What was possible on our DEC PDP-11/70?

For my first “real” computer job, I sought after work on a DEC PDP11. Hopefully using RSTS/E. And luckily that’s what I got. The company had a DEC PDP 11/70 running RSTS/E. They also had a Data General Nova 3, running BLIS/COBOL (an OS written in COBOL). I knew nothing about the DG, as we called it. And I never worked on it.

First things…first. Hindsight’s 20/20. It’s easy all these years later to question decisions made, back then. Also research back then, without the Internet, was much harder. I actually think the department head did a great job, creating that department from scratch. Also I’m sure starting out, the budget was very small.

Anyway a huge part of the business was translating client tapes to our in house data base on the PDP-11/70. Almost all…if not all of these tapes were IBM format tapes. The language we used was Basic-Plus which basically was part of RSTS/E. I enjoyed coding in Basic-Plus. However de-blocking and translating IBM EBCDIC tapes on a ASCII based PDP-11/70 was fairly slow. To make matters worse our data base program was written in Basic-Plus. This code was included in every program, needing to do data base operations. I don’t have hardly any of my old Basic-Plus programs, but for some reason I found this random listing, this is the 1st of around 12 pages.

So in recently looking at RSX11M…questions come to mind. First off This version of RSX11M is much newer than the version of RSTS/E we were running at the time. I honestly don’t remember what version of RSTS/E we were running. I’ve been using Version 7 on simh because it seems closest to what we used. I don’t think we used anything more recent than that.

Anyway I just wrote a very simple COBOL program on the RSX11M system. So I know COBOL was an option on the DEC PDP-11/70. I don’t know if it was available on RSTS/E V7. Even if it was it wouldn’t have been free. You could compile Basic-Plus programs, however I think that was more of a protect the code from alteration than a true compile. I assume compiled COBOL programs ran much faster. In the very few books I’ve been able to find on DEC Cobol, I find no mention of EBCDIC. Although conversion using a compiled language would have been much faster. Later on there was Basic-Plus-2 with a real compiler/linker.

The bigger question in my mind was “Data Boss”. Even today I’m not clear on the database options on RSTS/E back then. I know that DEC had something called RMS (Record Management System) that I assume would have been much more efficient than “Data Boss”. Again…was it even available for RSTS/E V7? In my limited Googling I think both COBOL and RMS were available.

I read in the V7 release notes that beginning with V7.0 all RMS software is bundled into RSTS/E. Wow…I wish I knew that back then. It would be interesting to play with. Then again I guess I could look at it today. It also says that Sort-11 V2.0 is included. That’s something else I’m curious about, because I seem to remember our sorts taking hours.

I also see..."The PDP-11 DBMS-11 COBOL Data Manipulation Language Reference Manual (DEC-11-ODMRA-B-D) was a reference document oriented primarily toward the experienced COBOL programmer whose installation had a DBMS-11 data base and used the COBOL Data Manipulation Language (DML), a COBOL language extension, to communicate data base access requests within a standard PDP-11 COBOL program." The date on this was 1977-03.

Licensing fees were high back then so that certainly could have been a factor.

My thoughts are more about, I wonder what was possible on the DEC PDP-11/70, running RSTS/E V7, if money wasn’t a factor, and other options were chosen?

Again hindsight is 20/20. And I think the department head did a fantastic job creating that computer department. Not too many years later they changed over to IBM that was obviously a better fit. Also we had a real database…ADABAS. From a career point of view I wish we chose DB2 instead, because it was industry standard SQL. However I have no reason to think ADABAS was a bad database.