Welcome to OpenVMS Hobby

A Brief & Incomplete History

Like many others at the time, my professional career was focused on Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC’s) VAX hardware and VMS operating system from the mid-80’s through the mid-90’s, when the VAX/VMS product line was at the height of popularity.

Shortly thereafter, the popularity of a 32-bit CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer) minicomputer became to wane as microprocessors and desktops became more powerful, and the Internet / Web became commercial and ubiquitous, my focus moved on to cross-platform Unix-based computers and networks. Although DEC tried to pivot to Alpha and RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer), it was arguably too late, and the company got acquired and broken up by Compaq, and later merging with Hewlett Packard (HP).

Therefore, starting sometime in the late-90’s, my focus shifted to open-source operating systems (e.g., Linux, NetBSD) and TCP/IP networking, which can run on a computer a small fraction of the cost and size of even a DEC VT-100 dumb terminal, with orders of magnitude more memory and processing power (e.g., a Raspberry Pi).

However, I still have fond memories using the VMS operating system and software — nowadays called OpenVMS — and how structured and clean it was compared to the “anything-goes” syntax and interoperability of a lot of Unix-based software. There is nothing like DCL tables defining command syntax, or RMS defined file structures built within the operating system. Or maybe it is just nostalgia?

Hobbyist Hardware

Nonetheless, as I ease into retirement and have more free time, I was very excited to discover that there are VAX-11 (e.g., SimH) and Alpha AXP (e.g., AXPbox) software simulators that run on Linux — as well as other Unix-like platforms — which support booting the OpenVMS operating system. These simulators can run on currently available hardware, eliminating the need to acquire or purchase (e.g., on eBay, although still available last I looked!) old original equipment, which would be power hungry, generate lots of heat, and be expensive to maintain.

Hobbyist Software & Licenses

HP made OpenVMS and some layered products available to hobbyists in 1997 under the OpenVMS Hobbyist Program. That program was discontinued in March 2020. Since then, VMS Software Inc (VSI), who has taken over OpenVMS software development from HP since 2014, has introduced a similar Community License Program for hobbyists. Although the now defunct HP OpenVMS Hobbyist Program had previously provided VAX/VMS licenses, the VSI Community License Program only provides Alpha AXP software and licenses to hobbyists. However, while it is now not possible to obtain VAX/VMS hobbyists licenses, the OpenVMS operating system itself will continue to function without a license, but require non-DEC alternatives for networking (such as the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) TCP/IP).

The Purpose of This Site

I have created this site because while I have found lots of information and tutorials covering all of the above, it required a lot of searching, it uncovered a lot of out-of-date and misleading or contradictory information, and I had to go through a lot of trial and error to figure out exactly what worked and what didn’t. While I don’t deny that was all fun, I decided to provide a site where — at the very least — all of the information and research and working examples I have gone through can be shared with anyone else wanting to go through the same journey.

As of the time of this writing (November 2022), I have a “playground” of a couple of Alpha OpenVMS 8 systems, and a VAX VMS 7 system, running within a Linux / Ubuntu virtual machine, communicating on a private VirtualBox network, documented here: OpenVMS Simulator Network

If you embark on a similar journey, your exact components, configurations and versions may be different, but hopefully there is enough here to act as a useful guide. And, finally, if you are lucky enough (?!) to have original equipment, I am hoping to grow this site with more general information related to OpenVMS, particularly around installing and using open source software.

Most importantly, if hobbyist use of OpenVMS interests you, please check out this site at your leisure, enjoy, and share your own personal experiences!

2 thoughts on “Welcome to OpenVMS Hobby”

  1. Thank You! I’m up and running, experimenting on my laptop. I just want now a FORTRAN 77 and/or 90 compiler . I’m supposing that involves re-diving into vaxhaven.com for an iso disk containing it and using Install in VMS ? I’m still, though, making little routines using Macro and Debug and Link. I’m going through Lemone’s Vax Assembly textbook, Thank You again so much ! Lewis age 69

    1. There’s an f77 compiler on the ovms73vaxhkit.iso (VAX) disk image, along with BASIC, C, and Pascal. Everything you need can be found on https://mirrors.pdp-11.ru/ or http://tenox.pdp-11.ru/os/ , depending on how you feel about running unofficial, binary code on your machine. Be warned there’s alot there, so you’ll have to pick through alot of stuff to find what you want. Look for the directories with “vms”, “vax”, or “kits” in the name. If you can’t find that image, probably any of the version 7.3 disk images in the 600mb+ range are copies.

      [MODERATOR WARNING: I am approving this comment for display, but I can neither confirm nor deny the authenticity or legitimacy of any software downloaded from these URLs; that said, Layered Products (LPs) such as compilers are very hard to come by for VAX-11 since HP cancelled the OpenVMS Hobbyist program (as opposed to Alpha, Integrity, etc., LPs which are available from VMS Software Inc under their Community License Program), and I cannot personally provide any other sources at this time. Nonetheless, CAVEAT EMPTOR!]

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