"Seymour Cray's first computer, the Cray 1, debuted in 1976"
No, that was Cray Research's first computer. Seymour Cray was designing computers for Control Data Corporation long before that: the CDC 1604 (in 1960); the CDC 3000 series; the CDC 6600 (the first commercial supercomputer) and its successors.
I used to work under a former Cray engineer who wrote the linker for UNICOS (Cray Unix). He was instructed by the architects to write a single-pass linker for $some_theoretical_reason, but he did what he felt was right and wrote a double-pass linker instead. Customers later praised the stability and usefulness of the UNICOS linker relative to its competitors at the time, so he felt validated.
From him, I learned the phrase "It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission". Still my favorite manager ever, and one of the reasons I believe mentoring is so important in our industry.
(I actually worked with a lot of former Cray engineers in the late 1990s. Brilliant, all of them. I learned a lot.)
There was more than one OS. Supercomputer manufacturers (not just Cray) were basically hardware companies, and operating systems were an afterthought. Software was written on other systems and loaded in from the outside. UNICOS was a regular System V Unix port, to give users the sort of rich experience of a modern operating system.
We still have our Cray-1 (with serial number #001 in the Bradbury). If someone is really serious about doing novel research, I can probably pass along your name to the folks who can give you access (after they approve a proposal).
I read on Wikipedia that e.g. NCAR turned off their Cray-1 in 1988. Though it would be really cool if there is still a Cray-1 in an useable state.
I stood next to Cray-1, Cray X-MP and Cray-2 supercomputers in museums in Europe (London, Munich). The unique cooling system that also acts as bench was a nice idea. And the second one was submerged in an (special) oil tank.
Yep, that article described the one I'm talking about. It's behind glass in a museum showroom now (about a mile from where I'm sitting at the moment), but it's in very good shape. I wouldn't be surprised if it still works.
According to ESR: "Seymour Cray, designer of the Cray line of supercomputers, was among the greatest. He is said once to have toggled an entire operating system of his own design into a computer of his own design through its front-panel switches. In octal. Without an error. And it worked."
Although I have never seen either of the two, I have heard rumors that people claimed that the Yinhe-I was actually cloned Cray-I. Considering that the subtle equilibrium among north east Asian countries, the Soviet and the U.S. during the Cold War and that China was used by the U.S. as leverage to neutualize the influence of the Soviet, after Richard Nixon's visit, and before the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, maybe the Chinese clones were even closer to the genuine ones than the Soviet Bloc computer systems.
Bellard's x86 js emulator, which is as good as it can get, has a performance comparable with a 486. A 486 is slower than a Cray 1. It seems that even today you can't emulate a cray in the browser at native speed, nothing can come close to that 1000 times faster idea.
The memory architecture is a very good point. It's fundamentally different from the x86-derived systems we all use today.
Besides, if you really want to emulate a Cray, it's not the OS that's important so much as that almighty FORTRAN compiler! Part of the fun of working with old Cray guys was listening to the ranting about how FORTRAN is the Best Language Ever and that by removing a layer of memory indirection, it's faster than even C. Of course, you're then hardcoding the living crap out of everything, but that was handwaved away as a minor price to be paid for real performance....
“For these machines (Cray-1 or X-MP) you couldn’t really go into a store
and buy an application, like you do for a PC these days. Now, you just
‘install’ Word and it runs. For these machines, everything came in
source-code format and you needed to compile it before you could run
it. You use the … compiler to turn it into machine code the machine
could understand,” Tantos said. “That was the main way you interacted with
these machines. Without the compiler, you can’t feed it that.”
None of the steps in the process is all that involved, but some of the mechanics are very different. 60's vintage OS/360 on an IBM mainframe is very unlike the Unix model that most people are used to these days.
I once tried to track down the original source of NeXTStep when I was working on adding NeXT black hardware support to QEMU, but had no real idea who to ask/where to look. I know it was sold at a hefty price back in the day, but I have no idea if anyone actually purchased a copy.
The thing I remember about Unicos was that it was fanatical about job prioritization, which processes had permissions to use processor cpu time etc. You had to jump through hoops to get things running, even for commands that would run for less than a minute on a less robust system.