UNIX Approaches its One Billion Second Milestone

09/09/00: For immediate release

In the first year of the new millenium, UNIX will flex its muscles and prove its superiority once again. In just under one year from today UNIX will be one billion seconds old. That's right, the big One-E-Nine.

The UNIX epoch dates from January 1st, 1970. Every UNIX system in the world worth its salt keeps track of time by counting every single second since the midnight just before that auspicious date. And soon, they're all going to hit a billion. That's a thousand million, a thousand thousand thousand. Tens of tens of tens of tens of... Lots and lots.

Electromagnetic Networks is pleased to present the Countdown to One Billion. Freely available for all to see is a counter, updated every second, clearly showing exactly how long you have before you ought to go find a UNIX box and pat it fondly on the corner for being such a beast as to have gotten to a billion.

We told some systems staff about this upcoming milestone, and asked them a simple question. "How are UNIX administrators celebrating this date?" After interviewing quite a few admins, and asking them how they were going to spend September 8th, 2001, we got a wide range of answers. One admin had purchased a large sign reading "Happy 1 Billion!" to hang in the machine room, but was disheartened when he realized that none of his systems were equipped with digital cameras, so they wouldn't be able to read the sign. Another has set up cron jobs to start playing MP3s of "Happy Birthday" on the boxes with the processor power to handle it, while the other machines beep to the tempo through their speakers.

One admin did some quick mental math, and said, "9:46 PM and some seconds? I'll be at home, away from work, watching a nice movie or something." She then dissolved into laughter. Once she was capable of speech again, she added, "I'll be at the office, beating the servers into not falling over, as usual. What do you think?"

Even non-administrators are getting into the spirit of the occasion. Universities nation- and world-wide will have just reopened their doors, after adding massive quantities of data on new students to their UNIX systems, and students will be hitting the bars to recover after the first week of classes. And also to celebrate the billionth second. In fact, a significant percentage of the world will be celebrating the billionth second. After all, it's going to be on a Saturday that this event takes place, so it'll be a party night. You can count on that.

Unfortunately, none of the other sysads we contacted dignified our requests with a response. The overall consensus seems to be that for a workhorse like UNIX, one billion seconds may be an impressive amount of time to have existed, but there's no reason it should be different than any other day - UNIX clocks are not expected to suffer from an S1G problem, and so this September shall be business as usual for servers worldwide.


Other operating systems are not expected to reach this venerable age within the near future; for example, no version of Windows nor its ancestor, DOS, will turn one billion for more than a decade.

UNIX will reach two billion on May 17th, 2033, at 11:33:20 PM, GMT.