[TUHS] PDP-11 questions

Norman Wilson norman at oclsc.org
Mon Jan 25 08:40:27 AEST 2016

Clem Cole:

  Also by the time DEC did try to build a workstation (after Masscomp,
  Apollo, Sun et al had taken many of their engineers) it was too little too
  late.   The ship had sailed and they never recovered that market.


There was a window in the early 1990s when I think they could
have recovered.  DEC had some pretty good MIPS-based workstations,
and Alpha was just coming out and was even better.  Ultrix was
a good, solid system, and DEC OSF/1 (later Digital UNIX) was
getting there.

In 1994 or so, the group I worked in needed a new workgroup-sized
central server.  Our existing stuff was mostly DECstations running
Ultrix (with a few SGI IRIX systems for specialized graphics).
We looked at the price and performance of various options:
everything SGI had was too pricey; Sun's was well behind in
performance (this was before UltraSPARC), and their OS was
primitive and required a lot of retrofitting to be usable
(this was also before Solaris 2 even came out, let alone
became stable; also before Sun grew up enough to ship a
decent X11 as part of the system).

So we bought a third-party system with an Alpha motherboard
in a PC-style case.  In burn-in testing I discovered a bug in
the motherboard; the vendor were happy to fix it once they
could reproduce it in their lab (which took some doing, but
that was another story).

We were quite happy with that system, and would have bought
more had our entire department not been shut down in a
mostly-political fuss a couple of years later (that too is
another story).

DEC's desktop MIPS systems were quite good, and the Alpha
followons even better.  Had the company's upper management
not by then lost all sense of how to run a company or to
sell anything ... but that was not to be.

Old-fart footnote: when our department shut down, I bought
some of our DECstations cheap from the university.  I still
have them on a shelf downstairs; I've never done much with

Norman Wilson
Toronto ON

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