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Bill Joy

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Title: Bill Joy  
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Subject: Berkeley Software Distribution, Sun Microsystems, List of BSD operating systems, Unix shell, Faust (EWTC show)
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Bill Joy

Bill Joy
Joy at Japan Dinner Davos 2003
Born William Nelson Joy
(1954-11-08) November 8, 1954
Farmington Hills, Michigan, U.S.
Nationality USA
Fields Computer science
Alma mater University of Michigan (B.S.)
University of California, Berkeley (M.S., 1979)
Academic advisors Bob Fabry
Known for BSD • vi • csh • chroot • TCP/IP driver • co-founder of Sun Microsystems • Java • SPARC • Solaris • NFS • "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us"
Notable awards

William Nelson "Bill" Joy (born November 8, 1954) is an American computer scientist. Joy co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 along with Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy and Andreas von Bechtolsheim, and served as chief scientist at the company until 2003. He played an integral role in the early development of BSD UNIX while a graduate student at Berkeley, and he is the original author of the vi text editor. He also wrote the 2000 essay "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us", in which he expressed deep concerns over the development of modern technologies.

Early career

Joy was born in the Detroit suburb of 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.[1] Joy's graduate advisor was Bob Fabry.

As a UC Berkeley graduate student, Joy worked for Fabry's Computer Systems Research Group CSRG on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) version of the Unix operating system. He initially worked on a Pascal compiler left at Berkeley by Ken Thompson, who had been visiting the University when Joy had just started his graduate work.[2] He later moved on to improving the Unix kernel, and also handled BSD distributions.[2] Some of his most notable contributions were the ex and vi editors 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.[3] 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.[4]

Sun Microsystems

In 1982, after the firm had been going for six months, Joy was brought in with full co-founder status at Sun Microsystems. At Sun, Joy was an inspiration for the development of NFS, the SPARC microprocessors, the Java programming language, Jini / JavaSpaces and JXTA.

In 1986, Joy was awarded a Grace Murray Hopper Award by the ACM for his work on the Berkeley UNIX Operating System.

On September 9, 2003 Sun announced that Bill Joy was leaving the company and that he "is taking time to consider his next move and has no definite plans".

Post-Sun activities

In 1999, Joy co-founded a venture capital firm, HighBAR Ventures, with two Sun colleagues, Andreas von Bechtolsheim and Roy Thiele-Sardiña. In January 2005 he was named a partner in venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. There, Joy has made several investments in green energy industries, even though he does not have any credentials in the field.[5] He once said, "My method is to look at something that seems like a good idea and assume it's true".[6]

In 2011, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum for his work on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) Unix system and the co-founding of Sun Microsystems.[7]

Technology concerns

In 2000, Joy gained notoriety with the publication of his article in Wired Magazine, "Why the future doesn't need us", in which he declared, in what some have described as a "neo-Luddite" position, that he was convinced that growing advances in genetic engineering and nanotechnology would bring risks to humanity. He argued that intelligent robots would replace humanity, at the very least in intellectual and social dominance, in the relatively near future. He advocates a position of relinquishment of GNR (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) technologies, rather than going into an arms race between negative uses of the technology and defense against those negative uses (good nano-machines patrolling and defending against Grey Goo "bad" nano-machines). This stance of broad relinquishment was criticized by technologists such as technological-singularity thinker Ray Kurzweil, who instead advocates fine-grained relinquishment and ethical guidelines.[8][9] Joy was also criticized by the conservative American Spectator, which characterized Joy's essay as a (possibly unwitting) rationale for statism.[9]

A bar-room discussion of these technologies with Ray Kurzweil started to set Joy's thinking along this path. He states in his essay that during the conversation, he became surprised that other serious scientists were considering such possibilities likely, and even more astounded at what he felt was a lack of considerations of the contingencies. After bringing the subject up with a few more acquaintances, he states that he was further alarmed by what he felt was the fact that although many people considered these futures possible or probable, that very few of them shared as serious a concern for the dangers as he seemed to. This concern led to his in-depth examination of the issue and the positions of others in the scientific community on it, and eventually, to his current activities regarding it.

Despite this, he is a venture capitalist, investing in GNR technology companies.[10] He has also raised a specialty venture fund to address the dangers of pandemic diseases, such as the H5N1 avian influenza and biological weapons.

Joy's Law

In his 2013 book Makers, author Chris Anderson credited Joy with establishing "Joy's Law" based on a quip: "No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else."[11] His argument was that companies use an inefficient process by not hiring the best employees, only those they are able to hire. His "law" was a continuation of Friedrich Hayek's "The Use of Knowledge in Society" and warned that the competition outside of a company would always have the potential to be greater than the company itself.[12]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Bill Joy's greatest gift to man – the vi editor", Ashlee Vance, The Register, September 11, 2003.
  4. ^ "BSD Unix: Power to the people, from the code", Andrew Leonard, Salon, May 16, 2000.
  5. ^ , May 25, 2010CNET News"Bill Joy on Sun's downfall, Microsoft's prospects, green tech (Q&A)", Ina Fried,
  6. ^ "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy", Clay Shirky, Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list, July 1, 2003, from a speech at ETech, April 2003
  7. ^ "2011 Fellow: Bill Joy", Computer History Museum, retrieved 17 June 2013
  8. ^ "Are We Becoming an Endangered Species? Technology and Ethics in the Twenty First Century", Ray Kurzweil, Essays, November 20, 2001, originally presented on November 19, 2001 at Washington National Cathedral.
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ "Bill Joy on Venture Capital, Clean Tech, and Big Boats", Steven Levy, Wired Magazine, April 16, 2013
  11. ^ Chris Anderson, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, 143.
  12. ^ Chris Anderson, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, 144.

External links

  • Bill Joy at TED
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Bill Joy at the Internet Movie Database
  • Works by or about Bill Joy in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • An Introduction to Display Editing with Vi
  • Bill Joy, video clips at Big Picture TV
  • Excerpts from a 1999 Linux Magazine interview regarding the development of vi
  • NerdTV interview (video, audio, and transcript available) - 30 June 2005
  • The Six Webs, 10 Years On - speech at MIT Emerging Technologies conference, September 29, 2005
  • Bill Joy at Dropping Knowledge, his answers to the 100 questions at Dropping Knowledge's Table of Free Voices event in Berlin, 2006.
  • Computer History Museum, Sun Founders Panel, January 11, 2006
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