It’s 1995 and I’ve been nearly two years in the professional workspace. OS/2 is the dominant workstation product, Netware servers rule the world, and the year of the Linux desktop is going to happen any moment now. If you weren’t running OS/2, you were probably running Windows 3.1, only very few people were using that Linux thing. What would have been the prefect OS at the time would have been NT with a competent POSIX subsystem, but since we were denied that, enter Hiroshi Oota with BSD on Windows.
It was a late night browsing yahoo auctions Japan as one does, laughing at the absurd Famicom/Super Famicom games, and I went ahead and looked for BSD CD-ROMS, where I first came across BSD on Windows. And then I’d forgotten about it and went to work on some Darwin projects.
So what is it? It’s not quite BSD, its a bunch of 16bit DLL’s that broke the kernel down into subsystems, that each rely on winmem32.dll to give access to flat/32bit address space. BSD on Windows (BOW) being a hybrid 16/32bit app is originally for Windows 3.1, with the later 1.5 update for Windows 95, which includes support for long filenames. I’m not sure if it’ll run on Windows NT or OS/2, as I don’t think
So what do you get?
The key media contents are the install floppy and the CD-ROM. Yes the setup program IS only on the floppy. Hope you get that disk image. I’m unsure what the manual is like, other than of course it is in Japanese.
It’s very much a single user mode BSD like environment complete with vi/gcc/csh/perl just to name a few. I’ve been able to test job control, and building some simple programs like Hack 1.03. I found a few issues however.
I haven’t tested enough with FreeBSD 1/2 but I can verify that from my ‘Ancient Linux on Windows‘ packages, the object format is the same, which is that early era when everything was a.out, although all different the reliance on GNU GAS & LD did make the object format the same. And it was nice to compile a hello world from my Linux cross compiler, link it on BOW, and get a running executable.
The memory is weird, in that you can add hundreds of megabytes to Windows and BOW will always run exhausted. In the bow.ini file you can set the heap for each program, and I found out from some silly trial and error that the maximum heap you can effectively give is 13 megabytes. It seems that winmem32 has a single chunk of memory where all processes run out of, hence the sub 16mb ram zone. Maybe there is a way to allocate it, but I’m unsure, maybe it’s in the book. CC1 was frequently having issues, so setting it’s heap to 13M sure helped, the linker ‘ld’ of course was running out of memory as well so setting it to 8M got me linking.
Filenames, especially on Windows 3.1 are a huge problem. All the LFN TSR’s I tried to load just resulted in a full crash. I had to point the linker to the CD-ROM live filesystem, which maybe would be tedious on a real machine, but under emulation it’s fine.
BOW does NOT like Qemu. At all. It won’t under otvdm either. I suspect NT is a no go but I haven’t tried. Oddly enough it’s not a timing issue, as it does run under VMware. There is an advantage to running it under Windows 95, is that it supports long filenames. 86Box works as well, I even was using the Pentium II Xeon at 400Mhz and that ran fine.
Probably the most annoying and silly thing is that the GCC C compiler doesn’t have C++ style comments turned on. Not being able to use ‘//’ is quite annoying.
Hack ran fine, which was a pleasant surprise!.
Had I known about this, it would have been an incredible bridge product. Not to mention cross compiling to even Win32, or Linux. Not to mention at the time being able to run BSD with no real pain, just install and go
There is generic TCP/IP Winsock support in BOW 1.5 as it simply calls winsock. This also includes the ability to run daemons, however limitations in BOW are quickly exposed, such as missing setuid/setgid sno there is no ability to impersonate lower privileged users. MMAP stuff also doesn’t seem to work, although I was able to build a super simple port of Apache 1.3.1 to BSD on Windows (BOW).
While BOW may appear to be very BSD like, there is a lack of a the mmap Apache needs, along with user mapping & impersonation. I ended up using the EMX – OS/2 system code, since it’s very POSIX like without relying on the Unix like OS actually working.
I’ve been able to serve pages to myself, however BOW crashing out many emulators and hypervisors kind of stops me from putting it on the internet. BOW enthusiasts can download it from archive.org
Today, there is really no point to BOW, it’s an interesting oddity, but back in the day, for a jr network administrator being able to run the Unix version of the snmp tools, even if it’s only client side would have been great. If tftpd could be built to run this would have been beyond amazing, as you not only get BSD, but full Windows apps at the same time, much like MachTen.
It’s a shame I never knew this was a thing, I certainly would have been evangelizing BOW! Who knows what other treasures are in the parallel societies of Japan/Asia/Europe?