back to article VMS will be ready to run on x86 in 2019!

VMS Software Inc (VSI), which became the custodian of the venerable OpenVMS in 2014, is getting close to its Holy Grail of running the OS on x86. HP had decided that the operating system it inherited from DEC was end-of-life back in 2013, but in 2014 signed over an exclusive licence to VSI. At that time, the company's CEO …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A dinosaur speaks.

    This dinosaur says yay!

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: A dinosaur speaks.

      It is more like squeak, squeak at this point - it is just getting out of the egg. It has a long way to go before it can do an almighty roar.

      1. BillG Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: A dinosaur speaks.

        Brings back memories of the VMS Phone Utility (PHONE). Fun to pass the day harassing co-workers with that.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: A dinosaur speaks.

          Using PHONE to talk to ops in Houston, whilst sitting in rainy East Grinstead in 1981 was one of the reasons I got into computing, I found it fascinating.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A dinosaur speaks.

          "Brings back memories of the VMS Phone Utility (PHONE). Fun to pass the day harassing co-workers with that."

          It had its other uses too. Back in 1985 I was in Massachusetts on a work trip at the time of the widely advertised (not just in the US) Hurricane Gloria. My employer had a mix of VAX and other kit, and X.25 links to their UK offshoot (with a smilar mix of kit) where my colleagues worked.

          Gloria knocked out all the phones in MA and most of the computer rooms. But the VAX/VMS box where I was survived with barely a hiccup. I wanted to get a message back to Blighty to tell family and friends that all was well. The actual phone system was useless, and this is long before wide availability of email (even uucp was barely in use).

          So, use VMS Phone from Massachusetts, with an X.25 link to a VAX/VMS box in the UK, to tell them that the damage was a lot less than expected, and I was fine.

          I think it might have been 2400baud. Maybe 9600 at best. Those were the days.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge
    Devil

    Not quite

    x86 lacks the “strict hierarchy of memory access protection expected by VMS”

    Actually it does have the necessary stuff. Ever since 286 - in segment mode as originally used by early OS2.

    The problem is that nobody uses this mode, everyone just goes for the extremely primitive paging present from 386 onwards. That mode was incomplete to start off with and was never completed properly - it was just hacked on top with some features like big pages added later on.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Not quite

      The paging mode was welcome so you can map virtual to physical memory, or page it to/from disks in 4k increments (later more) instead of whole segments - especially when the segments max size jumped from 64K to 4GB (and now more). IIRC the original plan was pages and segments to be used together - segments to control permissions, pages to control memory usage.

      Moreover let's remember x86 allows for four (five in later models) privilege rings, other common CPUs have less.

      I don't know enough about the VMS kernel architecture to understand how it fits the x86 architecture, but it is also true that some of the old protected memory powerful features are being removed because actually almost nobody used them.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Not quite

      nobody uses this mode

      And as far as I recall, it isn't available in Long (64-bit) mode at all. I don't know what protection rings are used on post-VAX processors, but VMS made use of all four on VAX hardware (most of the file system ran in executive mode and the command shell ran in supervisor mode). Whereas there are four rings on x86, the cost of entering and exiting them is quite high and the shorthand SYSENTER/SYSCALL instructions that were added to solve this only allow calls to Ring 0. There are probably other subtle differences too.

    3. Spudley

      Re: Not quite

      I'm going to up-vote you because you sound like you know what you're talking about, even though I have absolutely no idea.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Not quite

        You're my kind of commentard!

    4. joeldillon

      Re: Not quite

      VMS runs/ran on the DEC Alpha. Alpha had only user and supervisor modes, no intermediate modes. What does Alpha have that x86 lacks, memory management wise?

      1. TDahl

        Re: Not quite

        Correction: the Alpha architecture (and processor implementations) support four (4) modes: user, supervisor, executive, kernel. OpenVMS on Alpha uses all four modes, as it does on VAX.

        1. jreagan

          Re: Not quite

          Not true. The hardware only has two modes. It is the PAL code that creates the illusion of 4 modes. If you load the Tru64 PAL code on Alpha, you only get two modes.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not quite

            belatedly: does the person who downvoted jreagan have any idea who jreagan might be? Maybe a current vsi employee, maybe a long time vms compiler developer, for example?

            or is the downvoter just fat fingered like some of us are sometimes?

            The Alpha Architecture Handbook(s) and/or the Architecture Reference Manual(s) are freely downloadable using any decent search engine and will expand on Mr Reagan's statement about number of (apparent) modes being dependent on the PALcode in use.

      2. Richard 26

        Re: Not quite

        Bits in the page table entries, mostly. Whilst x64 has enough modes, you can't have all the traditional VMS memory protection masks like Kernel-Write, Exec-Read. It's not a deal breaker but it needs some work.

      3. jreagan

        Re: Not quite

        The layout is somewhat different. On Alpha, the PAL code knows about the OpenVMS PTEs (page table entries) and provides the 4-modes of protection. On x86-64 (in long mode), the PTEs only have 2-modes of protection. We'll emulate the other two in the OS with shuffling around page table entries for super/exec modes.

        1. Daniel B.
          Boffin

          Re: Not quite

          So basically, x86 is garbage compared to processors that have been 20 years out of production.

          Why are we stuck with this crappy architecture in the first place?

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Stoneshop Silver badge

    would see it ported to Itanium

    Errm, the Itanium port is 15 years old by now; what VSI is doing is adding processor support for current models, something that HP(E) couldn't be bothered with for the past three years.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: would see it ported to Itanium

      Why an old OS shouldn't run on an old CPU? <G>

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Why an old OS shouldn't run on an old CPU? <G>

        There's still a current version for Alpha, an architecture that's been killed with the launch of Industry Standard (harhar) IA64.

  4. Andy Non
    Happy

    Woo Hoo!

    Will this mean my VMS skills will be useful again? Wonder if they will implement a version of JCL (job control language) that was really powerful stuff.

    1. Cem Ayin
      Boffin

      Re: Woo Hoo!

      "Will this mean my VMS skills will be useful again? Wonder if they will implement a version of JCL (job control language) that was really powerful stuff."

      You seem to confuse VMS with MVS. Or DCL with JCL.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Woo Hoo!

        @Cem Ayin

        +1 for DCL

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Woo Hoo!

      Wonder if they will implement a version of JCL

      I believe those plans have been slashed.

    3. roytrubshaw
      Happy

      Re: Woo Hoo!

      "Will this mean my VMS skills will be useful again?"

      Cool!

      Now I need to dig out Richard's and my VAXPascal sources for MUD II and the 1990's revival will be complete.

      What we really need is a port of TOPS-10 to x86 any takers?

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: roytrubshaw Re: Woo Hoo!

        ".....MUD II....." There's a travel agency company down in one of the fancier parts of London that still runs all their business on an old VAX. Much to my delight, the sysadmins also run Moria on it, a game that consumed many hours of my life as a green techie (it seems you were either a Rogue addict or a Moria one in those days!). Now I know the old VMS techies will be breathlessly waiting for VMS clustering on x64 (if you don't know why there will be a legion of dinosaurs ready to post here endlessly as to how good VMS clustering is/was), but I'm looking forward to that ASCII dungeon.

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: roytrubshaw Woo Hoo!

          Now I know the old VMS techies will be breathlessly waiting for VMS clustering on x64 (if you don't know why there will be a legion of dinosaurs ready to post here endlessly as to how good VMS clustering is/was), but I'm looking forward to that ASCII dungeon.

          *cough*

          Well, we wouldn't need to if someone had come up with better and more reliable clustering. Thing is VAXcluster just works.

          Luckily I don't need to look forward to Moria (in its native environment). It's getting bit chilly now anyway so booting up the VAXen just means don't have to turn up heating. Anyway, Moria has been ported to quite a few platforms anyway so you don't really need VMS to run it.

        2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          VMS Clustering

          MS still has a lot to learn about clustering.

          VMS Clustering came out in 1983. I was at the 'Bubble' in the woods near Marlborough, MA when the Cluster kit was being RFI Tested. I was testing a VAX 11/730 at the time.

          The sofware allowed rolling software upgraded. Later releases allowed mixed hardware Architectures to be in the same cluster. Wonderful design and it really worked (after VMS 5.0)

        3. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Re: roytrubshaw Woo Hoo!

          "....Moria......" One of our resident dinosaurs just told me that, when he was applying for a VAX sysadmin job back in the '80s, he was stumped when part of the application form asked "What do you consider your greatest achievements?" Being fresh out of university, he put "I have killed the Balrog", and somehow still got the job! If VAX x64 does take off, maybe I'll have some novelty t-shirts printed to flog on eBay: "If you look at my resume, you will see that I have killed the Balrog."

    4. Fritzr

      Re: Woo Hoo!

      If you did any programming in the VMS scripting language you would know that it is not JCL. The scripting language used by VMS is DCL. (Digital Control Language)

      JCL is an IBM specific scripting language used by IBM mainframe operating systems.

      You can find more information on DCL as implemented in OpenVMS here

      http://h41379.www4.hpe.com/doc/732final/9996/9996pro.html

      And yes, it is an extremely powerful language that allows the use of variables to modify code during execution. (Very useful for data types like arrays that are not part of the language)

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Woo Hoo!

        "JCL is an IBM specific scripting language used by IBM mainframe operating systems."

        Used to work on a Bull mainframe system, where a JCL was used and referred to (if generically) as JCL...job control language.

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: Woo Hoo!

          Used to work on a Bull mainframe system, where a JCL was used and referred to (if generically) as JCL...job control language.

          Thanks. I just had a flashback of DPS-8 running GCOS. I did like the fairly secure way processes ran in their own protected virtual memory.

          1. Tom 4

            DPS-8 with DTSS

            My 1st computer job was as an operator for a DPS-8 running DTSS. I was near Dartmouth and had used DTSS in High School, I think Dartmouth also had a DPS-8 as well.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Joke

    I am Programmersaurus Rex. Hear me raw.

    Well yes, right now it's more of a squeak, but it's getting there.

  6. MrTuK

    Running OpenVMS in a VM in Linux would be cool !

    Although I'm not sure how useful I would personally find it, but quite nostalgic at the very least !

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      Well, VSI were talking about continuing DEC/HP's old Hobbyist Programme...

    2. witchy

      >Running OpenVMS in a VM in Linux would be cool !

      You can do that now with Bob Supnik's SIMH. I'm running VMS on a Beaglebone Black connected to a VT100. The OS is emulated obviously, but full speed. People were clustering VMS on Raspberry Pi's in 2012.

    3. Wensleydale Cheese

      Running OpenVMS in a VM in Linux would be cool !

      Already done.

      Under Windows, OS X, Linux, Raspberry Pi and others, using SimH

      However, that only works for the VAX version of VMS, which at V7.3 hasn't seen any updates since about 2002. The current version is something like V8.4 (on Alpha and Itanic).

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time to dust off my personalised "M1 VAX" registration no retention form.

  8. Xpositor
    Happy

    Say goodbye to vi

    EDT to make a comeback (or my personal preference, EDT/TPU).

    1. M.Zaccone

      Re: Say goodbye to vi

      I loved EVE aka EDT/TPU. Especially the learn functionality.

      To be able to use an OS that doesn't care about what case you use, and that has consistent command arguments. And using task to task processing and proxies to do stuff on other machines. Sometimes tech in the olden days was better!

      1. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: Say goodbye to vi

        "I loved EVE aka EDT/TPU. Especially the learn functionality."

        That, and the big "DO" button on real VT-series terminals.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And of course....

        ...there were file versions - a life saver on more than one occasion.

      3. Terry Cloth
        Unhappy

        My wishes are few

        All I want is DEC's diff---the one that would not only show insertions and deletions, but also figure out (correctly, so far as I ever found) sections that had moved within the file. I can't tell you how taken aback I was when I moved to Unix, and found it didn't have that facility.

        I haven't encountered it in the decades since. Does it exist now somewhere I haven't run into since those halcyon diffing days? The world wonders.

  9. WolfFan Silver badge

    Ah, nostagia

    I remember the Good Old Daze, supporting remote (very remote) users who wanted (God only knows why) to run ALL-IN-1 (yes, all caps, and with a '1' not a 'ONE') using VT220s over serial/dial-up lines from a VaxCluster in the head office's basement. (And don't get me started about that basement.) And, even better, supporting top of the line desktop PCs (386s! 33 and even, be still my heart, 40 glorious megahertz! Unbelievable speed!) attached to said VaxCluster using DECNet.

    I think that I'll pass, thanks.

    1. Chris King Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Ah, nostagia

      Pint, because it sounds like you're not drinking enough to forget ALL-IN-1 either.

    2. The other JJ

      Re: Ah, nostagia

      Generally known in IT circles as ALL-AT-ONCE and for good reason. The SharePoint of the 1980s - massive potential yet mostly too obscure to use. A given system could support half a dozen users of something like Lex-11 for the each user of ALL-IN-1.

      1. Wensleydale Cheese

        Re: Ah, nostagia

        A given system could support half a dozen users of something like Lex-11 for the each user of ALL-IN-1.

        Yikes! Lex-11 takes me back.

        To about 1986 to be precise.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Ah, nostagia

          Absolute

          BLISS-32

          Time for a pint of TEA methinks

    3. Down not across Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Ah, nostagia

      I remember the Good Old Daze, supporting remote (very remote) users who wanted (God only knows why) to run ALL-IN-1 (yes, all caps, and with a '1' not a 'ONE') using VT220s over serial/dial-up lines from a VaxCluster in the head office's basement.

      Bastard!

      Now there is one software package I wish I could forget. Need something stronger than the icon...

  10. Korev Silver badge

    Potentially dumb question: as CPUs are so much more powerful now than when VMS was in its prime; is there any reason why they couldn't just virtualise the chips it used to run on and then run OpenVMS as it is?

    1. M.Zaccone

      You can virtualise OpenVMS already.

      I've had OpenVMS running in a VM on a laptop. Happy days. What I look forward to is repurposing an old laptop or two so I can a have a cluster of my very own. Roll on 2019!

      Now, can they port it to a Pi ?

      1. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: You can virtualise OpenVMS already.

        Now, can they port it to a Pi ?

        Runs pretty well under SIMH on Pi so not much point.

        I really should run it like that rather than the real iron, but it ust wouldn't feel the same.

    2. Richard 26

      It's not such a dumb question. The answer is it really depends whether you what you have now is an ancient VAX from the 80s, or a pile of Itanium blade servers with a few TB of RAM. If the former, you could probably replace it with emulation on a Raspberry Pi, the latter not so much.

      The money, such as it is, is with the people who have ported from VAX to Alpha to Itanium and would prefer to move to x64 next, and forget the whole sorry Itanium business. I wish VSI luck - insourcing a product from India, and rehiring the senior engineers that HP laid off to give it some love deserves it.

  11. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Will there be applications (what DEC used to call "layered software")? Otherwise it'll be a case of writing nifty DCL scripts, editing text files, purging all the old file versions, and, er, that's it.

    I'm guessing that it won't emulate the exotic VAX instruction set, that supported an amazing variety of datatypes, and included features such as polynomial evaluation and vector operations in a single instruction.

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      One of the two PDF's mentioned in the article lists layered products - the ones they've already produced, and what they're planning to produce.

    2. jreagan

      VSI licensed the OS and the layered products. They should be there. It will be native on the hardware.

      There is a Macro-32 compiler that will turn your VAX Macro-32 assembly code into target code. We have one for Alpha and Itanium. We are working on one for x86-64.

  12. channelswimmer

    VMS has been running on x86 ever since M$ bought Cutler and team in to develop Windows NT. Like IBM-1 = HAL, VMS+1 = WNT...

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Pity...

      That MS could not be half-arsed to include a versioning filesystem. After all, they had the F11ACP2 Sources in the 'stuff' they nicked from DEC (and later paid for in $$$).

  13. ewilts

    Some of the utilities are already available for other operating systems:

    DCL: http://www.sector7.com/vxtools/commands/vxdcl.html

    EDT & TPU: http://www.sector7.com/vxtools/editors/

    The holy grail would be to run pre-compiled applications and translated on the fly without having to recompile them. This would be similar to MacOS when it first came to PowerPC (from 68k) and some VAX code on Alpha (via a translation utility).

    I had an application that I compiled on a Vax in the late '80s and ran until 2013, switching from Vax to Alpha and upgraded OS releases, without ever recompiling it. For the last 17 years I ran it, I didn't even have a license to the compiler for the language it was originally written in (Fortran).

  14. cwhii

    DCL .... Scala

    Add Scala to the DCL & MCR list.

  15. s2bu

    Tru64

    On a completely side note... I'd pretty much give my left testicle for HPe to license out Tru64 development to an outside company. I'd LOVE to see Tru64 make a comeback. It's sad that they decided to continue their horribly inferior HP-UX instead.

  16. Christian Berger Silver badge

    So... it looks as if VMS certainly will outlast Windows. :)

  17. John Styles

    We built this city.

    We built this city.

    We built this city on D C L.

  18. Norman Nescio Silver badge

    Datatrieve

    There are attributes of VMS that have not been bettered, and I think most of them have been mentioned, plus one or two that are best left safely buried in the past.

    No-one has mentioned DATATRIEVE, which I have a soft spot for: it was a really good way of spelunking around data files. I miss it. In some ways, it was the VMS equivalent of Apple's Hypercard: remarkably powerful, but underused and misunderstood.

    And the Software Performance Monitor (SPM) which allowed fine-tuning of working sets and walk the fine line between excessive memory use and excessive page-faulting to disk: when you were trying to cram as many users as possible onto the system, it was invaluable. There were other reasons for using it too. And MONITOR and ACCOUNTING.

    I feel like putting on my hat and driving gloves and going for a slow cruise down memory lane. Sigh.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Datatrieve

      [from memory, correction may be required]

      $ DATATRIEVE

      (get coffee)

      DTR>HELP WOMBAT

      [...]

      DTR> HELP ADVANCED WOMBAT

      [...]

      (this one needs a graphical terminal)

      DTR> PLOT WOMBAT

      etc

      Further reading: https://www.ibphoenix.com/resources/documents/history/doc_295

      VMS can legitimately run on a Raspberry Pi under the Simh VAX emulator using the hobbyist VMS licence.

      Enjoy.

  19. Lorry

    Ummmm...

    I used x86 VMS in about 1992 in alpha test - So I guess Digital forgot to mention that to Compaq then.

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