Bill Joy


Bill Joy : biography

08 November 1954 –

Early career

Joy was born in the Detroit suburb Farmington Hills, Michigan to William Joy, a school vice-principal and counselor, and Ruth Joy. Joy received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master of Science in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1979. Joy’s graduate advisor was Bob Fabry.

As a UC Berkeley graduate student, Joy worked for Fabry’s Computer Systems Research Group CSRG in managing the BSD support and rollout where many claim he was largely responsible for managing the authorship of BSD UNIX, from which sprang many later forms of UNIX, including FreeBSD, NetBSD, Tru64, OpenBSD and SunOS/Solaris itself. Apple Inc. has based much of the Mac OS X kernel and OS services on the BSD technology.

Some of his most notable contributions were the vi editor and csh. Joy’s prowess as a computer programmer is legendary, with an oft-told anecdote that he wrote the vi editor in a weekend. Joy denies this assertion., Ashlee Vance, The Register, September 11, 2003. Other of his accomplishments have also been sometimes exaggerated; Eric Schmidt, CEO of Novell at the time, inaccurately reported during an interview in PBS’s documentary Nerds 2.0.1 that Joy had personally rewritten the BSD kernel in a weekend.

According to a Salon article, during the early 1980s DARPA had contracted the company Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) to add TCP/IP to Berkeley UNIX. Joy had been instructed to plug BBN’s stack into Berkeley Unix, but he refused to do so, as he had a low opinion of BBN’s TCP/IP. So, Joy wrote his own high-performance TCP/IP stack. According to John Gage,

BBN had a big contract to implement TCP/IP, but their stuff didn’t work, and grad student Joy’s stuff worked. So they had this big meeting and this grad student in a T-shirt shows up, and they said, "How did you do this?" And Bill said, "It’s very simple — you read the protocol and write the code."

Rob Gurwitz, who was working at BBN at the time, disputes this version of events., Andrew Leonard, Salon, May 16, 2000.