Kenneth Thompson

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Ken Thompson (left) with Dennis Ritchie (right)

Kenneth Lane Thompson (born 4 February 1943) is a computer scientist and winner, with Dennis Ritchie, of the 1983 Turing Award. He is notable for his work on the Unix operating system.


"Reflections on Trusting Trust" (1983)[edit]

  • You can't trust code that you did not totally create yourself. (Especially code from companies that employ people like me.) No amount of source-level verification or scrutiny will protect you from using untrusted code.
  • The press, television, and movies make heroes of vandals by calling them whiz kids. ... There is obviously a cultural gap. The act of breaking into a computer system has to have the same social stigma as breaking into a neighbor's house. It should not matter that the neighbor's door is unlocked.

Plan 9 fortune file (1992)[edit]

Quotations from the fortune command included with the Plan 9 operating system (1992)
  • We have persistent objects, they're called files.
  • If you want to go somewhere, goto is the best way to get there.
  • The X server has to be the biggest program I've ever seen that doesn't do anything for you.
    • Thompson later followed up: "I now realize that X was just miles ahead in its programming style." [3]
  • Hi, this is Ken. What's the root password?
  • 'Gigabit' seems to mean 600 megabits. It's a VAX gigabit.
  • There's going to be no serious problem after this.
  • It does everything Unix does only less reliably.
    • (In response to the question, "Can you sum up plan 9 in layman's terms?")

On Linux and Microsoft (1999)[edit]

  • I view Linux as something that's not Microsoft — a backlash against Microsoft, no more and no less. I don't think it will be very successful in the long run. I've looked at the source and there are pieces that are good and pieces that are not. A whole bunch of random people have contributed to this source, and the quality varies drastically. My experience and some of my friends' experience is that Linux is quite unreliable. Microsoft is really unreliable but Linux is worse.
    • "Unix and Beyond: An Interview with Ken Thompson", Computer 32 (5), May 1999, pp. 58-64[4]
  • Anything new will have to come along with the type of revolution that came along with Unix. Nothing was going to topple IBM until something came along that made them irrelevant. I'm sure they have the mainframe market locked up, but that's just irrelevant. And the same thing with Microsoft: Until something comes along that makes them irrelevant, the entry fee is too difficult and they won't be displaced.
    • "Unix and Beyond: An Interview with Ken Thompson", Computer 32 (5), May 1999, pp. 58-64[5]
  • I think the open software movement (and Linux in particular) is laudable.
    • "Ken Thompson clarifies matters", Linux Today. May 7, 1999. [6]
  • I do believe that in a race, it is naive to think Linux has a hope of making a dent against Microsoft starting from way behind with a fraction of the resources and amateur labor. (I feel the same about Unix.)
    • "Ken Thompson clarifies matters", Linux Today. May 7, 1999. [7]
  • I must say the Linux community is a lot nicer than the Unix community. A negative comment on Unix would warrent death threats. With Linux, it is like stirring up a nest of butterflies.
    • "Ken Thompson clarifies matters", Linux Today. May 7, 1999. [8]


  • "I've seen [visual] editors like that, but I don't feel a need for them. I don't want to see the state of the file when I'm editing."
    • Thompson on the superiority of ed to editors such as today's vi or emacs, as summarized by Peter Salus in A Quarter Century of UNIX (Addison-Wesley, 1994).[9]

External links[edit]

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