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Plan 9 by Nokia Bell Labs: Now Released with MIT Licensing

By Dick Weisinger

Forty years ago Bell Labs was a center of technology innovation. Researchers from Bell are credited with developing technologies like the transistor, the laser, the photovoltaic cell, and radio astronomy. In the area of software, Bell researchers created Unix and languages like C and C++. It has been roughly fifty years since Unix was first conceived and developed at Bell Labs for DEC PDP-11 computers.

In the mid-1980’s, more than a decade after the creation of Unix, the same Bell Labs researchers responsible for Unix created another operating system called Plan 9. In particular, Plan 9 introduced innovations in the area of distributed multi-user environments, a minimalist windowing system, and UTF-8 character encoding. But while Plan 9 never took off the same way that Unix did, many of the innovations that it introduced found their way into Linux.

In March of 2021, Bell Labs, which is now owned by Nokia, transferred the copyright of Plan 9 to an independent Plan 9 Foundation.

Marcus Weldon, CTO at Nokia Bell Labs, wrote that “Indeed, there is an active community of people who have been working on Plan 9 and who are interested in the future evolution of this groundbreaking operating system. That community is organizing itself bottom-up into the new Plan 9 Foundation, which is making the OS code publicly available under a suitable open-source software license… Who knows, perhaps Plan 9 will become a part of the emerging distributed cloud infrastructure that will underpin the coming industrial revolution? And now it is simply left for me to smash the metaphorical magnum of champagne as Plan 9 sets sail on the next leg of her journey, to parts unknown.”

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3 comments on “Plan 9 by Nokia Bell Labs: Now Released with MIT Licensing
  1. Martin Atkins says:

    Ah! But are the patents covering the Venti archive system now free to use?
    They weren’t back when I tried!

  2. Martin Atkins says:

    To be clear: Venti is a core part of Plan 9.

  3. dweisinger says:

    I don’t know for sure, but Venti is considered part of Plan 9.

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