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Multics resurrected: Proto-Unix now runs on Raspberry Pi or x86

Deryk Barker

In fact the hardware story is somewhat more complex.

GE originally produced the 635 and its OS GECOS-3 in the early 1960s. When MIT were looking to create their new OS they looked around for hardware and GE were prepared to custom-build a processor with segmentation and paging hardware as required; IBM were not.

Hence the GE-645, which was the first Multics CPU.

Later, GE developed the 6000 series to run GECOS: several models including 6050, 6060, 6070 and 6080 AIR; the "even numbered" ones having an extended instruction set - EIS - for commercial programming: it had instructions like MVNE (Move Numeric Edited) which could take a binary value and format as ASCII, complete with currency symbol, commas for thousands, decimal places and check suppression characters - RISC it was not.

But the 6000 series did not have the segmentation and paging hardware necessary for Multics; moreoever, among other recommendations of the USAF Tiger Team looking at Multics security, was that the rings should be implemented in hardware, rather than in software as on the 645.

Enter the 6180, which had the segmentation and paging hardware AND hardware rings (8 as opposed to the 64 on the 645) and fixed-size pages.

GE sold their computer business to Honeywell around 1971, later Multics processors were the Level 68 and DPS-8/70M.

It was only internal politics within Honeywell which killed Multics; by 1984 they had also acquired Xerox's computer business, so now found themselves with 3 mainframe OS's: GCOS (the E was dropped as part of the agreement with GE, although much of the documentation kept it for some time), Multics and CP-6 (originally CP-V when owned by Xerox).

I'm not sure about the 70s, but by 1980, when I began working on Multics there certainly was a COBOL compiler (I wrote an emacs programming mode for it for a UK customer) and quite a bit of commercial software, including one of the first relational database systems, MRDS.

I still miss Multics.

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