It is crazy and fascinating to me that VMS still has substantial enough install bases to justify roadmaps like this.
I really wish it was something you could actually download and play with. I’m not aware of any way to do that though.
EDIT: I stand corrected - if you hunt around a bit, there’s instructions: https://sourceforge.net/p/vms-ports/wiki/VMSInstallation/
There’s the OpenVMS Hobbyist program - all you have to do is sign up as a member of your local DECUS chapter (free) and once you have a membership number, request a license. Licenses are only valid for a year but they’re renewable. They’ll also send you the (frequently rotated) login details for the ftp server so you can download the current releases for VAX, Alpha and Itanium.
I believe the program will be continued by VMS Software and will include the x86_64 port. That’s still some way away from GA though.
HP killed it far as I can tell because they had two competing lines: VMS clusters and NonStop. Yet, they said before that it was one of most profitable divisions. Probably due to high prices plus them not investing much in maintenance. You’d expect a large customer base if it was a large profit center. On top of it, the customers themselves in surveys said it was rock-solid platform that never gave them headaches. Plenty loyalty.
So they killed it for who kniws what reason. This company revived it. It’s now one of most interesting legacy, porting efforts.
Hanging out for x86-64. I don’t have old Alphas or VAXen lying around.
Alpha might (can’t overemphasize might) still be worth buying if you do concurrent or predictable software esp as hobby. Aside from relatively-simple RISC, the reason would be PALcode. That’s like doing microcode-level stuff with plain assembly language. One example is making arbitrary collections of instructions atomic by encoding them as a single instruction in PALcode. You also get the benefit they run while everything is still in cache and all. Intel added it to Itanium but I don’t know if it’s user-facing. For safety/security, you could do stuff with checks built-in or bring a HLL closer to the metal.
It was really neat. The boxes were also pretty reliable. Too bad they died off until we had just a few companies controlling a few ecosystems.
Don’t forget Itanium - you can pick up a pretty decent system on eBay for not much - look for an HP rx2600/2620 or the workstation version, the HP zx 6000.
Of course, there’s always SIMH - there are many SIMH/OpenVMS/VAX emulation guides online, eg, this one. OpenVMS support for the VAX ended with version 7.3 though.
For us newcomers. what so great about VMS? What where it’s competitors, what differentiated them?
It was incredibly reliable with better security profile than early competition as well. Replying about UNIX alternatives, I gave a brief description of it here along with a lot of other systems. Compaq had a whitepaper summarizing its high-availability features. It had clustering in the 1980’s at whole system level, distributed lock manager with deadlock detection, versioning on its filesystem, journaling on it, 64-bit, instance virtualization with hardware access, more fine-grained privileges for apps, metering for resources on apps, and (big one) rolling upgrades of your clusters across CPU architectures where you get no downtime.
Individual boxes often ran for years with cluster record being a railway for 17 years. Whereas, these Linux based online services seemed to have quite a bit of outages that VMS might have prevented. It still outperformed rest when HP blew up a datacenter. That proved out during 9/11 for one bank where interestingly the Alpha hardware was only thing that didn’t crash, too. Here’s a testimonials page that shows what VMS admins thought of it. More than one has claimed to forget how to reboot it or lost a pizza box server running a critical app which was only thing they never had to fix on their network. They also rarely got hacked due to less stuff running by default, better privileges than OS’s of that time, and less people attacking it.
So, I hope that gives you a nice picture of why people cared about it so much or put up with its high licensing. Due to bad management at DEC & Bill Gates’ vision, Bill poached the VMS lead plus his core team to clone it into a desktop and server OS with improvements. That was Windows NT. HP NonStop and IBM AS/400 are main competitors still around from its era which are both also highly, highly reliable. Nobody at my business has ever seen the AS/400 down unplanned even working overnight but the other stuff screws up periodically.