Monday, June 21, 2004

Windows NT and VMS

A December 1998 article by Mark Russinovich in which he lays out just how much the architecture of Windows NT owes to the design of VMS. Essentially, David Cutler brought his team over to Redmond and rewrote VMS from the ground up, except this time they made sure it could run Win32 programs.

When Microsoft released the first version of Windows NT in April 1993, the company's marketing and public relations campaign heavily emphasized the NT (i.e., New Technology) in the operating system's (OS's) name. Microsoft promoted NT as a cutting-edge OS that included all the features users expected in an OS for workstations and small to midsized servers. Although NT was a new OS in 1993, with a new API (i.e., Win32) and new user and systems-management tools, the roots of NT's core architecture and implementation extend back to the mid-1970s.

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Most of NT's core designers had worked on and with VMS at Digital; some had worked directly with Cutler. How could these developers prevent their VMS design decisions from affecting their design and implementation of NT? Many users believe that NT's developers carried concepts from VMS to NT, but most don't know just how similar NT and VMS are at the kernel level (despite the Usenet joke that if you increment each letter in VMS you end up with WNT (­Windows NT).

[............]

"Why the Fastest Chip Didn't Win" (Business Week, April 28, 1997) states that when Digital engineers noticed the similarities between VMS and NT, they brought their observations to senior management. Rather than suing, Digital cut a deal with Microsoft. In the summer of 1995, Digital announced Affinity for OpenVMS, a program that required Microsoft to help train Digital NT technicians, help promote NT and Open-VMS as two pieces of a three-tiered client/server networking solution, and promise to maintain NT support for the Alpha processor. Microsoft also paid Digital between 65 million and 100 million dollars.
Yet more evidence that there are few people alive who can beat Bill Gates for business acumen. Digital sold their birthright for a pittance, and now where are they?

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