As OpenVMS nears 30, users dredge up videos from DEC's heyday

Old clips get posted online to mark operating system's upcoming anniversary

"Peter Miller" is a fictional British IT manager with an attitude, and the star of an approximately 15-year-old video made by Digital Equipment Corp., back when the creator of the OpenVMS operating system was still an independent company.

Miller is the kind of user who tells sales executives from IT vendors that he doesn't believe their product claims. "You've lost your mind," he says to one in the video, which is called "Educating Peter" and recently was posted on Google Inc.'s video site.

But Miller's skepticism is stripped away after he is transported into virtual reality, floating through Ethernet networks on a magic chip, or something that looks like one. By the end of the more-than 12-minute film, Miller is sold on DEC's technology.

"Educating Peter" isn't the only DEC-related video clip that's popping up on the Internet. There's also "DEC Wash," a two-and-a-half-minute mock ad from 1979 that involves cleaning floppy disks in washing machines. That was posted along with several similarly short videos, including "Digibits," which humorously flogs a bite-size, sugar-coated cereal made up of ones and zeros.

Expect to see even more of such clips over the next couple of months, as OpenVMS users mark the venerable operating system's 30th anniversary in October.

Hewlett-Packard Co., which acquired the remnants of DEC when it bought Compaq Computer Corp. in 2002, is also getting into the act. HP has set up a Web page for collecting stories about OpenVMS from users, and the company plans to post some of the comments it gets as part of its celebration of the operating system.

HP stopped selling its AlphaServer line, the hardware synonymous with OpenVMS, in April. But the vendor plans to continue supporting the operating system on its Itanium-based Integrity systems. HP says it is committed to OpenVMS for the long term, although it's easy to find users who combine skepticism about that pledge with concern that not enough is being done to expand the operating system's customer base.

"Educating Peter" was uploaded to the Google site by Aaron Sakovich, a former DEC employee who said that he found a copy of the video in his garage and remembered it for its use of computer-generated imagery. "I was always enthralled with that particular video," Sakovich said. "It was state-of-the-art CGI, and it was all done with Digital equipment."

Sakovich, who writes a blog called "Aaron's Open VMS Hobby Site," also has posted two 30-second DEC commercials dating from 1992. The first shows a corporate executive talking to a DEC system in a restaurant about a systems integration job. The second unfolds at the customer's office, where another DEC machine is accosted by a chatty office worker.

Sakovich continues to work on OpenVMS as a systems, network and security administrator at a financial software company that he asked not be named. Asked about the future of the operating system, he said, "that's a good question. I could see it being here for another 10 years – at the very least." He added that he has even heard from new users of OpenVMS-based systems.

One of the features that continues to make OpenVMS attractive is its backward compatibility, according to Sakovich. He said an application written for the 1.0 release – back when the operating system was known simply as VMS, and it ran on DEC's VAX hardware line – will work with the latest versions of the operating system.

For those who wonder why OpenVMS has had a 30-year run, a short home movie produced and posted by electronics engineer Patrick Jankowiak may provide some clues.

Jankowiak works for a semiconductor company and operates a Web site called "Bunker of Doom." He also is an OpenVMS hobbyist, and he and a friend shot what he described on his site as "cheezy" footage of a network security monitoring tool showing what happened when unprotected OpenVMS and Windows 2003 systems were connected to the Internet.

The video wasn't planned in advance, Jankowiak said. One day, he invited a friend to hook up a Windows 2003 system to one of his static IP addresses. Once the Windows server was connected and some Web pages were brought up, Jankowiak ran a security program that detected network intrusions.

The video focuses entirely on an oscilloscope that shows multiple lines, each representing a separate communication between the Windows and the Internet. The OpenVMS system remained secure, according to Jankowiak. But the disk on the Windows server had to be wiped clean and reloaded, he said.

"The VMS machine is not on a firewall; it never has been," said Jankowiak, who sees the security of OpenVMS as one of the reasons why users tend to stick with the operating system. On his Web site, he has posted several larger video files that provide more details about the intrusion test.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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