Bill Joy
Joy at World Economic Forum (Davos), 2003-01
William Nelson Joy

(1954-11-08) November 8, 1954 (age 69)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan (BS)
University of California, Berkeley (MS)
Known forBSD • vi • csh • chroot • TCP/IP driver • co-founder of Sun Microsystems • Java • SPARC • Solaris • NFS • Why The Future Doesn't Need Us
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
Academic advisorsBob Fabry

William Nelson Joy (born November 8, 1954) is an American computer engineer and venture capitalist. He co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 along with Scott McNealy, Vinod Khosla, and Andy Bechtolsheim, and served as Chief Scientist and CTO at the company until 2003.

He played an integral role in the early development of BSD UNIX while being a graduate student at Berkeley,[1] 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.

Joy was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (1999) for contributions to operating systems and networking software.[2]

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. He earned 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.[3]

While a graduate student at Berkeley, he 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.[4]

He later moved on to improving the Unix kernel, and also handled BSD distributions.[4] Some of his most notable contributions were the ex and vi editors and the C shell. 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.[5] A few of his other 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.[6] In 1980, he also wrote cat -v[7][8] which Rob Pike and Brian W. Kernighan wrote went against Unix philosophy.[9]

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.[10]

— John Gage

Rob Gurwitz, who was working at BBN at the time, disputes this version of events.[10]

Sun Microsystems

In 1982, after the firm had been going for six months, Joy, Sun's sixteenth employee, was brought in with full co-founder status at Sun Microsystems.[11] At Sun, Joy was an inspiration for the development of NFS, the SPARC microprocessors,[12] the Java programming language, Jini/JavaSpaces,[13] and JXTA.[14]

In 1986, Joy was awarded a Grace Murray Hopper Award by the ACM for his work on the Berkeley UNIX Operating System.[15]

On September 9, 2003, Sun announced Joy was leaving the company and that he "is taking time to consider his next move and has no definite plans".[16][17][18][19][20]

Post-Sun activities

In 1999, Joy co-founded a venture capital firm, HighBAR Ventures, with two Sun colleagues, Andy Bechtolsheim and Roy Thiele-Sardiña. In January 2005 he was named a partner in venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. There, Joy has made several investments in green energy industries, even though he does not have any credentials in the field.[21] He once said, "My method is to look at something that seems like a good idea and assume it's true".[22]

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.[23]

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,[24] 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 supports and promotes the idea of abandonment of GNR (genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) technologies, instead of 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.[25][26] Joy was also criticized by The American Spectator, which characterized Joy's essay as a (possibly unwitting) rationale for statism.[26]

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 consideration 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 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.[27] 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

Of management

Main article: Joy's law (management)

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 [other than you]."[28] 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.[29]

Of computing

See also: Moore's law

Joy devised a formula in 1983, also called Joy's law, stating that the peak computer speed doubles each year and thus is given by a simple function of time. Specifically,

in which S is the peak computer speed attained during year Y, expressed in MIPS.[30]


  1. ^ "ACM author profile page: William Nelson Joy".
  2. ^ "Bill Joy, Sun Microsystems Ceo, To Speak At Institute For Advanced Study - Press Release | Institute for Advanced Study". 2009-06-10. Retrieved 2022-10-16.
  3. ^ "UC Berkeley Online Tour: Famous Alumni". University of California, Berkeley. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
  4. ^ a b McKusick, Marshall Kirk (1999). "Twenty Years of Berkeley Unix: From AT&T-Owned to Freely Redistributable". Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. O'Reilly.
  5. ^ Ashlee Vance,"Bill Joy's greatest gift to man – the vi editor" Archived 2014-06-03 at the Wayback Machine, The Register, September 11, 2003.
  6. ^ "Eric Schmidt: At Berkeley, Bill Joy written and rewritten the kernel over a weekend. No human on the planet could do this except for Bill". YouTube.
  7. ^ displays nonprinting characters, except for tabs and the end of line character
  8. ^ Joy, Bill (October 10, 1980). "Computer Systems Research Group BSD Distribution: Diff". Computer Systems Research Group. Retrieved December 15, 2022. case 'v':
  9. ^ Rob Pike; Brian W. Kernighan (October 1984). "Program Design in the UNIX Environment" (PDF). AT&T Bell Laboratories Technical Journal. 63 (8). part 2. Retrieved December 15, 2022. cat therefore shouldn't transform its input
  10. ^ a b "BSD Unix: Power to the people, from the code", Andrew Leonard, Salon, May 16, 2000.
  11. ^ Hall, Mark (1990). Sunburst: the ascent of Sun Microsystems. Chicago: Contemporary Books. p. 8. ISBN 9780809243686. he was Sun's sixteenth employee
  12. ^ "SPARC: The Power of Ideas". YouTube.
  13. ^ "Bill Joy | American software developer and entrepreneur". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  14. ^ Leuf, Bo (2002). Peer to peer : collaboration and sharing over the Internet. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0201767325. OCLC 1058000048.
  15. ^ "1986 ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award: William Nelson Joy".
  16. ^ "Bill Joy leaves Sun Microsystems". The Register.
  17. ^ "Co-founder Bill Joy to leave Sun".
  18. ^ "Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy to leave company".
  19. ^ "Sun sets on pioneer Bill Joy / Co-founder, leading technologist resigns". 10 September 2003.
  20. ^ "Bill Joy After Sun With his corporate ties cut, the "Edison of the Net" speaks freely on the challenges facing Sun, the Net, and, of course, Microsoft".
  21. ^ ""Bill Joy on Sun's downfall, Microsoft's prospects, green tech (Q&A)", Ina Fried, CNET News, May 25, 2010". 25 May 2010.
  22. ^ "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" Archived 2005-01-14 at the Wayback Machine, Clay Shirky, Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list, July 1, 2003, from a speech at ETech, April 2003
  23. ^ "2011 Fellow: Bill Joy" Archived 2015-01-03 at the Wayback Machine, Computer History Museum, retrieved 17 June 2013
  24. ^ "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2020-12-09.
  25. ^ "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.
  26. ^ a b Valpy, Michael (23 June 2001). "Will we invent our own worst enemies?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  27. ^ "Bill Joy on Venture Capital, Clean Tech, and Big Boats", Steven Levy, Wired Magazine, April 16, 2013
  28. ^ Chris Anderson, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, 143.
  29. ^ Chris Anderson, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, 144.
  30. ^ John Markoff (December 13, 1993). "The not-so-distant future of personal computing". InfoWorld: 49.