They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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Another Era Closes


The university's e-newsletter included the following note yesterday:
Thursday, 04 April, 2013

The OpenVMS computing environment (, also known by service names Winnie, Kanga and Pooh) will be removed from general service April 30.

Once there were VMS computer domains on campus named Winnie, Kanga, Roo, Piglet and Pooh. I ended up using Piglet until it was retired, then Kanga after that, until they migrated the university e-mail over to other servers. In the early 90s, I still had FORTRAN programs that I ran on the VMS computers, and I seem to recall that one of the VMS machines ran a Gopher server I used in one of my grad classes when I was working on a 2nd Ph.D. in Science Education for a time.

Before that, of course, we were using Digital Equipment Corporation DEC VAX-11/750 hardware at the Center for Experimental Communication at Michigan Tech. VAX-A was the main machine for Physics when I started there in the Fall of 1984 and had a Floating Point Systems FPS-164MAX array processor attached for doing calculations. The VAX-11/750 was a very nice box, looking like a washer/dryer pair with one of hard drive boxes next to it. I was amused to learn that a couple of CS students bought VAX-B and VAX-C from the university when they were retired for a couple of hundred bucks and had all this network hardware installed in the living room of the house they were renting in Calumet Township. (grin)

Learning VMS in the mid-80s was very handy for when we finally bought our first IBM Personal Computer around 1986, because some of the command structure that PC-DOS/MS-DOS used was derived from VMS. And ten years later when I started doing serious work on Pentium-class PCs, Windows NT4 was developed by some of the same people who made VMS so stable.

In my Northwestern days in the late 70s, there were lots of DEC machines around the EE and CS departments. The CS network lab was a loose assemblage of DEC PDP-8s and PDP/LSI-11s. And around 1979, I think it was, Vogelback Computer Center, which housed the big iron Control Data CDC-6400 and CDC-6600 machines I worked with, decided to buy a pair of those newfangled VAX-11/750s and set them up in a spare room and let anyone who wanted to play with them do whatever they wanted. After all, the VAXen were so much cheaper to buy and operate than the CDC and Cyber machines, that they considered it "free" computing.

My dear friend from ISP days, the late Steve Houdek, adored the VAX and the VMS operating system. He learned all he could at VCC's two pet VAXes and then later worked for a VAX data center.

VMS eventually became OpenVMS. There was once a move to port VMS to the PC architecture, but PC-VMS never even made it to beta level, as far as I ever heard. I would've built a PC-based research computer and run VMS on it, if I could have.

I'm sure I have friends from all those eras who get chills and break out in hives thinking about having to work with VMS, much as when I contemplate working with IBM MVS or IBM VSE with JCL. (shudder) But I found the VAX/VMS combination to be very dependable and a good system to really cut my teeth on serious computing. A few years later, when we started using the Berkeley version of UNIX, I had a much better idea of what I was doing.

It's been years since I had to actually log into a VMS system at WMU -- when I was logging into piglet or kanga, I was using DEC VT-100 or VT-240 terminal emulation in MS-Kermit to do command line processing.

But you know? The VMS-Mail system worked pretty damned well for its day. And I had a lot easier time of managing thousands of old emails that way than the current stupid system. Really.

Enjoy your retirement, OpenVMS. At least for the five or six machine cycles before the power is cut and you're lobotomized forever. (evil grin)

Dr. Phil
Tags: computers, history, michigan tech, northwestern, upgrades, wmu

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