SoftWindows on OpenVMS

(This is a guest post by Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)

I like exploring vintage hypervisors and emulators. In the past I did a whole series on Merge, VP/IX and others. This time I wanted to take look at something a little more exotic – SoftWindows on Alpha OpenVMS. I have in fact installed it a while back but I could never get it properly licensed. I looked everywhere, asked everyone and of course no one had a license pack for this. Fortunately there are two license generators for OpenVMS, pakgen and lmfgen. But how do you find out what is the exact product code and vendor? VMS provides a license debug facility:

$ reply/enable=license
$ define/sys/exec lmf$display_opcom_message true

Then, when starting an app, you will get an opcom log message with all the required product name, vendor, etc. The rest is easy. For the lazy, here is a complete license pack for SoftWindows:

        /ISSUER=DEC -
        /PRODUCER=DEC -
        /UNITS=0 -

Here is a screenshot for your viewing pleasure!

SoftWindows on OpenVMS Alpha

The install comes with it’s own version of Windows 3.1 plus some additional tools and apps, typical for Insignia products. You can map drives to folders, ports COM and LPT, etc. There are a variety of video modes – Hercules, CGA, EGA and VGA, even 256 colors. The performance is quite decent, however the CPU is pegged at 100%, as you can see in the system monitor. There is a CPU idle detection tool, however it doesn’t seem to work very well. I suspect that perhaps this may be to do with much never OpenVMS version. The SoftWindows code has been released in 1994 and not been updated since.

How do you install and run this thing? There is a full installation guide, however since this is just a PCSI file, you can simply use product install:

$ unzip
$ product install *

To start it you cast these magic spells:

$ @sys$sysroot:[sysmgr]softwin$
$ softwin

Since SoftWindows is essentially SoftPC you can run pure DOS mode. I will do a follow up on this and explore some DOS games.

You can find all the files on

From a hindsight it’s ironic how roles have reversed in 30 years. Back then MS-DOS / Windows was a toy OS running on a toy “personal” computer emulated in a little window on a “real” computer (DEC Alpha). Right now you run OpenVMS as a guest VM on a Windows hypervisor.

Have fun with virtualization!

OpenVMS x86 hobbyist finally here!

(This is a guest post by Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)

After years of waiting, VMS Software finally released OpenVMS x86 for hobbyist use. Luckily I was able to download the install media and a hobbyist license pack from the Service Platform portal. So lets have some fun with virtualization!

OpenVMS x86 has pretty strict hardware requirements. It only works as a VM (no physical hardware support). It wants a recent CPU. The VM must have EFI BIOS and E1000 NIC. As for storage controller – both HDD and CDROM must be on the same SATA controller.

The ISO image boots to a fancy new loader screen:

OpenVMS x86 on VMware ESXi

However as cute as it looks, don’t have your hopes up for a real GUI. That’s as far as it goes:

Once the OS boots up, it switches to a serial console for the rest of installation and operation. Being a VM and having no access to physical serial port, I hooked it up via named pipe to another VM’s serial port.

Just for fun let’s use a recent build of C-Kermit by David Goodwin!

The installation is pretty straightforward. I picked all the defaults and off you go.

The system installs under couple of minutes. A boot takes just couple of seconds and it’s extremely fast end responsive. This is somewhat expected as the VMS dates back to 1977 and hasn’t grown in bloat much like more “modern” OSes.

One of first things to do after installation, is to register the license packs and configure TCP/IP.

For license pack I added the “BOE” pak by hand and transferred the rest as a `.com` file after TCP/IP was setup.

To configure IP you simply run @sys$manager:tcpip$config and go through the steps. Networking doesn’t start by default, so you need to edit sys$ file and uncomment line saying @sys$startup:tcpip$ After that you should be able to telnet to the VM at every boot. Also note that OpenVMS comes with some unix commands for the tcpip subsystem, you can find them in help under TCPIP_Services -> UNIX_Commands

You can setup auto boot in the graphical console by typing “auto boot”, this way you never have to open the graphical console to type boot.

Browsing through software packages on the VMS service portal you can find a C compiler, Fortran, as well as some typical OSS packages like OpenSSH, SSL, Samba, Git and many more.

Apparently there also is a WebUI for VMS?

I’m hoping that in future OpenVMS will be available on some public clouds like AWS, Azure and GCP. This would open some interesting possibilities.

I’m going to go and port some apps to x86 VMS!

Ready to run OpenVMS VM – Student Kit from VSI

(This is a guest post by Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)

I was recently registering a new OpenVMS Community License. In the process I learned that there is a ready to run, pre-installed and pre-configured VM with OpenVMS 8.4. Completely free for non-commercial purposes. You don’t even need to register or leave your details (WOW). Just download and run! Thank you VSI!

The student kit runs only on Windows as contains FreeAXP emulator. However it’s super easy to download, install and run.

VSI OpenVMS Student Kit

I’m hoping that in near future once x86 OpenVMS port is ready there will be images for x64 hypervisors like VMware, VirtualBox, Hyper-v and QEMU/KVM hopefully.