Re: Hi! What's a PDP-11? Anyone know?

Subject: Re: Hi! What's a PDP-11? Anyone know?
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996 09:19:00 -0600

<Blowing the dust off a set of manuals, the old man shifts forward in his
chair, ignoring the pain in his arthritic knees.>

PDP-11? You don't know about the machine that was central to the evolution
of modern computing?

As has been pointed out, PDP's were a line of mini computers from DEC, on
which Unix was born. On which C was born. BBN began work on what is now
called Internet with them.

In fact calling them "a" line of mini-computers does them a disservice.
They were *the* line that established mini-computers. No one knew it was
possible before them. They began the march away from a room full of iron
and batch processing. They spawned a new paradigm in computers, that of
"interactive computing." They introduced the novel idea that you could type
a command on a terminal and get an answer back in real-time.

They even charged ahead into the world of microcomputers. The Heath/Zenith
line used them as their central processor, before moving toward Zilog and
joining the CP/M world.

They suffered a number of limitations, not the least of which was
incompetant managers (the real root of the 30-second delay problem someone
mentioned -- that delay was caused by the priority setting of the compiler
relative to other programs in the system). It was quite possible for a good
manager to make them sing; it was equally possible for a bad one to make
them sink into the mud.

They ran a wide variety of OS's: Unix, RSTS, RT-11, and, my own personal
favorite, RSX. You may have heard of the man who designed it. Fellow by the
name of Dave Cutler -- he went on to do VMS and then Windows NT. If you
look under the hood of both those systems, you'll see pieces of RSX staring
back at you. But with RSX, he gave you the source code.

They weren't easy to use. Creating the system (doing a sysgen) was not a
matter for the faint of heart. Configuring Windows is child's play compared
to genning RSX on one of those boxes. Depending upon the options chosen it
could take three days and use four boxes of green-bar paper. If you ever
want to earn the respect of an old-time DEC field rep, tell him you've done
an RSX sysgen. If he's old enough, you'll see the look on his face change;
you've passed your initiation; you're in the club. You're now One Of Us;
you're not one of the mundanes. I've done six solos on that beast, myself.

<The old man looks a little lost now, bewildered as the mists enshroud his
brain again, and he settles back in his rocking chair. The nurse beckons us
to leave him to his well-earned rest.>


Have fun,
Arlen
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 124

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
----------------------------------------------
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
----------------------------------------------
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.


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