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Like many, my first introduction to the Internet came by way of a VAX/VMS server operated by the local University where I lived. A friend of a friend scenario landed me an account on the system, and after about a week I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I signed up for a night class so that I could parlay an official student record into an account of my own (I was in high school at the time).

I was recently wondering about what’s happened with OpenVMS. Is it still around? Will it run on normal PC hardware?

It turns out there are still a number of VMS devotees and hobbyists out there, and OpenVMS can still be found running not only on hobbyist legacy systems, but also in modern server environments where security, fault-tolerance, and uptime command a high premium over hardware cost and operating system popularity. There’s even a freely available hobbyist license for OpenVMS, and you can get the installer media shipped your way for $30.

But what do you run it on if you don’t have a VAX or Alpha in your basement? An emulator, of course! The SIMH emulator, created by the Computer History Simulation Project, is capable of emulating a DEC VAX and will run on a Linux, Windows or OS X host machine.

The most difficult thing, from what I’ve read, is that you need to jump through a number of hoops to get the OpenVMS license and media and the license needs to be renewed yearly. Phillip Wherry wrote a very extensive howto in 2004 that walks you through obtaining the media, building and configuring the SIMH emulator in Linux, and installing OpenVMS on your virtual VAX. If you want to run OpenVMS on Windows or OS X, there are pre-compiled SIMH binaries available for both platforms. The installation process should be the same for whichever host system you use.

Keep in mind that Phillip’s howto was written in 2004, and I haven’t gotten my OpenVMS hobbyist license yet, so I don’t know for sure if there are any gotchas in there. The DECUS user group still seems to be alive and the company that ships the OpenVMS media is still taking orders, which is a pretty good sign. If any readers out there are currently running this setup, please give us an update in the comments. I’m excited to see some of my old DCL scripts running again, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good news here.

Running VAX/VMS Under Linux Using SIMH
SIMH VAX Emulator (Linux and Windows)
SIMH binaries for OS X
Encompass – DECUS User Group (Sign up for membership which is required for the license and media
Order Form For OpenVMS Hobbyist CD Media

  • Ian Miller

    I’m glad to see you have discovered VMS is still alive. is where you should go for all things for the VMS hobbyist.

    Note there is an emulator for the alpha (CHARON-AXP) and its free to hobbyists so you can run OpenVMS Alpha. There is also the freely available AlphaServer ES40 emulator.

  • Ash Daminato

    My first programming experience was on a VAX/VMS system in 1980. It was a summer course put on by the local college for grade school students. I was 6 at the time and it didn’t take us long to figure out how to send each other messages while the instructor was teaching. A few years later, my dad brought home from work on of the first “portable” PC’s which was an IBM PC XT (or compatible?) with 1 floppy drive, one hard drive and a CRT where the other 2 drive bay’s would have been. The keyboard attached to the front of the chassis for moving the system.

  • Stanley F. Quayle

    VMS has moved from VAX to Alpha, and now to Itanium. While the VAX versions ended as V7.3, it’s still fully supported by HP (who now owns VMS). VMS (the purists insist that “Open” is slient in “OpenVMS”) is now up to verison 8.3 on Alpha and Itanium, with V8.4 about to enter field test.

    It’s not only hobbyists that use emulators to replace VAX systems — the CHARON-VAX product ( does the job and is recognized by HP as a true replacement of a VAX, and eligible for full software support. There’s an Alpha emulator from the same people.

    I’m at a customer site right now helping with their go-live on CHARON-VAX. They have 500+ users.

    Check out for my CHARON-VAX page [Shameless Plug Alert ™ I am a CHARON reseller]

    Other VMS sites: (community site) (HP VMS site)

    VMS, when downtime is not an option!

  • Stanley F. Quayle

    Oh, and DECUS became Encompass. Encompass just recently (this week) joined with the other HP user groups to form “Connect”.

    Not as much fun as DECUS (no ribbons at meetings!), but there’s still an active special-interest group for VMS.

  • Nick

    I’ve been playing with SIMH using the vax.exe created for windows. I signed-up on Encompass received my member number. It will take about a week or two for encompass or to receive the membership information.
    Montgar is the provider of the vax software. Once that goes over you get the $30 cd in short order (like a week). The only thing that has been scary is when running it, my cpu goes to 100% and begins to heat up and the fan constantly runs. If anyone has knowledge about this, please let me know. I’ve been also playing with SIMH on Unbuntu or trying to. Unbuntu does not allow the root account login. everything is done with the sudo command. Still working on setting that up. has a Linux install but again I am translating that into the Unbuntu way.
    BTW – I started on VMS in College 82′ geez – I’ve played and work on many OS’s – VMS is still the king. So simple yet so reliable and robust. I am actually heading to my first VMS boot camp this month. Is a renaissance possible for this OS? Maybe, I have a client using it, and boy is it stable. We’ll see!

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