I am learning about the history of computers, and based on what I know so far, Unix was run on a large computer, and in order to use it, you have to use a computer terminal.

Does anybody knows what is the version of Unix and the name of the (large) computer it run on in this 1982 video:


These are some snapshots from the video:

Screenshot 1 Computer Screenshot 2

  • 2
    It might be helpful for context if you can tell us where in the half-hour video those snapshots were taken from.
    – user
    Apr 18, 2017 at 9:08
  • What you'd be likely to see of a "big computer" in the 80ies would be only the terminal. And what we see in your second picture is a good old vt100 terminal: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VT100 . The "computer" is most probably hidden in some big server room and could nearly be anything running Unix. Unfortunately, the screens you show seem to be from applications programs - Not much to deduct from that.
    – tofro
    Apr 18, 2017 at 11:46
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    @tofro in the second photo I think the big computer is the set of cabinets against the wall in the background... Apr 18, 2017 at 11:59
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    @tofro, that's a PDP-11 for sure: black and magenta control panel at 3:20 is the giveaway: pdp-11
    – scruss
    Apr 18, 2017 at 13:29
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    @scruss I must admit I've never seen a PDP-11 with the front panels closed (or even present), although I have worked on some (mainly RSX-11M, not unix). From my memory, a PDP-11 needs to look like any other bunch of PCBs in a backplane ;)
    – tofro
    Apr 18, 2017 at 13:36

2 Answers 2


The "p" program shown is a rudimentary pager (just stopped each 22 lines to wait to hit enter - 22 was chosen because some tools formatted output into 66-line pages with headers and footers) that appears in Research Unix v8 and onward, which suggests that what was being shown was the then-current version of Research Unix (this was three years before v8 was formally released). Version numbers weren't really a thing for Research Unix outside the preparation of printed manuals and distribution tapes.

The other commands - makewords, lowercase, unique (by that name, though it may well simply be uniq renamed), and mismatch (which appears to be a cut-down version of spell) don't appear in v8 but may have been demonstration programs or scripts created to show off the concept of pipelines for the video.

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    Welcome to Retrocomputing. Thanks for trying to identify the operating system despite the other answer saying that it is impossible - this certainly cuts it down.
    – wizzwizz4
    May 19, 2017 at 21:30

It is likely a PDP-11/40, judging from the front panel just visible to the left of the terminal.

The PDP-11/40 is consistent with the purple/red paint on the cabinet; and with the fact it's running some sort of UNIX. It also seems that they are using the computer to do CAD designs of microchips; I know that the ULA in the ZX Spectrum was designed in this way on a PDP-11.

I think it's impossible to say which version of UNIX is running here but it could be 1BSD or 2BSD. These were apparently popular unices on the PDP-11 around 1982.

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    Given the video was produced by AT&T and contains interviews with Bell Labs employees the version of Unix being used is almost certainly Research Unix. In 1982 they would either be using Version 7 or more likely some intermediate internal version between the official releases of V7 and V8.
    – user722
    Apr 18, 2017 at 21:31
  • The pattern of the toggle switches at the bottom is more consistent with those of a PDP-11/50
    – JeremyP
    Apr 20, 2017 at 15:01
  • Or a PDP-11/45
    – JeremyP
    Apr 20, 2017 at 15:05

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