. It was a line editor of reluctant and recalcitrant style. When UNIX (version 4) got to Queen Mary College, London, in 1973, George Coulouris - a Professor of Computing - wasn’t happy with it. So he wrote a screen editor, which he called “em,” or “ed for mortals.” Coulouris went on sabbatical to Berkeley, where he installed em on “his” machine. A graduate stu­dent noticed it one day, and asked about it. Coulouris explained. He then went off to New Jersey to Bell Labs, and when he returned to Berkeley, he found that em had been transmuted into ex, a dis­play editor that is a superset of ed and a number of extensions—primarily the one that enables display editing. At the beginning of 1978, the first Berkeley Software Distribution was available. It consisted of a tape of the Berkeley Pascal System and the ex text editor. The graduate student was Bill Joy, and the distribution cost $50. The next year Berkeley got some ADM-3a terminals, and Joy rewrote em to vi—a truly visual editor. In sum, ed came out of Bell Labs in New Jersey, went to Queen Mary College in London, from there to the University of California at Berkeley, and from there back to New Jersey, where it was incorporated into the next edition of UNIX.

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published on 06.12.2011 11:34.

Steve Jobs meets God, receives outdated device

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