VAX emulation with OpenVMS

Time Machine

Ping et al.

Commands such as ping also exist on OpenVMS, but they are not available by default, so enter:

run sys$system:tcpip$ping

Alternatively, you can call


to make the commands available directly.

Communication with the host computer on which the emulator is running is not possible using this solution but can be done with tunnel devices and similar hacks. I will be talking about this approach in a future article on VMS, and about connecting to the VAX with a terminal in the web browser.

With network connection working, many things are easier, but not necessarily automatic. It is quite difficult even to find an FTP server that has binaries for VAX/VMS. In the beginning, in particular, you have to work your way up by bootstrapping. First, retrieve a binary wget via FTP to makes it easier to access the HTTP server. Also binaries for tar and unzip prove to be helpful. Compilers or interpreters for BASIC, PASCAL, C, and COBOL are also available from the Hobbyist program. Batch programs are written in the DIGITAL Command Language (DCL) that comes with the package.


As you delve more deeply into OpenVMS, you might be surprised at how coherent the operating system is during use – especially if you're used to the chaos of Linux distributions that have grown over the years. Add to this the charm of a classic minicomputer system that completely does away with any ballast (Figure 4).

Figure 4: System monitoring OpenVMS.

Of course, many concepts, such as the structure of and navigation in the filesystem appear outdated, but OpenVMS has clearly demonstrated its suitability as a stable server in its more than 30-year history.

It is unlikely that anyone will want to set up business on a new installation of OpenVMS in 2013, but it makes an interesting object of study, and the occasional job offers for VMS installations are still out there.

DEC missed the opportunity to say goodbye to the VAX at the right time. Although the group prolonged its suffering with Alpha-based computers, in the end, all that remained of DEC was sold to rival Compaq. Via this stopover, the intellectual property came into the possession of HP, which manages the DEC heritage today. OpenVMS itself is not dead, yet. HP offers support for VAX systems up to 2016 and for Itanium-based systems up to 2020 (Figure 5) [4].

Figure 5: Support for OpenVMS will still be here in 2020. (Source: HP)

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