Survex was started in 1990 by Olly Betts and Wookey. Like most cave surveying software, the motivation for its creation arose from a particular surveying project - Cambridge University Caving Club's explorations in Austria.

But we wanted to produce a set of tools which weren't only useful for the sort of surveying we were doing. We wanted Survex to be useful for many sorts of surveying, on different computing platforms, in different countries and by people speaking different languages.

We particularly wanted to ensure there were no artificial limits to what could be processed, and that other features could be added later as surveying methods evolved and available computing power increased. Limits would only be imposed by the available memory or speed of the processing computer. Another important goal was to ensure the data-processing engine had a sound mathematical basis.

We spent almost a year looking at the pros and cons of existing software, working out features that would be useful and appropriate, and researching algorithms that would be effective and scale to the available computing power.

It made sense to make the software available without charge, complete with source code. We wanted others to be able to extend Survex, rather than having to code up a whole new package from scratch. We also wanted to provide a testbed for trying out new ideas.

The first coding was a prototype for caverot, written during the CUCC Austria Expedition in July 1990. Originally it was written in a mixture of BBC Basic and ARM assembler, but it was later rewritten in C.

The name Survex was decided upon one drunken evening in "Rocky's Pub", Palma, Majorca during a CUCC pre-Christmas trip in 1990. The exact reason for the name is understandably somewhat hazy, but Wookey's been claiming ever since that it means 'SURVey EXcellence'.

Olly suspects it was because Surveyor 87/88 kept data in ".svy" files and we needed a new extension, so changed the last letter by one. Just be thankful we didn't go for Waddington's suggestion: "Betts' Underground Mapping System".

The early Survex releases were only for RISC OS and were used by CUCC. The DOS port was completed in April 1992, and the Unix port a month later. The first public release was v0.21 in June 1992.

Survex 0.96 (released in February 2001) was the first which supported aven on Microsoft Windows - prior to this there was only command line support for this platform.

Initial support for macOS was added in March 2002, and the first release announced as having Mac support was Survex 1.0.26 in November 2003.

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