[TUHS] A New History of Modern Computing - my thoughts

George Michaelson ggm at algebras.org
Mon Nov 29 11:18:15 AEST 2021

I suspect because we believed we understood the pdp11 we felt we'd
understand a good operating system on it.

If more tertiary education people had been on other hardware of the day,
we'd probably have invented the same myths for that host.


On Mon, 29 Nov 2021, 10:22 am Clem Cole, <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:

> Rob, I offer a small tweak to your statement, that I hope you will consider
> On Sun, Nov 28, 2021 at 5:20 PM Rob Pike <robpike at gmail.com> wrote:
>> The PDP-11 as an affordable commercial computer, now _that_ was important.
> s/computer/mini-computer/
> I really believe that this distinction is important.  Bell coined the term
> in the late 1950s/early 1960s when he called it a minicomputer.  The key is
> that he meant >>minimal computer - in function and price<< (not small).
> (This would event eventual lead to Bell's law for the birth and death of
> computer classes).
> To me, the PDP-111 ISA  is the epitome the *minimal computer architecture*
> - just want you to need to get the job done be it commercial or
> scientific and it was affordable as you said.  The solution is elegant,
> nothing fancy, little extra added - just the right set of features for a
> system to do real work.  It was also extremely regular as Larry points out,
> so it was not filled with a ton of special cases.  It did have a few more
> features like addressing modes, and multiple registers that made it more
> complex than say an accumulator-based PDP-8.  But the small set of new
> features made sense and were* of** use for almost all programmers*.
> [FWIW: IMHO, most new features we add to Intel*64 is all for some special
> cases for a specific customer].
> I note that the VAX (was is the epitome of the CISC and while
> extraordinarily successful), has always been an easy target as way too
> complicated, filled with many special cases (just for the Fortran
> compiler, or for Cutler's as an assembly programmer).
> IMHO: C is also made from the same minimal ideal.    It took the
> simplicity of the B and added typing and better data structures, but did
> not overdo it.  Again, what was added was useful to almost all programmers.
> I note that while the follow-on to both the 11 (the Vax) and C (C++)
> became working horses, but both are ugly as can be, and neither would I
> call elegant.  I've used them both, however, I have moved on since that
> time.  I do pine for something more like a 64-bit PDP-11 (more in a
> minute), and still use C when I can in the kernel or Go when in userspace.
> Having kicked around DEC during some of the Alpha discussions, other than
> the original lack of byte addressing, I think the PDP-11 influenced the
> Alpha more than VAX did.  There was a definition -- why is the needed --
> thinking.  Keep it simple a minimal.
> As for Unix (since this is a Unix history list), again I think it is the
> minimal view I miss from Sixth and Seventh Edition.   I look at Linux and
> mostly turn green with how much has been lost from those days.    But like
> the PDP-11, I can not really go back.  My hope is that something will
> appear that is "good enough" and '"simple enough" to get people excited
> again.
> my 2 cents,
> Clem
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