What happened to Digital Equipment Corporation?

What happened to Digital Equipment Corporation?

Digital Equipment Corporation was perhaps the second most important computer company in history, behind IBM. Its minicomputers challenged IBM, and, indeed, Unix first ran on a DEC PDP-7. DEC’s Alpha CPU was one of the few chips to make Intel nervous for its x86 line. It created the first really good Internet search engine. In a just and perfect world, DEC would still be dominating. Instead, it faded away in the 1990s. What happened to Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC?

There’s a short answer and a long answer.

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Origin of CP/M’s PIP command

Origin of CP/M’s PIP command

CP/M was, as you probably know, the first popular microcomputer operating system. It was good but imperfect, and its cryptic command for copying files, PIP, is often cited as an example.┬áCopy makes sense. Even the Unix equivalent, cp, makes sense–it’s copy without the vowels. But what does PIP mean? What’s the origin of CP/M’s PIP command?

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Giving and receiving criticism in writing

Internet pal Rob O’Hara wrote last week about why he hasn’t published a book in five years. The resulting discussion has the potential to get ugly–not that I think it will, but the potential is there. Writing about writing, and criticizing writing, is difficult.

I don’t have the solution–I can just tell you it’s difficult.

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My poor-man’s SSD boots DOS really fast

So, my no-name compact flash adapters arrived today. I ripped one open like a kid at Christmas, pulled a PC off the scrap heap, yanked my 128 MB compact flash card out of my PDA, and went to town.Unfortunately I couldn’t get Xubuntu to boot, let alone install a minimal configuration, because my CD was corrupt. I wasn’t sure if I could install anything in 128 MB, but my last Debian 3.0 install was smaller than that, so I held out hope.

So I grabbed a Windows 98 SE CD. Surely that would fit in 128 megs if I left out all of the optional components, right? And if not, there’s always Doublespace, right? Wrong. The installation bombed out, saying I needed 205 megs.

The original Win98 was smaller though, right? So I grabbed that CD. It wouldn’t play either. It repeated that same 205 meg line. I’ll bet it says that to all the guys.

So I grabbed my Win95B CD. I’m pretty sure I once crammed Win95B and Office 97 onto a 170 MB hard drive. It wasn’t pretty, but hey, it was an emergency. But no joy there either. The CD wouldn’t even read. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since it’s a CD-R that I last touched sometime in 1999. I have no idea where the original CD is, but I know where the manual and COA are, not that that helps any.

I dug around for a Debian CD. I come across those fairly often when I’m looking for something else, but tonight I couldn’t find one.

I found my OS/2 3.0 sleeve, which got me thinking, but I couldn’t find the disc. I know I could make that fit in 128 megs and it would really scream–as in, it would complain loudly about the ATI video, and it would run really fast–but I never found the CD.

So for lack of anything else to put on it, I reinserted the Win98SE disc, rebooted, picked the Command Prompt with CD-ROM option, and dropped into DOS for perhaps the first time since the Clinton administration. I ran FDISK, blew away the partition table and repartitioned it, rebooted, found FORMAT.COM hidden in the WIN98 directory on the CD, formatted the drive, remembered I had to use the /S option, reformatted the drive, copied over himem.sys, oakcdrom.sys, mscdex.exe, and whatever else I could find, and built up config.sys and autoexec.bat files by hand using copy con, since I couldn’t find edit.com anywhere on the CD. I removed the CD, rebooted, and it booted fast–into an error message saying I’d neglected the /d parameter. Considering the last time I used the /d parameter was in 1999, that shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising is that I remembered the syntax. So I deleted config.sys and autoexec.bat, built up new ones with copy con, and rebooted again.

The Win98 splash screen flashed, then I got a familiar DOS prompt, including indicators that the CD-ROM driver was working. It took about as long to boot as it did for the BIOS to do its thing–probably 1-2 seconds. Not bad for $7 worth of hardware ($5 for the adapter from Compgeeks, and $2 for the CF card from a garage sale).

Supposedly Windows 2000 can shrink down to 60MB if you get really aggressive with nLite. I’d really like to see that, but that means I’ll have to find my Windows 2000 CD. I’m sure it’s hiding somewhere in Argentina, playing cards with my OS/2 3.0 and Debian CDs.

I also ought to download Debian 3.0 again. I’m thinking 60-120 megs of Debian is probably more useful than 60 megs of Windows, but I really want to see how quickly Windows 2000 boots off flash.

Supposedly these cards support UDMA, so I probably ought to order some larger CF cards so I can do something really useful with them. Seeing DOS boot instantly is enough to convince me that these things can be useful. Who knows, I might be insane enough to try running my webserver off flash (the memory, not the obnoxious Macromedia/Adobe product).

Meet Robocopy

If you remember the days of DOS, you know the difference between COPY and XCOPY. For those times when XCOPY won’t cut it, there’s ROBOCOPY, part of the Windows resource kit.If you just need to sync up two directories, Robocopy does it happily. Type ROBOCOPY source destination, and it will happily copy new and changed files over, while leaving identical files alone. This can save lots of time.

ROBOCOPY.DOC will give you lots of tips and ideas for using the program.

I have to do a lot of work over a WAN, and sometimes the network conditions are less than optimal, to put it politely. By that I mean sometimes I get nostalgic for the 9600 bps modem I had in high school, because it was faster and more reliable. Robocopy will detect errors and retry, which is a huge help in these conditions.

One thing I do frequently is copy single large files. The documentation file isn’t very clear on how you do this, and the syntax is tricky. Here’s how to copy a single file between two servers or directories:

ROBOCOPY source destination file(s)

Here’s a line I use a lot, to shoot out new virus definitions to my management servers:

ROBOCOPY . "\\servername\c$\program files\symantec\symantec antivirus" *.xdb

This is just a glorified copy command, but if any part of it fails, it will retry until it works.

In the past I’ve also used Robocopy to move file shares when upgrading file servers. I’ll create the share on the new server, copy everything over, and then, in off hours the night before the cutover date, use Robocopy to sync them up. Here’s an example:

robocopy \\oldserver\accounting \\newserver\accounting /MIR

Of course, since Windows has had DFS for 8 years now, you’re using DFS for everything now, right? Of course not. So for the times when you have to replace a fileserver and migrating to DFS isn’t an option for whatever reason, Robocopy is your fastest and easiest option for a cutover.

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