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In Memoriam: John Lions

Peter H. Salus

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John Lions, who retired from the University of New South Wales in July 1995, died on December 5, 1998. John served UNSW for 23 years. John occupied a significant role in the profession. He was Editor of The Australian Computer Journal for many years and was responsible for installing the first Unix system in Australia. In 1975, he founded the Australian Unix User Group (AUUG) and in 1976 he wrote the booklets which brought him worldwide fame.

The March 1977 UNIX NEWS (vol. 2, no. 3) announced the availability of them, to licencees, together with a note by Mel Ferentz:

Ken Thompson has seen the first version of the book and reports that it is a good job.

The price, including airmail, was $A17.70 (under $20 US, at that time). The UKUUG newsletter announced the availability of the code and commentary, but the next issue stated that future orders should be placed with Bell Laboratories and by 1978 the volumes were no longer available. They must be the most frequently photocopied books in the entire area of computer science. They carry the appropriate copyright notices and the restriction to licensees, but once again, there was no way that Western Electric could stem the circulation of something of such value. I confess to possessing both a many-generation photocopy and a copy, in the bright orange and red covers, inscribed to me by John Lions.

Greg Rose told me: "One measure of the success of the Commentary and Source Code books was the number of illicit photocopies floating around. I was visiting a minicomputer company in 1987, and found a copy of the Commentary on a bookshelf. It had, based on the names written on the title page, been copied from a copy at least four times. It was nearly illegible, and yet was dog-eared from use."

In 1994, Mike O'Dell presented John with the USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award. I am proud to have been involved in the legal publication of the Commentary and Code (1996; ISBN 1-57398-013-7) and its Japanese translation (1998; ISBN 4-7561-1844-5).

I know that every UNIX user joins me in expressing condolences to Marianne Lions at this time.

John was a fine teacher, a good programmer, and a true friend.

Peter H. Salus is the author of A Quarter Century of UNIX and the Editorial Director of MIDS, Inc.

[Other versions of this encomium appeared in Matrix News and in ;login:.]


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