Fun With OpenVMS

Hi everyone. I apologize for not writing more posts recently. I was planning to write a series about RISC OS and Amiga, but my own retrocomputing interest has taken me in a different direction, and one more relevant to present-day enterprise servers.

I’ve been doing a lot of work with OpenVMS recently, because it’s the best OS to run on my DEC Alpha (Compaq XP1000 workstation) and the three Itanium 2 servers (HP rx2620) that I bought years ago for $150 apiece and have combined into one maxed-out (12GB RAM) server. I’m not sure what the purpose would be of owning these Itanium servers except to run VMS, considering that I don’t care about HP-UX at all, and the Windows Server port isn’t up to date and isn’t very good. Linux and FreeBSD have stopped supporting it.

Because VSI (and before them HP) provides free noncommercial use licenses for OpenVMS (not for VAX, sadly), I’ve recently installed the latest version of it and the layered products on the XP1000 and the rx2620, and have been porting software like the Regina Rexx interpreter (my current work is in my vms-regina repo on GitHub).

There’s a lot to write about the past, present, and future of VMS, most notably that it’s being ported to 64-bit x86, and the first full x64 release is just a month or two away. Then there’s a V9.2-1 planned with the compilers and features VSI weren’t able to finish in time for V9.2 (in DEC version numbering, the .0 and .1 releases are prereleases, and the .2 release is the first production one).

It’s going to be a one-way street, though, because in order to make the x86 port feasible and to provide a modern C++ compiler (newer than C++03), VSI is using LLVM and Clang, which makes perfect sense, but also leaves them without the ability to generate Alpha or Itanium binaries with their new toolchain. It’s much like the migration they made from VAX to Alpha, where the new features were never backported even though they tried to keep version numbering and rough feature parity for some time after the split.

In the meantime, I find it refreshing to keep my skills up-to-date with alternate operating systems that aren’t descendants of UNIX. If anything, today’s Windows is a descendant of OpenVMS (via Dave Cutler’s team’s knowledge transfer when they all left DEC for Microsoft to write Windows NT).

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