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1981 edition of AT&T Nroff/Troff User's Manual

From: G. Branden Robinson
Subject: 1981 edition of AT&T Nroff/Troff User's Manual
Date: Mon, 6 Jun 2022 01:17:00 -0500

Hi folks,

Something exciting just escaped from the vaults.  I've been hoping to
see this sort of thing for a long time.

Warren Toomey at TUHS has just in the past 24 hours announced the
availability of "Unix 4.0" documentation.

This is not merely of ordinary historical significance, as it's a
snapshot of Unix history at a fascinating period, right when the
bifurcation of AT&T and Berkeley Unixes began to grow into a rift--but
it's also a document of a version of AT&T Unix that swiftly got
eclipsed.  When I was younger I thought there _was_ no "AT&T System IV
Unix", that AT&T went from System III to System V, and that this had
something to do with wanting to avoid confusion with Berkeley's 4BSD

But apparently this was folklore.  Note Andrew Tanenbaum's quote[1]:
"Whatever happened to System IV is one of the great unsolved mysteries
of computer science."

Unix 4.0 was a real thing, at least in some places for a time, and now
the manuals for the system are public for us all to see.

The significance for the groff community, and terribly exciting to me
personally as an amateur historian of Unix *roff, is the version of the
*roff User's Manual that is here.

The 1976 edition of that manual has been in circulation for a while,
albeit at a lower volume than Kernighan's 1991 revision.  Those with
access to the professionally bound Unix Version 7 manuals will have a
copy of that edition along with a single-page addendum, dated 1979 IIRC.

But we have a multi-page addendum from January 1981.  This
is hugely significant because it post-dates Kernighan's rewrite of troff
for device independence, and better still it does so at a time,
apparently, very shortly after that work was completed, and before Unix
troff got shunted off into the AT&T Documenter's Workbench (DWB)
commercial product to quietly rake in licensing fees and enjoy "benign

A great counterpart to this would be sources for the initial completed
version of device-independent troff.  If only, eh?

I saw the statement "This addendum supersedes all previous addenda to
this manual" and that four pages remained, and I knew I had to share the
good news.  Already I see something about a "compactification" request,
a feature that seems not to have survived in the long term.

And the only troff (cf. nroff) device supported was the "Wang
Laboratories' C/A/T phototypesetter".  Before the Autologic APS-5!
Before the Imagen and the Linotron!  Yes, I think this is
device-independent troff in its very swaddling clothes.

The document is too big to attach (41 MB), so here's the link.

Share and enjoy!


P.S. Those who know will know why they want to get their mitts on this
one, too.[2]  Just in case.


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