[TUHS] Slashes (was: MS-DOS)

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Sat Jul 9 00:52:19 AEST 2016

On Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 7:09 AM, Steffen Nurpmeso <steffen at sdaoden.eu> wrote:

> ...and that actually makes me wonder why the engineers that
> created what became POSIX preferred slash instead
​I can not speak for anyone else.   But at the time when I was a part of
the /usr/group UNIX standards** mtgs  I personally do not believe I had
ever heard of the term "​solidus." Such a term maybe had been used in my
first form Latin classes from the 1960s, but by the 1980s  I had long ago
forgotten any/all of my Latin.  I certainly did not try to remember it as a
computer professional.

In those days many of us, including me, did (and still do) refer to the
asterisk as "splat" and the exclamation point as "bang"  from the sound
made by them when they printed yellow oiled paper @ 10 cps from the console
TTY.  But slash was what we called the character that is now next to the
shift key on modern keyboards.   I do not remember ever using, much less
needed to refer to, the character "back slash" until the unfortunate crap
that the folks in Redmond forced on the industry.   Although interestingly
enough, the vertical bar or UNIX "pipe" symbol was used and discussed
freely in those days.   I find it interesting that Redmond-ism became the
unshifted character, not the vertical bar by the shear force of economics
of the PC.


** For those that do not know (my apologies to those that do) the 1985
/usr/group standards committee was the forerunner to IEEE P1003.  Which we
published as the first "official UNIX API standard agreed by the community"
(I still have a hardcopy).  But neither /usr/group nor USENIX had the
political authority to bring an official standard to FIPS, ANSI, ECMA, ISO
or like, while IEEE did.  So a few months before the last meeting, Jim
Issak petitioned IEEE for standards status, and the last meeting of the
/usr/group UNIX standards meeting was very short -- about 10 minutes.   We
voted to disband and then everyone in the room officially reformed a few
minutes later all signing in as IEEE P1003, later to be called POSIX.  For
further historical note, I was a "founding member" of both groups and the
editor of a number of early drafts (numbers 5-11 IIRC), as well as the
primary author of the Tape Format and Terminal I/O sections of P1003.1.
With Keith Bostic, I would later be part of the P1003.2 and pen the
original PAX compromise.  After that whole mess I was so disgusted with the
politics of the effort, I stopping going to the POSIX mtgs.

PPS While I did not work for them at the time, you can blame DEC for the
mess with the case/character sets in the POSIX & FIPS standards.   A number
of the compromises in the standard documents were forced by VMS, 7-bit
(case insensitivity) being the prime one.   While we did get in the
rational section of document that it was suggested/advised that systems
implementations and applications code be case insensitive and 8 bit clean
so that other character sets could be supported.  However the DEC folks
were firmly against anything more than 7-bit ASCII and supporting anything
in that character set. My memory is that the IBM folks were silent at the
time and just let the DEC guys carry the torch for 1960's 7-bit US English.
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