Ancient VMS vs Unix joke

September 4, 2011

My post yesterday (Unix hair tearing) brought a couple of ageing VMS fans out of the wooodwork. Suddenly I remembered an old joke. Its long enough that I will put it in its own post, rather than in a comment. This joke was going the rounds about eighteen years ago when Starlink switched from VAXes to Unix machines, and suddenly we all had to get used to commands that seemed to be compact but incomprehensible gibberish, such as man, ps, rm, biff, ls, cat, etc…


A young scientist has an urgent job to finish, but disastrously the whole departmental network goes down apart from one ancient VAX. He hears there is an old-timer a few corridors away who still knows how to use the VAX, so he rushes down, bursts in, and insists that the old guy shows him what to do, because, you know, sorry, but this deadline is really important.

“Calm down”, says the old guy, “what do you want to know ?”

“Well, ok, for instance, how do I edit a file ?”

” You type EDIT FILENAME”

“Right, fine, suppose I want to make a copy ?”

“You say COPY FILENAME1 FILENAME2”

“Err, right, ok, now suppose I need to delete the file ?”

“You say DELETE FILENAME”

“Ah, right, right, err.. now what if I want to print it ?”

“You type PRINT FILENAME”

“But what if I just want to see it typed onscreen ?”

“You say TYPE FILENAME”

“What if I need to figure out what a command does ?”

“You say HELP COMMANDNAME”

“Ummm.. umm…. suppose I want to create a new directory ?”

“You use CREATE/DIRECTORY”

“Ok, ok, but look – how the hell am I supposed to remember all that ?”


The list goes on. Check out this comparison table of VMS and Unix commands.

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