Kenneth L. Thompson, a researcher for more than 30 years at Bell Laboratories, was named the first recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Tsutomu Kanai Award for contributions in the area of distributed computing system. The co-creator of Unix and a developer of the prototype language B on which C was based — Thompson’s research has focused on operating systems, programming languages, computer games, and voice and data programs. His software projects have contributed to open, portable computing.
In the late 1960s, Ken Thompson was part of the Multics project, a collaborative effort among Bell Labs, MIT, and General Electric to develop a new kind of operating system. When Bell Labs withdrew from the project. Thompson and fellow Bell Labs researcher Dennis Ritchie nonetheless, producing not merely an operating system as envisioned by Multics but, in Ritchie’s words, “a system around which a fellowship could form.” With Thompson’s conception for the basic file system, a programming environment for communal computing was created.
Unix, created in 1969, was the first portable operating system. It laid the groundwork for a networking paradigm in computing; after Unix, computers no longer had to be used in isolation from one another.
Widely used today in academic settings and on Internet servers, Unix was designed to run on anything from mainframes to PCs. Distributed for free since its inception, Unix has constantly evolved through the availability of its source code to a wide community of users. Although proprietary operating systems on Wintel and Macintosh machines have a strong hold on the personal computing OS market, Unix and its kin Linux still dominate in many other arenas.
The achievements of Ken Thompson have been recognized many times over. An elected member to the National Academy of Engineering, Thompson is a past recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award and the Computer Pioneer Award for contributions of lasting importance to computing. In addition, he recently received the US National Medal of Technology with Dennis Ritchie.