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OpenVMS Hobbyist Program | VAX Systems Forums | VAX Software Forum
Author Unix on A DEC Vax?

Posts: 1
Joined: 15.01.13
Posted on January 16 2013 05:47
I just picked up a DEC Vaxstation 90 with a built in CDROM and an auxiliary SCSI storage module with tape drive. I believe it is functional although I cannot test it yet since I still do not have a working terminal or monitor. I can get a VT-520 terminal and keyboard and will also try to resurrect a separate now defunct Radius monitor with the BNC connectors and I believe the ability to Sync on Green (somebody unfortunately tried to convert that monitor to a standard VGA connection and butchered it in the process). I am fairly comfortable with Linux and have played around a little with FreeBSD and Solaris in the past. I have never used VMS in the past. This is the first time I am working with a Vax computer.

I have a few questions:

Which Unix version to install on the Vax? Original UC Berkeley BSD Unix? OpenBSD? NetBSD? Ultrix if I can get a legal copy? AT&T Unix? For emotional reasons I may prefer to install some version of the original UC Berkeley BSD (1980s Bill Joy/Marshall Kirk McKusick Era), but will go with whichever is easier to install, the machine is newer (production started 1991) than the original BSD Unix versions. I would call it nostalgia except I never did use the original BSD Unix. Another consideration would be some version of AT&T Unix if it will run.

Is there a version of FreeBSD for the Vax?

If there is a functional VMS install on the machine's 4 hard drives (2 each in the machine and the auxilliary SCSI storage module), is there a way to dual boot between Unix and VMS?

I presume that I can get some verison of Emacs running on this system, it does not have to be recent. While Vi may be more historically correct on this machine I much prefer emacs.

Any suggestions or ideas?

My cell phone probably has significantly more computing power and far more memory and storage than this "minicomputer", I am approaching this as a hobbyist. I hope to use the system to explore BSD Unix (and possibly AT&T Unix) further and do some C programming on it. I anticipate to be working purely from the command line. I may explore VMS also at some point.
Author RE: Unix on A DEC Vax?
John Manger

User Avatar

Posts: 53
Location: nr Heathrow, Middlesex, UK
Joined: 18.03.10
Posted on January 22 2013 09:21
My 2d/2c would be that NetBSD seems to be the most popular of the *BSD variants ported to VAX. Some of the oldest NetBSD/VAX releases get quite close to real 'old' BSD....

On the other hand, some people classify DEC's Ultrix as 'abandonware', and given the number of places it can be found on the 'net, I suspect the powers at HP probably feel the same too. The SIMH community often discuss Ultrix on SIMH/VAX, as do some of the old hardware and old Un*x enthusiast sites and forums, so they are good places to start looking for advice and so on.

John M
Author RE: Unix on A DEC Vax?

Posts: 38
Location: Windermere, UK
Joined: 16.05.07
Posted on March 26 2013 11:37
If this is a VAXstation 4000/90 then it is too modern for Ultrix. NetBSD would appear to be your best bet although the machine is also supported under OpenBSD. There was rudimentary graphics support in OpenBSD but I'm not sure how usable it ever became. Be prepared for 'slow' however, you might be better off with an older distribution - certainly these BSD variants are nowhere near as quick on VAXen as VAX/VMS, but your milage may be better with a more appropriate vintage.

Good luck and please report back any successes!
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