Just The VAX, Ma'am
By The Amherst Student Staff
The impending replacement of our VAX email system with Windows NT will involve much more than an upgrade in speed and user-friendliness. These upgrades are past due, to be sure, but with them-according to the implementers-is coming the death of a small culture: our sleek new Microsoft-powered system will lack facilities for real-time communication with other users, as well as for reading and writing plans and several other functions VAX users have grown, if not to depend on, at least to love.

A cry to preserve the VAX would be excessive. It is an operating system whose time has passed, at least in the eyes of most software developers, whose updates and upgrades for it are infrequent and expensive. Finding staff to maintain the system is similarly difficult and time-consuming. We do not wish to stand in the way of progress.

But our current upgrade plan seems unnecessarily harsh. The functions that are, as of now, not scheduled to make the crossover from VAX to NT arose out of several years' worth of requests from users and innovation from VAX administrators and student programmers; why discard the wisdom of the elders?

And why take away features that students enjoy? Not every Amherst student maintains a plan file, but many of those who do are very attached to them-the contents of student plans include a range spanning abstract intellectual discussions, emotional monologues, journal-style anecdotes, and simple logistics. Plan-discourse is unique from forum discourse in that everyone can read it but only a few people would think to, and planwriters who abuse others don't need to be chastised or have their messages moderated down; they are de facto ignored.

No student's lifestyle would be severely impaired without a plan, to be sure. But plans are mere text files, slightly exalted by the presence of such programs as planwatch and snitch; if it's not possible to implement such a simple system on NT, perhaps we should reconsider the switch after all.

Of course, not every desire students might have for an email system can be met: there will be those who pine for PINE, who long for the command-line interface and who will miss writing VAX programs in DCL. Even the most valiant of efforts will leave true lovers of VAX unsatisfied. But retaining functions that aren't operating system-specific and that a significant minority of Amherst students want seems like a worthwhile goal for our new email system. Just because we can't keep the VAX doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Issue 02, Submitted 2000-09-13 15:53:44