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History of Berkeley (BSD) Unix (Book)

About the book

It has been said that 4.3BSD is the greatest software ever written. It is the operating system that introduced the world to the Internet. The Berkeley Software Distributions introduced numerous Unix tools, features and improved Unix functionality, was the main platform for TCP/IP and networking services development, and organized a lot of the "open source" movement. BSD, with continual development for over 37 years, has provided the basis of many tools and complete operating systems in popular use today.

This book is a detailed history of the origins of BSD, and introduces many of the participants and their contributions to the open source and Unix world. It covers even minor participation in the early years and then covers the major and significant events for the later years. The book introduces many notables in the open source community and the computer technology industry. The book discusses in detail the history of Unix licensing and its affect on free software with the focus on the changing and improving BSD licenses.

Book Status

As of December 2013, the book is around 20 chapters, 255 pages, and 64,000 words. The current notes, interviews, and research writing is around 455,000 words. As a size comparison of the most expansive BSD histories in print: Salus's Quarter Century book has two chapters totaling around 18 pages and McKusick's Open Sources chapter is around 7,300 words. This draft book's first chapter for the first release is around 6500 words, the third chapter about just the third release is around 6800 words, and the "patchkits" chapter is around 4600 words. The author has already personally received great details from over 85 participants. The bibliography has 179 different entries and much more to add.

The author's key goals:

  • Interview the 74 original surviving contributors of the early BSDs (before 1981). (Sadly three early participants have already deceased. The author has already interviewed over 40 of these initial participants.)
  • Interview most of the contributors toward the 4.3BSD-Networking Release 2 and 4.4BSD-Lite2 distributions.
  • Interview the founders and some key participants of CSRG, 386BSD, BSD/386, NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, DragonFly, etc.
  • Accurately and fairly share the stories for the key events in BSD history.
  • Cover the modern BSD histories.

Please help us choose a book title!

The author has over a hundred open questions. If you have any questions you would like answered in the book or asked of any of the key contributors, please let us know. In particular, the author is looking for users or contributors before 1982. (We only know of five users or participants of early BSD that still participate today -- 30 years later.) If you contributed (and haven't been contacted yet) or know of any users from 1982 or before, please let reed AT reedmedia DOT net know. Thank you!

About the author

This book is being authored by Jeremy C. Reed. He had a degree in journalism from Western Washington University and has written hundreds of news articles and tutorials covering BSD and open source Unix topics. He started and ran BSD Today (and then later BSD Newsletter). He has co-authored, edited, and/or published a few books covering open source and BSD software. Starting with BSD/OS, he has been actively using the BSDs for over 14 years. Reed has taught over 15 classes and over 30 lectures covering FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and other open source topics. Not only has Reed professionally supported BSD, he has been part of its modern history including participating in licensing audits, one of the original founders and board member of the BSD Certification Group, Inc., member of the board of directors for the NetBSD Foundation, member of the FreeBSD Marketing Team, and has commit privileges for DragonFly BSD, NetBSD,, pcc, and various other open source projects. Reed presented about this history research at NYCBSDCon 2010.