Bits and Chaos


Between bits and chaos, a sysadmin stands.

Thanks VMS, and thanks Dave, for everything

VAX/VMS was my first exposure to the real world of real operating systems. Before it, I had had only MS-DOS as operating system.

I remember the complexity, resilience and structure of this beautiful system, capable of extracting every single cycle of power from hardware as powerful as an Intel 386 (more or less)  sustaining two dozens of terminals at the time being. I remember the scheduler, that has two main classes of programs, batch and real time. I remember the extensive documentation (the joy of seeing a couple of shelfs filled with documentation manuals (even the help system has its own manual, both for the average user and for the developer). I also remember when, it was 1994, I wrote a keylogging to steal the SYSTEM password (authorized and in fact challenged by my CS teacher, and to say you a simple truth, the two passwords – yes there were two of them – were part of a motto published in the entrance of the computer lab). RUN AUTHORIZE was my first exposure to what, twenty years later, would be the Linux capabilities system.

So, today is a sad day, because HP has announced that it will discontinue OpenVMS, the notable heir of VMS. Many reasons for that, probably some short sighting for the DEC-DIGITAL-COMPAQ executives who didn’t believe in a multi-user, multi-program system quite different from Unix. If they did so, the history of computing would have been probably different, because VMS on a Alpha processor was quite a number crunching beast.

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