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What Was Multics?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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Multiplexed Information and Computing Service, or Multics, was one of the best examples of a mainframe time-sharing operating system development during the larger part of the 1960’s. The development of the system was a joint effort by three highly respected entities, and was one of the first multiplexed operating systems to employ the practice of page segmentation storage protocols. While this mainframe operating system solution is now considered obsolete, Multics paved the way for many of the technological advances of the last twenty years of the 20th century.

Multics was the result of the combined efforts of three well-respected organizations. With the first research efforts taking place in the early 1960’s, Multics began to take shape, with each of the three contributing resources to the ongoing development. Bell Labs, General Electric Corporation, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shared in developing various aspects of the operating system, with tests often ran at facilities connected with each entity. GE manufactured hardware was utilized as the platform for the system.

By 1969, Multics as fully functional and ready for installation. Along this time, GE sold their computer development arm. Honeywell, who purchased the GE facilities, continued to contribute hardware to the project and were influential in the final design. The first commercial Multics system was made available in 1973.

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By today’s standards, the Multics system did not pack a great deal of power. However, at the time the operating system was a huge advantage over alternatives. The first commercial system, known as the 6180 featured a 768 kilobyte memory capacity, eight megabytes of bulk storage, and a hard disk with a capacity of just over one and a half megabytes.

For the remainder of the decade, enhancements were offered from time to time that expanded the resources of the Multics operating system. This included the development of one of the first relational databases, and was dubbed the Multics Relational Data Store, or MRDS. Multiple disk capacities were also added, which provided additional power to companies that had begun to rely on mainframe systems to expedite core business functions.

Unfortunately, Multics did not adapt very well to the technological innovations of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The advent of the personal computer and affordable network and server systems that could do everything Multics could accomplish and offer more resources soon overtook the older operating system. By the turn of the new century, Multics was mostly considered to be obsolete.

While Multics is no longer a commonly used operating system, the forward thinking associated with the development of the system paved the way for many of the computer functions people use each day in both the home and the workplace. Some of the essential understandings of the function of memory, database structure, and data storage all have their beginnings in the research that helped to bring Multics to life.

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