Joe Ossanna

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Joe Ossanna
BornJoseph Frank Ossanna, Jr.
December 10, 1928
Detroit, Michigan
DiedNovember 28, 1977(1977-11-28) (aged 48)
Morristown, New Jersey
Alma materWayne State University (B.S.E.E., 1952)
Occupation(s)electrical engineer and computer programmer
Known forMultics and Unix operating systems and software applications at Bell Telephone Laboratories

Joseph Frank Ossanna, Jr. (December 10, 1928 – November 28, 1977) was an American electrical engineer and computer programmer who worked as a member of the technical staff at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. He became actively engaged in the software design of Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service), a general-purpose operating system used at Bell.

Education and career

Ossanna received his Bachelor of Engineering (B.S.E.E.) from Wayne State University in 1952.

At Bell Telephone Labs, Ossanna was concerned with low-noise amplifier design, feedback amplifier design, satellite look-angle prediction, mobile radio fading theory, and statistical data processing. He was also concerned with the operation of the Murray Hill Computation Center and was actively engaged in the software design of Multics.

After learning how to program the PDP-7 computer, Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, Joe Ossanna, and Rudd Canaday began to program the operating system that was designed earlier by Thompson (Unics, later named Unix). After writing the file system and a set of basic utilities, and assembler, a core of the Unix operating system was established. Doug McIlroy later wrote, "Ossanna, with the instincts of a motor pool sergeant, equipped our first lab and attracted the first outside users."

When the team got a Graphic Systems CAT phototypesetter for making camera-ready copy of professional articles for publication and patent applications, Ossanna wrote a version of nroff that would drive it. It was dubbed troff, for typesetter roff. So it was that in 1973 he authored the first version of troff for Unix entirely written in PDP-11 assembly language. However, two years later, Ossanna re-wrote the code in the C programming language. He had planned another rewrite which was supposed to improve its usability but this work was taken over by Brian Kernighan.

Ossanna was a member of the Association for Computing Machinery, Sigma Xi, and Tau Beta Pi.

Later life and death

He died as a consequence of heart disease.

Selected publications


  1. ^ a b c d e "Who's who in the world of troff".
  2. ^ "Unix History"
  3. ^ Ritchie, Dennis M., "The Evolution of the Unix Time-sharing System", AT&T Bell Laboratories Technical Journal 63 No. 6 Part 2, October 1984, pp. 1577-93.
  4. ^ a b McIlroy, M. D. (1987). A Research Unix reader: annotated excerpts from the Programmer's Manual, 1971–1986 (PDF) (Technical report). CSTR. Bell Labs. 139.
  5. ^ J. F. Ossanna. Nroff/Troff User's Manual. CSTR #54, Bell Labs, 1976. Revised by B. W. Kernighan, 1992.
  6. ^ "Printing on Linux".
  7. ^ " Fw: How died Joe Ossanna?".