The Register: Bill Joy’s greatest gift to man – the vi editor
Out of all of Bill Joy’s contributions to technology, users appear most fond of one of the simplest – the vi editor.
Joy leaves a lasting legacy of work both in the general technology domain and at Sun Microsystems. Among Joy’s list of achievements are BSD Unix, NFS, UltraSPARC designs and some work on Java. But it’s vi, created in 1976, that really captured Reg readers’ hearts. One wrote: “Bill’s greatest gift to mankind was … the vi editor. I can live without NFS, Java and related technologies. I’m not sure if I can live without vi.” Other readers called vi, “Joy’s lasting contribution to humanity” and agreed they could not have worked without it.
Bill Joy then tells the story of its creation:
So I had a terminal at home and a 300 baud modem so the cursor could move around and I just stayed up all night for a few months and wrote vi. It was really hard to do because you’ve got to remember that I was trying to make it usable over a 300 baud modem. That’s also the reason you have all these funny commands. It just barely worked to use a screen editor over a modem. It was just barely fast enough. A 1200 baud modem was an upgrade. 1200 baud now is pretty slow.
9600 baud is faster than you can read. 1200 baud is way slower. So the editor was optimized so that you could edit and feel productive when it was painting slower than you could think. Now that computers are so much faster than you can think, nobody understands this anymore.