Parallels 6: Amazing Stories of Virtualization!

Igor! Hand me that ODS-2 formatted CD.

I have mentioned that I am a fan of virtualization. This week, armed with the new stable Parallels Desktop 6, I pushed virtualization on my 3 year old MacBook Pro to the point of silliness.

My need was to run legacy software from a Digital Equipment Corporation AlphaServer OpenVMS OS system. Since Digital Equipment no longer exists and AlphaServers have been in phase out at HP since it acquired Digital Equipment as part of Compaq Computer in 2002, a common solution is to buy a used AlphaServer on eBay and hope for the best. This was my initial approach as well. However, since my need is only temporary, I really don’t want the hassle of buying a system only to resell it or have an AlphaServer as part of my personal garage storage collection.
I decided to follow a different approach and see if virtualization could offer a solution. After a few days of research on the Internet, I found two sources of assistance. The first source is a hardware system emulator for Windows called FreeAXP from Migration Specialties. FreeAXP is an AlphaServer ES400 system emulator available as a free download.

The second source is the VMS software available from the OpenVMShobbyist.org group. OpenVMShobbyist.org offers members (membership free) an Alpha software developer kit CD that consists of OpenVMS OS 8.3, C++ compiler and other software developer tools, all for the low low price of $30. As with all patched together software projects, the biggest cost was the wait time, over a month after ordering to acquire all the materials.

Crazy, am I? We’ll see whether I’m crazy or not. Young Frankenstein 1974.

As in Young Frankenstein, I experienced multiple gotchas in my preparations including an “Abby Normal” moment with a corrupted OpenVMS OS file. With CDs in hand, a fully backed-up MacBook Pro and sage advice from OpenVMSHobbyist user group, I proceeded with my experiment. I started Parallels Desktop 6 and my Windows 7 64-bit virtual machine. I then installed FreeAXP on my Windows 7 virtual machine. The install was quick and easy. Within an hour I had the three chevron control prompt (>>>) indicating that a virtual Digital Equipment ES400 AlphaServer running DEC Alpha CPU 64-bit code was mine! With a working AlphaServer, I could then load the OpenVMS OS from the ODS-2 formatted CD that was standard for AlphaServers of lore.

After multiple missteps in creating and initializing virtual hard drives drives, I proceeded to install the OpenVMS 8.3 OS and software developer environment on my virtual AlphaServer. I downloaded the 318 page OpenVMS Installation Manual from HP, turned to the “simple” 33 page step by step installation chapter and proceeded forth with my task. Yes! LIIIIFFFEEE!!! GIVE MY CREATION LIFFEEE! Like a Frankenstein monster heartbeat, I was rewarded with a message appearing in the control panel window “Welcome to OpenVMS(TM) Alpha Operating System, Version V8.3” followed by the “Username:” login prompt. I have a working Digital Equipment ES400 AlphaServer OpenVMS programming environment. Two layers of virtual machine are alive and running on my portable MacBook Pro.

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