back to article Frames per second? Windows Terminal brings back text animation with the VT100 blink

Microsoft has followed up the delightfully retro CRT style available in its Windows Terminal application with the arrival of a blinking attribute familiar to DEC fans of old. Currently available in preview form, version 1.4 of Windows Terminal also allows users to fire things up with a specific profile from the Windows start …

  1. RM Myers Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I'll take a pass

    Generally I enjoy the retro look in computer software, particular some of the emulators of old computers, but the dumb terminal look is just not causing me any excitement. I spent to many hours looking at the blinking cursor in the 70's and 80's.

    Now if they could give us the look and feel of a keypunch machine, that would be different. And no, I'm not being serious.

    1. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: I'll take a pass

      Dunno. Might make it more bearable.

      I still configure my PuTTY (if I have to use a Windows machine) to either P1 or P3 as I find those comfortable. Guess my eyes got used to them over 70s and 80s (and fair part of 90s).

      You can pry my VT220s out of my dead cold hands. In fact I might have to source some spares just in case.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: I'll take a pass

        Yep, I loved the VT220. The later 320 was neater and took up less space on the desk. I still remember how we thought the 330 with 4010 graphics looked better and was "cheap" compared with the Wyse/Tektronix kit at the time. Eventually most of them were replaced by IBM AT/PS2s with terminal emulation software. I think the only "terminal" that I bought after that was included with a Data General DG30, but the DG30 included an Intel Board with a custom version of PC-DOS that could be run in parallel.

        1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

          Re: I'll take a pass

          My first university's computer room was a VAX and Sun affair. Plenty of VT100s and 220s. A bunch of Data General terminals sat in a room by themselves. I remember well laughing uproariously when a team lead suggested our little band retire to the Data General room to work and one guy snorted, "Dirty Genitals? No thanks, I'm clean". Some things are funny at 2am on the cusp of an all-nighter

          Years later I had use of multiple SGI Power Origin machines. Wonderful beasts. Console was a VT100 because... Why not?

          1. Tim99 Silver badge

            Re: I'll take a pass

            DG stuff was generally OK - It made a change from rooms full of PDPs. The main reason we had them was because they were a "standard" for control and data acquisition with some very expensive analytical kit. As a price guide, an earlier instrument had a Nova 4 with a Winchester, tape and floppies for ~£50,000. The instrument it connected to was ~£400,000. By the mid-1990s, the data system was PC based, and cost at most £5,000 - The instrument's technology had changed and they were ~£150,000. Today something that "does the job" much more reliably, and with better performance, costs about £90,000 "all up". So allowing for inflation, the current stuff is about 450/(90/3)=15 times cheaper (Still a lot more expensive than Moores Law suggests - Because much of the kit is still fairly large, has precision engineering and low production runs).

            1. Smooth Newt Silver badge
              Meh

              Re: I'll take a pass

              DG stuff was generally OK - It made a change from rooms full of PDPs.

              The thing I hated about DG was that there was no conditional branch instruction.

              There was a "skip" instruction which meant skip the next instruction if a given condition was true or false, and you usually put an unconditional jump as that next instruction. Sounds a minor thing, but it really does get very tedious.

            2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: I'll take a pass

              "control and data acquisition with some very expensive analytical kit"

              Yup. MicroNOVA running data-acquisition on the XRF attachment to a SEM. Definitely an expensive piece of kit.

              1. Tim99 Silver badge

                Re: I'll take a pass

                Our original kit was a magnetic-sector mass spectrometer with a capillary gas chromatograph. To start with we had no data system at all, so it used an oscilloscope, oscillograph and a 3 order 3 pen chart recorder. After a few weeks the manufacturer lent us a Nova 3C with a removable Phoenix drive while we got the funding for “our” data system sorted out.

                1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                  Re: I'll take a pass

                  Did you get your own sorted out or did the loaner never quite get sent back?

                  1. Tim99 Silver badge
                    Facepalm

                    Re: I'll take a pass

                    Yes, took about 4 months. Typical UK Public Service purchase embargo/cock-up. The instrument was covered by one bill that was signed off; but between the Data System being specced/quote agreed and the final purchase order being sent, the Department ran out of money so it was deferred to the next period.

                    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                      Re: I'll take a pass

                      Sounds familiar.

        2. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: I'll take a pass

          I had (ahem..have) some VT420s, and I don't mind it at all. Takes much less space than VT220 and the two sessions is very nice feature.

      2. Dazed and Confused

        Re: I'll take a pass

        You can pry my VT220s out of my dead cold hands. In fact I might have to source some spares just in case.

        Oh No! Not the VT220, the original UK keyboard didn't have a pipe symbol. ARGH! All that space, all those keys and no pipe!

        Never did find out whether this was connected to Ken Olsen's snake oil phase.

        Liked the amber display though once they swapped the keyboard for me.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: I'll take a pass

          We had Plessey (IIRC) look-alikes. They definitely had a |. And were amber.

          Very nostalgic video. Some of the tests also reminded me of the UCSD p-System terminal set-up.

      3. RM Myers Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: I'll take a pass

        I always felt that the move from dumb terminals to PC's and workstations was the second best thing to happen during my time as a developer, with the move from keypunch to dumb terminals being the first (yes, I'm that old!). The green screen with the blinking cursor always bothered my eyes by the end of the day. The terminal emulator software on the PC never seemed to bother them as much, and I enjoyed the ability to customize the software to my taste. Plus, we were able to automate a number of tedious processes using screen scraping functions in the emulator software.

        Obviously, YMMV.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: I'll take a pass

      One of the first things I do when configuring a modern un*x machine is send a login to a serial port (usually USB these days) and hang a dumb terminal off it. One never knows when the GUI might go TITSUP[0], especially when doing dev work ... that friendly $ prompt means fixing it without a reboot is not only possible, but likely.

      [0] Total Inability To Show Usual Pr0n^H^H^Hictures.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: I'll take a pass

        When D9 serial ports started to disappear, I found that most of the problems were *from* USB serial ports. Now I'm retired, most of my time spent on a "modern un*x" machine" is in an iMac CLI, so if the GUI does go TITSUP, I'm probably stuffed (although Target Disk Mode, or SSH from an iPad, has saved me on occasion).

    3. DougMac

      Re: I'll take a pass

      >> the dumb terminal look is just not causing me any excitement. I spent to many hours looking at the blinking cursor in the 70's and 80's.

      I think a big consumer of these things are youngsters that want to experience more of what it was like back-in-the-day.

      I think those of us who lived through it the first time don't necessarily need to have the full experience again.

    4. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: I'll take a pass

      Video terminal? Luuuxury!

      No video terminals for our DEC computer in high school. Nope, all ASR-33 Teletypes for us (yes, I know that's not the proper designation for it). Now let's see MS figure how to simulate THAT.

  2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Ah... the good old VT220

    I have one in my Garage/workshop that is the console to my PDP-11/84. I had the source code to the VT220 until a few years ago (thanks John Sykes) from the days when we modded it for additional languages such as Icelandic and Arabic.

    Those were the days. Setting up a serial line into servers was once SOP but these days is regarded as a black art. Many, many time doing that has saved the day after a crash.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Ah... the good old VT220

      "was once SOP but these days is regarded as a black art"

      The two were not mutually exclusive. I take it you still have your RS-232 breakout box?

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: Ah... the good old VT220

        I had my hands on a serial comms analyser for a while. Oh the sheer luxury of plugging it in, initiating a few characters and the thing telling me the configuration of the port before fighting with the terminal's DIP switches! Cost a fortune at the time ...

  3. GlenP Silver badge

    DEC Terminal Memories

    I was lucky in my first job, I managed to "acquire" one of the few VT240s that we had instead of a 220 (thinking about it my VT220 went onto a DEC Rainbow 100 floor model that I was trying out).

    For some reason I left the VT240 in the computer room when I went on holiday and the place burned down! It was the result of an electrical short in the adjacent workshop but we did retrieve the somewhat melted terminal. I'm not sure who's idea it was to plug the thing in (at a safe distance) but it duly came up with a slightly dim VT240 OK message! They were tough bits of kit.

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: DEC Terminal Memories

      @GlenP: "They were tough bits of kit."

      I recall dropping one from a trolley onto my foot when I was sending our last few to recycle heaven. It didn't feel a thing.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: DEC Terminal Memories

      I worked two summers at DEC Westfield. I was a summer replacement tech on the RK06 production line.

      Westfield was also building LA36 DECwriters and VT78? terminals.

      I mentioned to one of the lead tech's that I was looking for a terminal. He said there was a salvage sale coming up and to be there. When I got there, there was a complete parts kit for a VT05. I spent the next semester in the EE lab at school fixing it (I had all the schematics, natch). What I remember most, was the quad module backplane had been built with no connection between the top and bottom layers of the backplane. So I had some *very* thin solder, and I'd heat up the pins, one by one, and slip the solder between the connector pins until it flowed onto the pin I was heating, thence to the inaccessible etch on the backplane itself!

      That terminal served me well and ended up in some lab at MIT when I put it up for sale. I ended up getting a job at Data General, because DEC wasn't hiring when I got out of school, but I still have my DEC badge (#47349) and a PiDP-8/I emulator running down here in the basement office.

      1. BenM 29
        Thumb Up

        Re: DEC Terminal Memories

        >>LA36 DECwriters

        I remember... 6th form (year 12 in today's money) college had an LA36 as the console and a teletype to slow everyone else down (RSX or was it TSX can't remember)... we used to reprogram the characterset on the LA36 for fun... the pdp11-23 had rk0 drives the first year and actually got a non removable disk the following year (half the case width white front.. cant remember the DEC name)

        On three years and I was working for a company that had an 11/750 which, of course, had an LA36 as the system console...

        Nostalgia...innit great?

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Coat

    VT100?

    I was installing VT100 emulators on Windows (both kinds) in the 1990s for companies that replaced VT100s with PCs but also still had the minicomputer or Unix box.

    I don't think this is especially clever or newsworthy because I've never seen an OS/2 or DOS or Windows Console program that used VT100.

    Actual Terminal Programs for Windows that support VT100 must be 30 years old. Or 27 years old for NT aka real Windows.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: VT100?

      Procomm was released in 1985, roughly concurrent with DOS 3.0. I'm fairly certain I was using it to emulate VT100 right from the git-go.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: VT100?

        Xtalk (Crosstalk) was my favourite, because it could emulate the DG terminals. So that they were incompatible with DEC's VTs, they used ASCII LF for the end-of-line character, rather than CR that DEC used. DG just *had* to be different...

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: VT100?

          Kermit. You could do quite funky stuff with the scripting. Still some times use c-kermit on unix because of the scripting. Scripts of course are portable across versions which is handy. Likewise back in the day it was nice reliable way to transfer files across very different systems.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: VT100?

      Sole purpose of Windows at one client: to maintain multiple terminal sessions on the Unix box.

      1. AW-S

        Re: VT100?

        Yep, a cheap PC with a 4-port serial card connecting COM1 - 4, to four ports on the mini. Saved buying 4 Wyse 50 terminals.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: VT100?

        Sole purpose of the GUI on a couple of my un*x boxen: To run multiple terminal sessions keeping an eye on the networks.

      3. Daniel von Asmuth

        Re: VT100?

        Yes. I once tried to start telnet sessions to four different Unix boxen and start backup jobs on the latter. Windows '98 could not handle that.

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: VT100?

      The issue with a lot of the emulators was that you had problems used EDT because the numeric keypad was slightly different, you thought you were hitting DELLIN but got UNDELWRD instead.

  5. herman Silver badge
    Pint

    Punchcard machines with no ink

    A bad ribbon on a punch card machine made you learn how to read ASCII against the light.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Punchcard machines with no ink

      My mum worked at Nebraska Ave (the US version of Bletchley Park) and claimed to be able to sight read paper tape.

      She was terribly disappointed when I brought some home and she couldn't make heads or tails out of it. 8-level ASCII, of course, and she had been reading 5-level Baudot.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Punchcard machines with no ink

        A partially sighted friend of mine can read punched paper with her fingers, similar to braille. She's one of the best big iron debuggers I've ever known ...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not that f*&%@# piece of s*$% VT100...ahhhh...

    Even after 35 years the sheer unadulterated misery of using the VT100 keyboard, the absolute worst instrument of input torture ever invented, has not abate one bit. The many years of trauma counseling did not help in the slightest.

    I have had to use lots of bad keyboards over the decades, some even left my fingers numb like the ASR 33, but nothing like the excruciating pain of trying to type on the VT 100 keyboard for even an hour or so. Suffered that torture for several months until finally hooked up a 128K Mac running MacTerm and used that keyboard (not great) to talk to the VAX instead.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: not that f*&%@# piece of s*$% VT100...ahhhh...

      "Even after 35 years the sheer unadulterated misery of using the VT100 keyboard, the absolute worst instrument of input torture ever invented, has not abate one bit."

      Yeah, I have to agree here. I learnt "vi" on VT100 in a room of 20 students, and all the massive BIPs we were having, whenever anyone (well, every single second in fact) forgot to switch between command and edit mode was head wrenching.

      But, happy to see MS work on modern techno. Any update on a ground breaking new notepad font ? /sarcasm

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: not that f*&%@# piece of s*$% VT100...ahhhh...

        :set noerrorbells

    2. keith_w Bronze badge

      Re: not that f*&%@# piece of s*$% VT100...ahhhh...

      NOT True! VT50 and VT52 were worse, KB built in to the monitor. I remember the day we received our first VT100s, a joyous day indeed for everyone in the IT department.

      1. rnturn

        Re: not that f*&%@# piece of s*$% VT100...ahhhh...

        VT52 were handy to have in the data center. You could stack them atop one another to save some space.

    3. VicMortimer

      Re: not that f*&%@# piece of s*$% VT100...ahhhh...

      I fortunately never had to use one for long. Most of the terminals at school were VT220s, there were only a few VT100s left. And the VT220 keyboard wasn't bad for the time.

      By my second year of college I'd gotten a PowerBook 140, so I'd go to the Mac Plus lab (which was usually empty, and never completely full) and yank the LocalTalk network out of one of those and plug into my PowerBook. I'd just pick a random IP address somewhere in the university's subnet, which was so empty back then that the chances of me picking a duplicate were tiny.

  7. Nick Pettefar

    My first contract was for DEC at DEC Park in Reading (UK). Part of a small team to modify a VT220 work in Arabic (and French)! You would press one of the far right function keys and the cursor would jump to the right and start moving left and you could nest English or French inside the Arabic as much as you wanted. Unfortunately to save costs they’d used the last address line, which they didn’t need for the existing small software, to do something else other than address memory. We needed the full address range for the Arabic additions so had to do a double read or write to get into the other half of RAM. No memory for tables so everything was ifs and elses. Good old PL/M-51. It was all rather enjoyable. We had an arab consultant who would wander over every now and then and diss all our efforts. Such larks!

  8. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    ANSI

    I think the flashing attribute was an ANSI feature, rather than specific to DEC. Even ye olde command.com supported that, up to a point, with ansi.sys.

    The DEC extended escape sequences also allowed you to flash the apparently purposeless red lights above the keyboard. I did some changes to a program where the original coder had gone to the trouble of flashing the lights whenever he displayed an error message. All those messages were snide and insulting; it must have been awful to have to use the program.

    I don't know whether it's the way attributes are mapped to colours by Windows terminal emulators, or misguided enthusiasm by system admins, but whenever I use something like PuTTY or Git Bash I have to spend time finding out how to turn the attributes off, as many of them use completely illegible colour combinations.

    1. Daniel von Asmuth
      Windows

      Re: ANSI

      ANSI? Blinking and underlined text was a feature of the PC (IBM and clones). Does anybody remember the PC?

  9. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Darn it!

    I guess this means that the value of my VT100 that I was going to list on ebay has dropped.

  10. AllTheseClickyThings

    Non-Windows options

    I'd just like to point out that non-Windows users need not feel left out:

    https://github.com/Swordfish90/cool-retro-term

    ...to evoke those halcyon times when if you got to the lab and an ADM-3A was open so you didn't have to sit at a decwriter, it was going to be a good day.

    1. VicMortimer

      Re: Non-Windows options

      I actually had an ADM-3A at home. It came with the PDP-11. As did my DECwriters.

      The DECwriters at school were only used by the administration, they set up rooms full of them for drop/add week. To change your schedule you filled out a form, stood in a long line, and handed it to somebody sitting at one of them. The resulting printout was your new schedule.

      1. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: Non-Windows options

        I salvaged a broken ADM-3. Opened it up, reseated all memory (DIL) and TTL and it worked like a charm again. Used it as a console to an OS-9 system.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Waste of time

    They should spend more time implementing the settings dialog so we don't have to mess about in json files...

    1. Kristian Walsh

      Re: Waste of time

      It’s a terminal. If you can’t manage making things happen by typing text, you’re in the wrong place.

  12. rnturn

    > The gaudy colours of a modern graphical user interface pale in comparison to the soft amber or green hue of DEC's finest, right?

    Huh? I never saw a VT100 with anything but the white phosphor.

  13. Bitsminer

    Retro was astonishing

    We had a couple of installation engineers from Isilon come by, setting up a small storage cluster (Infiniband back end, Ethernet front end).

    They required a "VT220-compatible" console to configure the system.

    We provided a "VT220-actual". They insisted on taking photos. We complied (contrary to company policy, of course).

    They were tickled. We were, like, "so what? We've had these for years/decades!"

  14. rcw88

    Oh the joys of VTXXX, when I worked for BL back in the early 80's we had a Z80 ICE microprocessor development system made by GenRad, it cost about £20,000, we also had a multi user USCD p-system Sage micro with 6 async ports to which you attached a VT100 or similar. We had a very able apprentice who'd cut his teeth coding on a Sinclair ZX80, said apprentice, with my guidance, wrote a VT100 terminal emulator in Z80 assembler that we could run on the GenRad, thus turning the infrequently used MDS into a £600 dumb tube. Getting a £600 purchase past Finance in Gaydon cost considerable less than an apprentice writing the emulator. In fact I spent most of my last year there trying to get a 5k Apricot, yeah, don't laugh, past said Finance team. Gave up, joined a proper IT company and within 6 weeks had bought two fully loaded, at the time, IBM PC's. 5 grand apiece with an IRMA card, Lotus 123 and an AST 6pack plus card. Then played with Vax clusters and networking for the next nine years.

  15. cdr_data

    Ah, the days of DEC terminals! Back in the 80s, I worked at a company that had a massively-automated factory with VAXen everywhere. In the office area, the terminals were connected to a terminal server. The terminal server had a user-accessible menu, and one of the options was to send a message from the terminal server to a connected terminal. And, it was more than happy to send DEC escape sequences. All you had to do was look up a user in the list and send them the escape sequence $[H$[J - and their screen would blank.

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