A VAX in your Linux box


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

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