Would You Believe? A VT220 Connected to a Mac Pro

| News

A Tumblr employee with a love for UNIX and the old-time CRT-based, VT220 terminals has succeeded in connecting one to his Mac Pro and making it work perfectly. It was an exercise in tech love and MacGyver wizardry. Here’s the story.

“Jstn” explained: “…in the early days of office computers, it was rare that you would actually have one on your desk. Instead there might be a central mainframe (running Unix) and everyone would have a terminal that connected to it over a long serial cable or modem connection. One computer, many users.”

Inspired by the feeling that those old VT220 terminals were beautiful (they were) and a desire to have one connected to his modern Mac, jstn figured out, step by step, how to work through the hardware and software issues. It didn’t help that, along the way, Apple put up a roadblock in the UNIX getty terminal code in OS X 10.5, but a workaround was found. Here’s the awesome result.

Mac Pro & VT220

Salvaged VT220 connected to a Mac Pro

If Apple has had any lingering doubts about the continuing mystique and attraction of the UNIX side of OS X, this project should put those doubts to rest.

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Comments

Dirt Road

I have a VT220! I seem to remember that I got a login prompt from a beige G3 (running 10.2) way back when. I should try it with my MacBook. Now where’s that old USB to serial adapter?

CityGuide

This made my eyes water. Back in the day, I soldered up my own cable to match my Wyse VT220 to my MD-3 (which replaced my Heath H3!) and spent many happy hours tinkering in my spare bedroom. With two monitors already on my desk there’s no room for more - even a nine-inch beauty like this one.

ednsb

UNIX?????

LOL - VAXs primarily ran VMS until the Alpha Days!!!!

Aftermac

Very cool! I keep one of my Apple IIe’s connected to my G5 for terminal emulation using Modem.MGR, just for fun.

archimedes

UNIX?????

LOL - VAXs primarily ran VMS until the Alpha Days!!!!

Uh, non sequitur? Who said anything about VAX?

Digital’s terminals (e.g. the ubiquitous VT100 and deluxe VT220) were attached to all sorts of machines, from microcomputers to minicomputers to mainframes.

That being said, the VAX 11/780 (or 11/750 if you weren’t as lucky) running BSD Unix (3BSD and 4BSD being developed on and for the VAX) was the gold standard for Unix minicomputers for years, and was extremely popular at universities and elsewhere. Even Apple itself had a VAX running BSD 4.x - applevax, later known (for several years at least) as apple.com.

Thomas Haller

I teared up a bit myself, having learned how to program on a PDP 11/70, running RSX-11, typing on a VT100.

I was even talking to another hardware head the other day, about the protected memory of RSX-11M, and the “auto-versioning” built into the operating system. Every time you saved, it made a new version of the file, and you had to use a “purge” command to et rid of all your old versions.

- Thomas

ctopher

VAX is certainly NOT a non sequitur.

Sure, sure, many people used VT52s, VT100s and VT220s to talk to Unix machines, but they were designed and developed by DEC and DEC had lots of operating systems. There were VTs connected to time sharing DEC systems like TOPS-10 and TOPS-20. Some of the first Medical records software in the 70s used VT series terminals running MUMPS applications on DEC hardware.

There have been thousands of people writing FORTRAN and DECUS-C programs Q-BUS based PDP-11s using a VT100 connected to a serial port on a DLV11J card. They ran, DOS-11, RT-11, RSTS/E. Many flavors of VAX computers in schools and in companies ran various releases of VMS. The VT series of terminals with their escape codes allowed for some pretty cool interfaces back in the day.

So please, VT series tubes were meant for DEC equipment and that means DEC operating systems!

(Although I used to run an extension of RT-11 called TSX-11 with added multi-user services. That way, I could string a serial cable to another room and my neighbor could use the computer and daisy-wheel printer at the same time I was. Geek heaven!)

archimedes

VAX is certainly NOT a non sequitur.

Sure, sure, many people used VT52s, VT100s and VT220s to talk to Unix machines, but they were designed and developed by DEC and DEC had lots of operating systems. There were VTs connected to time sharing DEC systems like TOPS-10 and TOPS-20. Some of the first Medical records software in the 70s used VT series terminals running MUMPS applications on DEC hardware.

There have been thousands of people writing FORTRAN and DECUS-C programs Q-BUS based PDP-11s using a VT100 connected to a serial port on a DLV11J card. They ran, DOS-11, RT-11, RSTS/E.

Did the article mention the PDP-10, PDP-11 or VAX? I don’t think so, although you are correct that DEC made a variety of machines and operating systems, most of which have largely been consigned to the dustbin of history (though HP, which inherited the remains of DEC via Compaq, apparently still provides OpenVMS for their ... Itanium systems - good luck with that), while Unix (for better or worse) is in every iPhone, iPod, iPad and Mac that Apple sells today.

That being said, when you telnet into that VAX running OpenVMS at a computer history museum, you might notice that OS X Lion’s file version feature is reminiscent of VMS…

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