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Rudd Canaday–UNIX Pioneer

by Ed Sawicki - June 2021

Photo of Rudd Canaday
Rudd Canaday

I recently discovered that Rudd Canaday lives in Portland, so I contacted him and arranged an interview. Rudd is one of the original three people who worked on the UNIX operating system at Bell Labs in the mid-1960s. They were Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Rudd. Rudd worked on the UNIX file system.

The team did a substantial amount of work on UNIX, but they did not have a computer of their own to run it on. When management refused to buy them a computer, the project appeared dead. Rudd moved on to another project that sought to place a database engine on a network node that could be accessed by other nodes. Rudd isn't sure whether he created the world's first database server, but it sounds like he did.

Rudd also developed The Programmer's Workbench along with Evan Ivie.

But the UNIX project wasn't dead. Thompson stuck with it and eventually horse-traded with the lab's HR department to buy their computer in exchange for automating the HR operation.

Early in my interview with Rudd, he pointed out that today's popular operating systems are based on two technologies: UNIX and Microsoft Windows. Those based on Unix are:

We discovered that we share a passion for the Raspberry Pi. He has six. I have five. I mentioned that I have a friend who regularly runs the PostgreSQL database engine on a Raspberry PI, and he (Rudd) is likely responsible for birthing that technology. If Rudd, Thompson, and Ritchie had a Pi back in the 1960s it would have been the most powerful computer in the lab.

When we spoke about security, he said, “UNIX and Linux are famously hard to break into, so anything based on them will also be hard to break into. It's as simple as that.”

So, I asked him what he thought of the recent Colonial Pipeline attack that shut down an East Coast oil pipeline. This attack was directed against a vulnerability in a Microsoft-designed email system. He answered, “Windows is more vulnerable to attack than UNIX. It should not have been possible [to break into that system].”

Rudd spends his time these days consulting, writing books, and playing with his Raspberry Pi computers.

Additional reading

Wikipedia: PWB/UNIX (Programmers Workbench)