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

steven at malikoff.com steven at malikoff.com
Fri Jul 15 00:24:28 CDT 2016

Swift said:
> I think VMS is neat.

As a comp sci student I loved using VMS on our 11/780s at Uni, from first
year through final year where we also had the use of a Gould PN6080 UNIX mini.
(Aside - the Gould had one good drive, one flaky. The OS and staff accounts
were on one, student accounts and /tmp on the other. Guess which :)

On the teaching VAX, I vaguely recall one time just after the computing
department had a new version of the OS installed, I logged in and I typed
'&' (or something) on a line by itself and the DCL shell crashed and went
back to login. That got patched pretty quick.

Another humorous thing was certain faculties such as Statistics or Economics
would hand out (apart from an account for each student) a common account that
was locked into a DCL menu of for instance stats applications, that had a
minimal quota and priveleges and anyone in the course could use to check
terminal availability and print or submit job completions and that sort of

With these accounts it was possible to break out of the menu to the DCL shell,
and as it was an anonymous account do (from hazy memory) something along the
lines of EDIT/NOJOURNAL [SYS$SYSTEM]password.dat or something similar,
and presto although you couldn't edit it or even see it, it would be held open
and any attempt for anyone to log in anywhere would get some message that the
password file was locked by another user. I er saw it done by a friend :)

Apart from that, students would write crazy long DCL scripts that would find
out whether their friends were logged in somewhere on campus, and that sort
of thing. No matter that it took ages to execute and used up our meagre
student account CPU-seconds quota and log us out! So we just logged in again and
got another few CPU seconds. The messaging command (can't recall what it was -
phone?) was great and lots of fun to use. Of course geek guys would use it to
send messages to girls they could see at other terminals, offering to help!

I recall using EDIT/EDT and really loved it, none of our student terminals
(Telerays?, Hazeltines, LSI, Wyse, any other cheap beaten-up terminals the Uni
owned) ever had the mysterious GOLD key though, and it wasn't till decades later I
saw a real DEC keyboard with that key. I felt disappointed because it was actually
just yellow and not really gold at all, not even painted.

Other times I used to edit my comp sci and stats assignments in line mode on the
DECwriter IIIs and Teletype 43s which most students avoided like the plague,
preferring to use EDT in full-screen mode on a glass terminal. Being comfortable
with line mode editing was very convenient for me if I happened to arrive late
to a terminal room when assignments were nearly due.

And now I have one of those cute little baby VAXen, the smallest VAX ever
made, a 4000 VLC from an eBay impulse purchase. I have not powered it up yet
but someday I will and am hoping it works and has VMS on it. It might even jog a
few more fond memories (^_^)


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