Re: Results of my straw poll.

In article <P4idnSnrd_E4ufvZRVn-iw@xxxxxxxxxx>,
Dave Froble <davef@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> writes:
Bill Gunshannon wrote:
In article <JqydnUIn64PFDfjZnZ2dneKdnZydnZ2d@xxxxxxxxxx>,
Dave Froble <davef@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> writes:
Bill Gunshannon wrote:
You may remember I asked a few days ago about what questions I could
ask to try and find out why people choose Unix over VMS. I tried it.
Granted, my sampling size was very small and not statistically sig-
nificant. But, I think even these results are interesting. So, here
we go. Comments/discussion of the results would be appreciated.

First, the sample size. Just my department faculty, 8 people. Of those
8, only 4 responded. I think this says something in its own right. But
we can cover that later.

Next, the questions. Given no specific questions, I kept it pretty

1. Between VMS and Unix, which do you prefer?

2. Why?

3. Which one did you learn first?

4. What other OSes (ignoring PC OSes for the sake of this discussion) have
you used enough to consider yourself proficient?

And now we go onto the answers.

Professor #1

1. VMS

2. In some ways, I view VMS as "Unix done right"; that is, I
understand it as having being inspired by and adopting most
of the good things about Unix, but done more professionally,
regularly, and securely.

3. I studied and gained experience with Unix before VMS, but made
more substantial use of VMS before I made equivalent use of Unix.

4. Various IBM mainframe OSs, such as VM, etc., Prime, MVS, even Xerox.

Ah yes, the 'proper' attitude. :-)

This sounds like someone who would use VMS in classwork, if it would be

And further discussion with said professor bears that out. But the important
point is that VMS has always been available within the department as long as
I have been here. he has never asked for anything on the VMS machine nor
made any attempt to use it. Now, knowing that my policy has always been, "If
someone wants something on our servers and it won't break the system or the
budget, I put it up" the only real excuse is a perception that the tools
needed were not available and thus there was no reason to ask. Part of
this is likely due to the fact that before my arrival (and for some time
afterwards) the datacenter offered VMS. But their attitude was not the same
as mine and requests for new products were usually refused. Add to this the
fact that they adamantly refused to allow DECWindows access even going so
far as to remove most of it when we found ways to run pieces of it even though
they would not run the Session Manager. (I always thought it was a performance
issue until I started running it myself on our department VMS machines and
never saw any performance issues.)

If I can get Alphas set up for next semester, I will put up things like
Java, whatever IDEs I can find, PHP, Perl and anything else I can think
of and we will see if I can coerce more than one course to be run on VMS.

Professor #2

1. Unix. Of course, here I'm referring strictly to the "user
interface" and not to the "under the hood" type of stuff,
about which I know even less.

2. Mostly because I am more familiar with Unix and hence find
it easier to do certain tasks. These may be equally easy
in VMS but I simply don't know how to do it there. An
example is to determine the current/working directory. In
Unix, the command 'pwd' provides that info. I know of no
analogous command in VMS. Another directory-related issue I
have with VMS is that if you change directories (using 'set
default') into a non-existent directory, no error message is
given. And you end up in some kind of netherworld in the sense
that it is not easy to get back to the directory where you were
before issuing the erroneous command. (Or at least I don't know
how to do so.) I find the 'HELP' feature in VMS to be not very
helpful and, in fact, even worse than Unix's dreaded "man" pages.

3. VMS. On a VAX 11/780 (750?) at the U of S in 1983. I was
introduced to Unix in 1985 at graduate school, where I also
used MTS.

4. None. (I've completely forgotten MTS.)
This one sounds like a casual user who learned to do what he needed to
do with Unix and won't bother to learn another method.

Not so much a casual user as much as a Mathemetician (vs. Computer
Scientist). To him the computer is a tool and he has no interest
in the guts. He has never been inside a computer and has no desire
to do so. However, he is the one professor who is currently using
VMS for one of his courses and it is likely that more of what he
teaches could be done on VMS. Education of the user is the most
important thing for this one.

I personally find the inability with DCL a bit hard to take, but, then
that's why the questions were asked, to see what users thought about
VMS. I'd think that getting 'lost' with respect to current directory
wouldn't ever be an issue, but now I'm aware that it can be an issue.
When you're so used to some things, it's hard to imagine how someone can
have a problem with them.

I have to admit to agreeing with those two of his comments (by the way, I
did tell him about "SHOW DEFAULT" and he admitted it made sense). But as
I said, I too did not intuitively grasp "SHOW DEFAULT" and I while I know
how to recover from SET DEFAULT to a non-existent directory I can see where
this is a problem. A command that took one back to their home directory
(maybe something like "SET DEFAULT /HOME") would be nice. But, wouldn't
it make sense to not allow setting your default directory to something that
doesn't exist?

I'll tell you what this one is. It's the failure to know and use one of
the really good parts of VMS, logical names. SET DEFAULT SYS$LOGIN is
what you're looking for. As a curious person, one of the first things I
did lo these many years ago was scan the listing of all logicals and
understand their usage.

How is someone totally unfamiliar with VMS supposed to know about
some obscure concept like "LOGICALS" and what all of them might

Also, the SHOW command is so very useful, and I miss it on other platforms.

Professor #3

1. Unix

2. Because VMS is not available for any computer that I OWN. So
I can play around with unix on my computers in a stronger way
than I could with VMS. However, in general, I preferred the
command structure of VMS.

3. VMS

4. In the past I've used RSTS/E, RT-11, a couple of IBM O/S es and
some from other hardware vendors but quite frankly right now I'd
have trouble doing anything with them that wasn't at least pretty
similar to VMS or unix.
Perhaps introduce this one to SIMH.

Already mentioned it to him, but not in detail. I have never run the VAX
emulator of SIMH so I don't know how well it works. Of course, being a VAX
does cause some problems. While one can play with VMS, one can not do things
that equate to the real world very well.

Yes, that's more of a hobby than a usable system. Not saying it doesn't
work, just that it takes some extra interest to get into playing with it.

Professor #4

1. VAX, but unfortunately, it does not seem to be in demand.

2. Protection/access detail.

3. VAX

4. none
This one sounds like the many people who don't know that VMS is still
available. Won't go into that further.

Pretty much it. Sadly, as I have said before, Perception is Reality.
This falls back into the realm of HP marketing. But something they
could fix. The question being, how do we convince them to fix it?

The order is not significant and reflects the order in which they
responded to me. Needless to say, the first one surprised me and
I discussed it further with him in the hall (that's where we hold
some of our best academic discussions! :-) He then informed me
that he actually would prefer to do more of his copurse work on
VMS if the tools were available, citing specifically Java and a
good IDE. While my using VAXen makes this impossible, Alphas can
definitely run Java and I wouldthink that an IDE written in Java
(like Eclipse) would work on VMS. Interesting that no one has
ever approached me before to ask if we could do more on VMS,
apparently because, as has often been states here, the perception
that VMS is legacy and these modern computer concepts are not

Looking at the next two, choice of Unix appears to be based on a
lack of knowledge or a misconception. And 4th had little to say
except that they would prefer VMS (Note the constant reference to
"VAX" which shows how long since he actually used it on a regular

Looks to me like if HP actually wanted it they could have the EDU
market again.

Oh yeah, I said I would comment on the 4/8 respondents. Again, based
on informal discussions in the hall, the 4 who did not respond just
thought it was humorous as they consider VMS to be irrelevant at this



Each person's perceptions are their personal reality. I'm not sure what
'irrelevant' has to do with your poll.

I have spoken with these people on numerous occaisions regarding my strange
collections of toys. Most of these people so no difference between my use
of VMS or my use of RSTS/E. These are both obsolete, legacy systems that
belong in a museum. The fact that both are still sold and used commercially
is unknown to them. Thus they see them both as irrelevant to the modern
world of computing. I can't fix that, only HP can.

Yes, marketing, it always comes back to this.

I could say something about the
attitude of the 4 non-respondents. It was only 4 questions. Still,
their attitude is a result of the perception of VMS in the marketplace.

It would be interesting if you could get an Alpha or itanic with all the
tools and such used in your courses.

If I can get a couple of Alphas up for next semester, I am certainly going
to try (Itaniums are still not part of the equation as EDU PAK's for the
Itanium are not yet available).

I don't have anything to offer. Most of my 'extra' stuff is VAX. I'd
wonder how useful any EV4 stuff would be when using resource hogs, as
I'm led to understand java and such are.

Access to the system would also
need to be addressed. A decent terminal emulator.

Putty works fine. Remember, I already have students doing COBOL on a VMS
machine and they don't seem to have a problem with access. Of course, I
also run DECWindows and I would imagine that is how most currently do and
others would access the systems. And then you have DECTerm which works
fine with the VMS editors. Of course, I would also make other editors
available depending on the needs and desires of my users. Unlike our
local datacenter I think the machine is our slave and not the other way

There are some
available. I have to wonder how the 8 instructors would react if you
did get such, and made it known that the system is a viable alternative
for class work.

Hopefully, we shall see.

One idea might be to apply to Sue for a pilot project, including a
system and all the software.

The software is already available (at least all the same stuff as under
the Hobbyist Program). I am working on acquiring hardware, thanks to
help from our community here. Of course, I am always open to other offers
of assistance. As I have said before the budget for any of this is $0.00
but at least to this point no one has started telling me to stop using my
time, that they pay for. (Although I do have to admit that much of the
time I spend doing this is my own, including many a weekend.)

Hmmm.... What part of the above didn't you understand? Sue at HP is
the hobbyist, and I believe education, person to talk to. Sorry, I
cannot remember the spelling of her last name. Perhaps someone without
my disability could help out here?

Write up a short proposal, saying basically what's in this thread,
asking for a pilot project on getting VMS back into education. Ask for
a donation of a decent system and software. Email addresses are
<firstname>dot<lastname>@HP.COM I think. your payback would be writing
up the results of the pilot project, what works, and what doesn't work.
Such might help HP to then better address the education market.

Actually, I have her in my address book, duh.


You could offer to provide some feedback
on the acceptance and usage of the system, and whatever users might ask
for that's not available. Once you find methods to increase VMS usage
in classwork, those methods could be used elsewhere.

BUt then. it all comes back to HP. How many places do you think still
employ someone who is willing to do this? HP has to start wooing the
EDU market and create at least a small desire to revive things. Otherwise
I am less than a voice crying out int he wilderness.

Thanks for asking the questions.

I am still somewhat of an academic at heart. I was most interested in
the results and even more interested now in how I can use them.


See above about asking Sue for a pilot project.

It might come to that, but realize that anything formal also implies
a commitment of my time. I have no problem sneaking what time I can
into this but committing time may not be in the cards. Plus, there
are other issues on the table now that may make all of this moot, but
for the time being, I will keep trying in my own little way. Now, if
we could only find like minded people in the CS departments of other
(especially more prominent) schools. :-)


Bill Gunshannon | de-moc-ra-cy (di mok' ra see) n. Three wolves
bill@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx | and a sheep voting on what's for dinner.
University of Scranton |
Scranton, Pennsylvania | #include <std.disclaimer.h>