VMS stability back in the day (was Re: NuTek Mac comes)

Swift Griggs swiftgriggs at gmail.com
Thu Jul 14 15:50:12 CDT 2016

On Thu, 14 Jul 2016, Sean Conner wrote:
> What I've read about VMS makes me think the networking was incredible. 

Big Fat Disclaimer: I know very little about VMS. I'm a UNIX zealot.

I work with a lot of VMS experts and being around them has taught me a lot 
more about it than I ever thought to learn. I respect the OS a lot and I 
agree with Mouse about parts of it still being object lessons to other 
OSes. I don't see any point in "UNIX vs VMS" which I gather was a big 
bruhaha back in the 1990s.


Personally, given the mess of MultiNet, TCP/IP Services, and TCPWare, I 
wouldn't make that statement about networking *at all*. However, maybe you 
are talking about DECnet. I don't know much about DECnet except that it's 
very proprietary and it's got a bunch of "phases" (versions) that are 
radically different. Some are super-simple and not even routable, and 
others are almost as nasty as an OSI protocol stack.

When using TCP/IP related tools they all seem like basic-functionality 
ports from the Unix side (but stable and usable nonetheless). Plus, IIRC, 
some of the code came right outta Tru64 / OSF1 in the 90's. That's what 
some of the VMS guys told me, anyhow.

> But having used VMS (as a student), the command line *sucked* (except 
> for the help facility---that blows the Unix man command out of the 
> water).

The DCL command line is very foreign to me. I've seen people rave about 
how regular and predictable things are in DCL, and I've seen some evidence 
of that. I've also seen some spot-on criticisms of DCL scripting vis-a-vis 
shell scripting and that's also accurate.

As far as the help system goes, it's got that regularity I mentioned. It's 
very predictable to get help for a given switch or command argument. 
However, versus a modern FreeBSD box? The man pages are MUCH better in my 
opinion that DCL help. They are more detailed with sections of help that's 
usually not even available in the DCL help. 

As a UNIX guy who doesn't hate VMS at all (I think it's cool) my basic 
impression is this:

Strengths versus Unix:
 * More granular authentication/authorization system built in from very 
   early days I'm told. "capabilities" style access control, too. 
 * Great hardware error logging that generally tells you exactly what's 
   wrong (even if you have to run a turd like WSEA to get it out of a 
   binary error log - same as Tru64 though). 
 * Lots of performance metrics and instrumentation of the OS's features
 * Very solid clustering. (no, it's not incredible and unsurpassed like 
   some people still say - other OSes have similar features now, but it 
   took a very long time to catch up to VMS.)
 * Some fairly nice backup features (but not as advanced as, say, 
   whats in LVM2 or ZFS in some ways). 
 * Regularity. It's hard to articulate but VMS is very very "regular" and 
   predictable in how it does things.
 * Crazy stable.  

Downsides versus Unix:

 * There is a lot of software ported to VMS, but a lot still missing too. 
   Open source projects often lag by years. It's all volunteers
 * No x86 support, you gotta find a VAX, Alpha, or Integrity/IA64 box. 
   Maybe VSI will fix this, and maybe they are so politically screwed up 
   they will never get it off the ground. We'll see. I have an open mind. 
 * DCL is very very weird to a UNIX user and I miss tons of features from 
   UNIX. I say "weird" but when it comes to scripting, I'd go as far as 
   saying "weak". I mean, no "while", no "for", and lots of other things I 
   dearly miss. 
 * No source code for the masses and licenses out the yazoo. It nickel and 
   dimes you for every feature (but so does Tru64 and many others to be 

If you are a VMS bigot and you take offense at any of this, please go easy 
on me. I'm just giving my impressions, not stating any of this as absolute 
truth or law. I'm certainly not trying to bust on VMS. I think VMS is 


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