[rescue] Looking for Ultrix 4 for DECstation

Carl R. Friend crfriend at rcn.com
Fri Jul 22 17:01:07 CDT 2011

    On Fri, 22 Jul 2011, Ian Finder wrote:

> I.E. as a younger collector I think it will get a lot harder to find
> this stuff when the current generation of enthusiasts is gone and lots
> of media gets pitched by your kids and their spouses.
> Not a fun idea, but a valid point I think...

    On a personal note, I take that very facet quite seriously indeed,
and I suspect that a goodly chunk of the guys now in their 50s and
60s do as well.  The best thing that we can hope for at the moment is
for museums and other groups -- which outlive individuals -- to "get
it" that computing is a valuable piece of history and to behave in a
fitting manner.  I regard myself as a "temporary custodian" of my
gear and desperately hope that proper institutions can step to the
fore to preserve these wonderful machines before I pass on.

    Time and time again we see "near history" getting tossed on the
scrapheap; this doesn't just happen with computing -- although that
field is especially at risk -- it happens with architecture, it
happens with art, and it happens with culture itself.  Once something
gets old enough to be actually recognised as "history" -- and worthy
of preserving -- it's frequently too late, and what happens is that
humanity winds up with "accidental history" because what survived did
so by accident.

    One thing that sets computers apart from lots of historical "items"
(artefacts) is that computers were built to *do* things, an to just
preserve them as static artefacts denies them their context.  This is
a curator's nightmare -- in order for the artefact to *mean* anything,
is pretty much need not only to be in running order but needs to run
when questions are asked.  Similar arguments are made for "antique"
aircraft; however, if a computer suffers a fatal fault at least it
doesn't involve a crater in the ground and complete loss of the item.

    On the legality issue:  I suspect that there may be quite a bit
of resistance to letting a lot of "prior art" out into the public
domain (even with licensing agreements) because it's just that --
prior art -- and can cause lots of grief for patent-holders who were
granted patents on things that should not have been patentable.  It's
not right, but it is legal, and there is a subtle difference between
the two.  DEC, just before its demise, took the very bold step of
letting all of their 18- and 36-bit software "out" into general
circulation, albeit with licensing restrictions;  DG, similarly,
did so with its RDOS stuff thanks to the hard work of Bob Supnik
(who also played a key role in DEC's decision).  I'd be willing
to bet that there's a *lot* of prior art in those that's being
patented nowadays as "new".

    So, sadly, sometimes preservation does not trump legality. I, for
one, and not willing to push too hard on that front because I can't
afford the high-powered lawyers required to stare down firms like
HP (who now own DEC's intellectual property until somebody else buys

    Cheers!  (Even though that didn't sound particularly cheerful.)

| Carl Richard Friend (UNIX Sysadmin)            | West Boylston       |
| Minicomputer Collector / Enthusiast            | Massachusetts, USA  |
| mailto:crfriend at rcn.com                        +---------------------+
| http://users.rcn.com/crfriend/museum           | ICBM: 42:22N 71:47W |

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