GCG on VMS vs UNIX (was Re: future software directions)

David Mathog mathog at seqvax.caltech.edu
Fri Feb 19 16:56:00 EST 1993

In article <1993Feb19.130334.25145 at gserv1.dl.ac.uk>, BAKERK at FRIR.AFRC.AC.UK (Ken Baker) writes...
>>Hello molbio netlanders -
> (lots deleted)
>I suppose what I am doing is to plead to whoever matters, please don't abandon
>us VMS users. I know that UNIX gurus regard VMS with a kind of amused contempt
>but there are a lot of us who can see advantages in keeping it.
>Comments, anyone?

1.  Let's not turn this into a VMS vs. Unix flame war!

2.  Most of the programs that we use are still line oriented and there is 
no reason why they shouldn't work on *both* systems (and DOS, Mac, etc.).  
I've had little difficulty porting (if it merits the term) many line 
oriented Unix/C programs to VMS.  The latest one was the ICRF contig 
programs which came across with essentially no changes.  True, they only 
worked right with stream-lf files, and the command line used "-" instead of 
"/", but these are minor quibbles and I could fix them if it were worth the 
effort.  You might also argue that the programs would run a lot faster with
some rewrites, but again, they run fast enough. Going the other way might
be tough, especially if you ran into a program using indexed files or other
basic VMS file types that are not present in Unix.

3.  GUI's and TCP/IP socket libraries are absolutely the biggest killers of 
compatibility.  Let's start with GUI's: it needs X, oh, not just any X,
this won't work with X11R4, you need R5.  Backwards compatibility?  Heh,
I'm only a Grad. student, we don't worry about junk like that!  Oh, sorry,
wrong version of OpenWindows - why don't you update your operating
software?  No, it won't run from the Sparc to MacX or to your Motif
VAXstation.  Even when that works the fonts don't match, or it won't run on
a B/W monitor because it was written for a color screen, and heh, nobody
uses B/W anymore. Just *forget* about recompiling a Mac program for Unix,
or vice versa.  I can hardly wait for NT.  GUIs may be user friendly, but
they're sure manager hostile!

TCP/IP socket libraries aren't quite so bad, but they're still trouble.
On VMS it seems that the calls must be specifically rewritten for TGV,
Wollongong,UCX, from the Unix, and from each other. I don't know if this
is a problem between different vendors' Unix's, but I doubt it.

4.  Neither Unix (command line versions) nor VMS is really optimal for a 
casual, point and click user.  In either case, you've got to know something
before you can get anything done.  Face it, a blank screen with either a
single "%" or a single "$" is pretty hostile.  GUI's are easier to start 
with, but, as mentioned above, portability generally goes out the window.
Also, scripting is generally bad or absent, so it's hard to write the 
equivalent of .COM files.

5.  Is VMS history?  Is UNIX history?  Will Microsoft rule the world? Hard
to say.  These tend to be chaotic situations (small input, big result) and
I wouldn't want to bet serious money one way or the other on any of these.
In the meantime, if programmers would please remember these golden rules we
should all be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors on whatever
platforms we have: 

  A.  Write case insensitive command line programs.
  B.  If it's not part of the language standard, leave it out of the program.
  C.  Whenever possible use plain ASCII data files.
  D.  Provide test files.

Ok? Now I can go back to dreaming about a cluster of OpenVMS PCs. :-)

David Mathog
mathog at seqvax.bio.caltech.edu
Manager, sequence analysis facility, biology division, Caltech

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