[TUHS] Who used *ROFF?

Doug McIlroy doug at cs.dartmouth.edu
Mon May 14 22:19:50 AEST 2018

Here's part of the story.

> From: "Doug McIlroy" <doug at cs.dartmouth.edu>
> To:<tuhs at minnie.tuhs.org>
> Sent:Fri, 16 Dec 2016 21:09:16 -0500
> Subject:[TUHS] How Unix made it
to the top
> It has often been told how the Bell Labs law department became the 
> first non-research department to use Unix, displacing a newly acquired 
> stand-alone word-processing system that fell short of the department's 
> hopes because it couldn't number the lines on patent applications, 
> as USPTO required. When Joe Ossanna heard of this, he told them about 
> nroff and promised to give it line-numbering capability the next day.  
> They tried it and were hooked. Patent secretaries became remote 
> members of the fellowship of the Unix lab. In due time the law
> department got its own machine. 

Come to think of it, they must already have had a machine, probably
leased from the commercial word-processing company, for they had DEC
tapes they needed to convert to Unix format. Several of us in the Unix
lab spent a memorable afternoon decoding the proprietary format. It was
finally broken when we computed a bitwise autocorrelation function. It
had a big peak at seven. The tapes were pure ASCII rather than bytewise
ASCII--a lot of work for very little data compression.

As for training, the secretaries had to learn nroff and ed plus the
usual lot of ls, mkdir, mv, cp, rm. The patent department had to invest
in modems and order phone lines to plug them into. I don't know what
terminals they used.

>From this distant point in time it seems that it all happened in a couple
of weeks. Joe Ossanna did most of the teaching, and no doubt supplied
samples to copy. As far as I know the only other instructional materials
would have been man pages and the nroff manual (forbiddingly terse,
though thorough). He may have made a patent-macro package, but I doubt
it; I think honor for the first real macro package goes to Lesk's -ms.


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