"How Unix came to France (1978-1983)"

Camille Paloque-Bergès & Loïc Petitgirard

Description: France’s historical relationship to computer and information technologies can be summed up in a caricature of Charles de Gaulle’s contrarian position towards American politics, illustrated with the famous “Plan Calcul” policy which favored and constrained domestic computing equipment for a decade starting in the late 1960s. A fringe of the French computer researcher and engineering world took a reverse position, looking towards Americans’ innovations in the field of computer networks, and joining the burgeoning international hacking scene of Unix users. Gathered at the “Computing Lab”, an experimental IT department located in the basement of the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, they were among the very first to import DEC machines to test out the new and improving Unix system in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, they set up the first national backbone in order to connect to the international Unix machines networks (known as UUCPnet and Usenet), paving the way for the Internet in France. However, from hardware to software and modems, there were many constraints in both the acquisitions and the deployment of Unix technologies. This is the story of the many administrative and technical diversions, misappropriations, and even embezzlements, as much cultural as political, that they undertook in order to spread the Unix spirit in France, with the help of the European Unix user groups.

Track: Culture et Politique
Language: Anglais