Nasa / Space optimize

What classic system do you wish you worked on or miss working on?

Justin James says he knows a lot of people who wish they had worked on a Cray system or a Lisp machine, and other people who miss working on systems like the Burroughs machines. What classic system do you wished you worked on or miss working on?

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend who collects classic computers, and he had an old Silicon Graphics workstation in his kitchen and a DEC Alpha in his basement. I know a lot of people who wish they had worked on a system like a Cray or maybe a Lisp machine, and other people who miss working on systems like the Burroughs machines. What classic system do you wished you worked on or miss working on? (There are so many classic systems out there that I know I won't be able to list all of them in the following poll. Please feel free to do a write-in vote by posting to the discussion.)

J.Ja

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

199 comments
fredlauber
fredlauber

Exactly! Sigma 9 with CP-V and Fortran...

ArnoldZiffle
ArnoldZiffle

After thinking about all the systems I've worked on I always thought Data General's AOS/VS was an excellent operating system.

Ian page
Ian page

I loved working on DEC PDP-11 systems in the 1970s. The operating systems we used (RSX-11M/D) were early ones by Dave Cutler, the architect of WindowsNT and XP. The OS fitted into 16K and the whole system only had 64K.

NthDegree
NthDegree

Being an old main-framer and watching the "advancements" made in most businesses moving to PC servers strikes me as humorous. The four things that people were bitching about mainframes were, uses too much space, too many wires, needs a raised floor and needs water pipes to cool it. Well, guess what folks, you can now buy an IBM mainframe for about 80,000 dollars that has the computing power of 1,000 servers (that's 80 dollars a server), is the size of a three drawer filing cabinet, needs only standard air conditioning and no raised floor. Now look in a "modern" computer room and you will see, row after row of servers (too much room), wires all over the place or under a raised floor and now they are talking about special air conditioners or even bringing in (OMG No!) water pipes to cool it. The other major advancement in going to PC's in the office is, now my employees can spend all day on E-bay, YouTube or some chat room trying to get a date, instead of doing their job. It used to be we worried about scratching diskettes so we made a 3.5 disk that was completely covered, now we use CD's that with one good scratch is trash. IBM had a product called VM (Virtual machine) that would split up your mainframe into chunks so you could running multiple systems (test, production,development etc.). Now we have a product called VM that allows us to take our chunks and put them back together into a virtual mainframe. Maybe it's just me but I'm trying to figure exactly where we have gone in the past 25 years. One last thing I miss abou mainframes, sub-second response time. For you PC people that have never experienced it, it means less than a second from the time you hit the enter key until the computer responds and not just once in awhile but EVERY time you hit the enter key. Ok, one last thing, I promise. There has NEVER been a mainframe that has been infected with a virus, trojan horse, spyware etc.

cliveamcgregor
cliveamcgregor

You are dead on with some of your observations. Where i used to work, we used IBM VS/VSE and eventually VSE running under VM. One of the good things was that your machine could be partitioned into several "virtual machines".,,all sharing the resources of the hardware as you saw fit(this was configurable per partition and priorities could be set for each partition re system processing time) which job). If one partition went down, the partition could be restarted without interupting the other partitions and without having to reboot the whole machine. WIth all this newfangled stuff with regard to "cloud computing", i forsee us going back to the days of a super mainframe server (hmm..the data farms may be an advent to this already..).

josephoc
josephoc

Or bet yet the PDP 11. Simple elegant you could remember the opcodes I still remember 0 was halt - a great debugging tool, ah but the Vax - builtin memory management - you could completely crash your program but you could not crash the system. JPO

blackepyon01
blackepyon01

I'm not as old at this stuff as some of you (respect); but the first system I ever used was a Tandy 1000HX, Intel 8088 4/7.4MHz, 512KB RAM (128 base +384), 2 720KB floppies, no HD, PCDOS 2.11. I inherited the machine from my father when I was about 10 years old, the bugger is as old as I am, I still have it, and it still works :D I love these old machines!

Tidux
Tidux

http://www.rubbermallet.org/ That old machine of yours can run an IRC server! Those are the exact specs (except PC-DOS instead of DR-DOS) of a machine that ran rockircd.

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess like.author.displayName 1 Like

Xerox Sigma 9 running CPV as the OS. Fortran as the language. Only system that I know that had asynchronous clocks. Core memory changed over to MOS memory and we had to slow the processor down so as not to overtax the memory...go figure. Sigh.. the good ol' days.

jimw
jimw

Reading all these posts, the one big thing I pick up from them is that every contributor is a very bright person who whose ingenuity was liberated by the tools of the day and we were all thankful for the opportunities. I am now retired but my last year as an It contractor was marred by the fact that I could not find decent work - not because I was necessarily less able than younger people, but because employers (particularly agencies) were only looking for people who had used this or that product no earler than last week. The only work of such intellectual depth seems to be in the labs where these products are created. The world has changed, I think. Will this thread be reactivated thirty years from now ? probably not.

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess

Well although a significant number of the "old school", has retired you can look at the technology of today and say to your self that we have yet again come full circle. Communication blades were in use in 1970. PC blades were in use early to mid 1980's. The data center has made a come back. Distributed computing of he 1980's(todays cloud computing) has also made a comeback. Yes undoubtedly there are some differences but essentially the same theories are in place today of what was developed thirty years ago and I have no doubt that this thread will be reactivated but looking back to today from thirty years in the future. The expertise that one carries from the past can be updated once you put into perspective of what the current technology is trying to emulate. Build on your past experience to put the "today" technology on top. A good IT contractor will have a test bed in their home so that they can experiment. I do.

jimw
jimw

It is sooo nice to find simpatico colleagues in other parts of the world. However, you must remember that dinosaurs once ruled the world, but their demise was precipitated by external events they had no control over and tiny little creatures called mammals were the beneficiaries. In my retirement, I have found a niche, applying metadata principles to applications for entrepreneurial small businesses where growth and change is the norm. It is interesting to front up to some of the consultants who claim to advise these businesses with an Access database holding about 30 tables of data and 120 tables of metadata, which drives all the forms and reports. One of my clients is a function caterer who can put up a new menu on the database in ten minutes by stuffing data into a few forms, have it displayed on the website in another ten minutes and be booking a function ten minutes after that. If the client wants to pay in advance, they can process that too ! Work can still be fun, even for old fogies !

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess

Yep agreed. Siebel here in town has been charging an arm and a leg for services and software as is SAP. Unfortunately, they have spent so much money on stuff that does not work, they do not see the iceberg dead ahead. After all it is only taxpayers money. Telco's have a captive market. We all want to communicate over the wire; note I did not say NEED to commuicate. Therefore, the telco has a wad of cash that they can splurge on special projects; to keep up with the Jones's. Yep, c'est la vie, those corporate decisions are made on the golf course in some far away destination paid for of course by Siebel. Good luck.

jimw
jimw

I don't disagree with anything you say, Michael. Certainly, the opportunities for inventivemess will always be there. It is just that back in the 1970s and 1980s, almost everyone in the industry had the opportunity to show how good they were. These days, what with the big boys such as SAP and Siebel reaching ever further down the business pyramid, I feel that only the lucky few will be able to contribute as you describe. My remarks stem from a stint at a major Australian telco where I was sysadmin and developer for a teleconferncing call centre. For years, me and a couple of mates used Informix/4GL to give our users exactly what they needed. Then, someone discovered that we had the best EBIT in the enterprise and suddenly we were invaded by the Siebel people who charged the telco millions to do what we had been doing for years. Still, c'est la vie!

ghewson
ghewson

Great system in its time.

jonsaint
jonsaint

the IBM 5101 (luggable if you can lift 40 pounds) with a four inch square amber screen, running a proprietary IBM programming language called APL - A Programming Language. It was so dense you write your program in one line since it parsed right to left.

BillK
BillK

The 5051 and APL; now that brings back memories!!! Matrix math anyone?

gpremec
gpremec

LGP-30 (Librascope General Precision)

seamusnealon
seamusnealon

NeXT with NeXTSTep, et al.

techrepublic
techrepublic

NeXTcube may be "extinct", but NeXTstep hasn't really gone away, it's evolved. Apple's Cocoa, GNUstep (and maybe some other development environments?) are derivatives of it.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

on my Commodore 64 - I'd borrow my brothers monochrome games and add colour to them and let him borrow them back. We'd sometimes sell the upgraded copies to his mates.

viniciusxp
viniciusxp

Yes I do miss OS/2... But life goes on...

dolphindivers
dolphindivers

dos

DNSB
DNSB

I still find myself using DOS (or the various flavours of command line boxes) to handle repetitive tasks that the GUI mongers haven't quite gotten the handle on. The various loop constructs are still the easiest way to go. One recent example was needing to create 4000 home directories for students including prepopulating some required files. 5 minutes with writing a batch file and about 30 minutes waiting for the job to finish while you grab a coffee and the computer does the work or a minimum 12 hours from the GUI with carpal tunnel syndrome settling in for a long visit.

alpha_jade
alpha_jade

ENIAC (the first digital computer built in 1946, by the US Army, I believe). I always want to be in at the beginning. It's better than being in at the end.

dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

The Atanasoff-Berry Computer built about ten years earlier at Iowa State University is proved to be the first one. The ENIAC copied much of its design from the ABC as demonstrated in a patent lawsuit brought about by ISU against the major mainframe manufacturers back in the 90's. How would you have liked to have been Clifford Berry as an electrical engineering graduate student assistant working on the granddaddy of all digital computers and shine the very first light of the dawn of the Digital Age?

alpha_jade
alpha_jade

I must admit, I was totally unaware of the ISU computer, and yes, I'd have liked to have worked on this project, no blueprints, just theories taken from electrical engineering and applied physics. Way cool.

dcmccunn
dcmccunn

Here are the specs from Wikipedia: "Besides its speed, the most remarkable thing about ENIAC was its size and complexity. ENIAC contained 17,468 vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints. It weighed 30 short tons (27 t), was roughly 8.5 feet (2.6 m) by 3 feet (0.91 m) by 80 feet (2.6 m by 0.9 m by 26 m), took up 680 square feet (63 m?), and consumed 150 kW of power." It would run for 2 days until a vacuum tube would fail. My watch is more complex than the Eniac.

alpha_jade
alpha_jade

Your watch may be more complex (sophisticated) than ENIAC but withour ENIAC your watch would not exist. That the thing about being the beginning, it's big and clumsy and very labor-intensive, but we had to start somewhere, yes? Kinda like the Internet in 1968.

alpha_jade
alpha_jade

I often say to young colleagues, this is how far we've come in just over half a century; imagine how far we'll go in another half century or so. And remember, at the same time as digital computers we're beginning their evolution, Isaac Asimov created the three laws of robotics. I think the next hundred years oughta be real interesting....

dcmccunn
dcmccunn

My comment was to illustrate how for we've come not to put it down. I truly take my hat off to the men who designed it and the women who programmed it. The books on Eniac are wonderful reading.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

my abacus and slide rule - the slip stick was so easy to use for trig. I miss them a great deal and can't even think where the slip stick ended up as i haven't seen it for over thirty years.

Ike_C
Ike_C

IBM 360/65 & 3081

Ike_C
Ike_C

IBM 360/65 & 3081

#1 Kenster
#1 Kenster

I got my start in the USAF. My first "real" computer was a Burroughs 263, 10K of memory and octal. It took up one hell of a lot of floor space and was punched cards only. Program deck in the front and data cards in between, followed by an end of file card and I think an end of program card. It used to take three people a shift, three shifts a day one whole week to sort a job we ran once a month. (Seconds on a modern PC). After that the RCA Spectra 70 series seemed like a space age wonder (tape and punched cards). It wasn't really. If you had to reboot after a crash, you had to follow about 32 steps from a manual while entering codes on the console. If you were lucky and holding your mouth just right, it might actually start up on the first try. I think "Miss" would be wrong, but it was fun at the time.

dcmccunn
dcmccunn

Anyone old enough to remember the plug-board machines like the IBM 407, 604, etc? These were the predecessors the the commercial computers.

#1 Kenster
#1 Kenster

IBM 407 Accounting machines, collators etc. Wiring the panel on a 407 was a combination of luck and skill. When a 407 panel worked right they would bolt an aluminum cover over it and grind the bols down so no one could take it apart and mess with it. Trained at Wichita Falls Texas, Sheppard AFB

dcmccunn
dcmccunn

And of course you remember "back circuits"...now that was debugging.

thung8
thung8

The old reliable HAL

jusovsky
jusovsky

I miss working on my SGI Octane. I haven't fired it up for a couple years because it's unbearably slow these days. Not sure how I could handle it back then even, but it was still a pleasure to work with!

sboverie
sboverie

This goes back almost 30 years for me. We fixed problems down to the component level. It was fun and stressful at the same time. It was fun to chase down a failure by following schematics and probing with a O'scope and meter to find the component that failed. It was stressful because of the downtime and people fuming over lost work. We also got serious training. We were sent to training for a week or so at time for different peripherals. IT is a pale shadow of what the computer industry used to be. Failures are now fixed by swapping assemblies of components; it is faster and more efficient but not that challenging. Then we had to be really good at electronics with some programming also.

rpost
rpost

Not necessarily a recent trend. Back in the late 70s, I recall the box full of boards our "CE" brought to our office; attempting to fix a problem by swapping out a board with one from his cache. Most remembered: our CE removing dozens of boards from our HP mini in San Francisco's financial district and taking them down to the HP facility in Palo Alto (I think).

Chipv
Chipv

I had the most fun and fond memories of righting Basic programs for that system!

brainb
brainb

My original TRS-80 had a cassette tape drive that took 15 minutes or more to save a 3K file. I remember when I replaced the cassette with a 360K floppy and when I went to save the same file... the light went on then off ... my father freaked out!

D Walker
D Walker

Still have two! The Model I is likely to remian non-functional but my 4P was working last I turned it on a few years ago. 4K memory and tape was never quite enough but 48K and a floppy disk was very usable. Remember using Basic to create a simple record keeping system. (Could create a new record system by laying out fields on the screen to create the screen layout and file fields. Then run the main program to enter, search or print records. Simple by todays standards but more usable in some ways than anything I currently use. I wish I had recreated it for use on modern equipment, may still have text copy of programs somewhere, so still could. An application that generates a simple [Windows] form, some code and database would probably be the equivalent today.) Ah, the good old days when you did not need a 20 MB program to do simple things.

dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

I miss tinkering with my Atari 8-bits. They were great platforms to expand on and with SpartaDOSX, nearly equivalent to early IBM PCs. Here's another idea I miss, OSs loaded on EEPROM cartridges along with a GUI cartridge -- boot times were nearly instantaneous with these "stackable" cartridges. Oh for the days of simplicity.

rpost
rpost

This mini-computer from Hewlett-Packard had a very successful 30 year run, had a competent O/S that evolved but allowed older application to run with little or no modification. It had an active and well informed user group. While I got my start in the IBM360 world, I cut my geek stripes on the HP3000 series mini-computers.

scarl
scarl

I also miss the HP3000. I spent 10 years working on that box, and it was a pleasure. I wouldn't have minded working on a Vax or Cray, though!