Virtualization Challenge III – Acorn ARM Minix

(This is a guest post from Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)

Recently came across this unfinished port of Minix 1.5 to Acorn Archimedes A310. According to the readme file this is a set of patches that needs to be applied on a standard Minix 1.5.10 code base on a Unix machine. The code then needs to be to transferred to Risc OS machine for compilation. Once complete then you need to manually create boot records and a file system. Sounds like a fun little project.

What I want is pretty standard:

  • A ready to use working disk image that anyone can unpack and run on a modern machine under an emulator of your choice (commercial OK).
  • Aclock binary and screenshot.

First person to deliver these gets a prize of £100 (that is 100 GBP / Pound Sterling). I strongly encourage to coordinate your efforts via comments.

If needed I can supply licenses for commercial Acorn emulators and C compiler for Risc OS, albeit I only have license for a modern ROOL DDE. I hope ancient version is not needed, but this part of the challenge. Note that I can’t just give away the licenses to anyone, I will only share or purchase new licenses for serious contenders on one to one basis.

Let the challenge begin!

WineVDM

This is super cool, building on Takeda Toshiya’s excellent MS-DOS Player, is a fusion of the MS-DOS emulation with portions of Wine to run Win16 applications on Win32 capable OS’s.

Excel 3.0a

Yes, it really can run Excel 3.0a.  I don’t know how much people will want a 27 year old spreadsheet, but here we go!  It’s incredibly buggy, and many Microsoft programs don’t like their accelerators, or menus, more things don’t run than do, but when they do it’s great.

The releases on the github page are quite old, and you’ll really want to bulid this from source.    You will need Visual Studio 2017 to build this, and I used the Community Edition.  While trying to compiling I got this error:

Really it’s no help at all

Performing Custom Build Tools
The system cannot find the path specified.

Well that doesn’t help us at all!

Setting the Tools -> Options -> Build and Run, MSBuild sections to both detailed verbosity revealed:

“C:\Users\neozeed\source\repos\winevdm-master\Release\convspec” “krnl386.exe16.spec” KERNEL > “krnl386.exe16.asm” && “C:\msys32\mingw64\bin\as” –32 -o “krnl386.exe16.obj” “krnl386.exe16.asm”
Performing Custom Build Tools
The system cannot find the path specified.

So it turns out it is using GNU GAS to assemble itself.  So I just copied in an ‘as.exe’ from another MinGW install I have lying around.

c:\msys32\mingw64\bin\as.exe –version
GNU assembler 2.17.50 20060824

So it doesn’t even have to be a hyper modern version, as you can see with the –32 we are building 32bit based stuff anyways.

And with that all done we have a release build.

F2c Dungeon

I had no luck with Sim City, but Sim Life & Sim Earth load at least, but not being able to use the menus means you can’t really use them.  Microsoft Word 1.1 won’t load at all, while Word 2.0 will load but again no menus, and it’s unable to register enough OLE to open documents so it’s not very useful again.  Although my ancient QuickC for Windows F2c port of Dungeon, works okay, although QuickC for Windows itself does not currently run.

WinHelp 3.00

Another great thing is that you can run WinHelp for all your ancient documenation fixes!  Also MS Write from the ancient days of Windows 3.0/3.1 works as well

Write

You can download my binary build here: WineVDM_2018_07_16.7z.  It’s almost a given that you will need the Visual C++ 2017 runtime.

A week with the Microsoft Lumia 950

Lumia 950

I’m a sucker for old / obsolete junk.  I was looking through an electronic market, and was near some used cellphone vendors and I saw this little gem, the Microsoft (Nokia)  Lumia 950.  I used to have a Windows 8 phone back in 2013, I picked it up in China on my accidental trip, the Huawei Ascend W1, which Huawei quickly dropped and distanced itself from Microsoft as a sign of the impending failure of Windows Phone.  It was a barely serviceable phone, the music subscription service would frequently corrupt downloaded audio tracks constantly requiring me to reset the phone, and re-download over and over.  Other than being part of the launch of the NT kernel on a phone it really wasn’t that great of an experience, but it was a budget phone so my expectations were pretty low.

So I found this 950 for $400 Hong Kong, or about $50 USD.  So yeah I thought it’d be a fun toy to play with, even though Microsoft had finally conceded defeat in the mobile space and pulled further development of Windows 10 based Windows Phone platform.  Again this isn’t too surprising, Android simply dominates the world outside of the USA/Western Europe, while Apple IOS is still a profitable and comfortable #2 world wide.  There simply is no room for a #3 mobile platform.

So why would I even care about this obsolete phone? Simple it’s the greatest feature never really touted or pushed, It’s simply called Continuum.  Simply put, docking the phone into a USB + Power + HDMI dock allows the phone to transform into a (limited) desktop.

Lumia 950 with Continuum

I know for most people it’d be “just get a real computer” but I have to say that this is one of those opportunities blown things in the fun world of corporate IT.  You see many of us ‘desktop’ users have been reduced to glorified mainframe users, where our desktops are actually just access ports into products like VMWare VDI, where we no longer have VPN access in this brave new world, and on our local machines all we have if Microsoft Office, all 3rd party installations are blocked by GPOs.  And this is where a corporate phone like the HP x3, Microsoft 950/950xl simply shines, as now we can dock and have that VDI terminal, we still can run office from the phone, and better we can unplug and take the phone with us on the go.  I have no doubt that this was instead targeted to executive users, numbering in the tens instead of the entire back office in the tens of thousands.

Well ok that’s all cool, but how does it function as a phone?  I’ve taken call on it, and yeah it was OK.  Looking at the hardware specs from AnTuTu gives you some idea of the class of hardware for this vintage October 2015 handset.

Lumia 950 Specs

And how does it hold up?  Well as luck has it I managed to scrounge up some other models, and put the numbers together:

From left to right, the Samsung Galaxy S8+, The Microsoft Lumia 950, The Nokia Lumia 1520, and a Microsoft Lumia 535.

Three years is a LONG time in the cellphone market, and comparing a high end model to a mid range at best is just not fare, although if anything it really goes to show how 3D performance has picked up.   One fun thing is that since the AnTuTu benchmark is a Windows Universal application I can run it on my vintage 2010 MacPro and see how it compares!

And in this case a circa 2010 Xeon with a Nvidia 1030 crushes cellphones.  Even though it weighs significantly more.

And then there is the apps.  And the complete lack of.  Since I go between Hong Kong & China the lack of WeChat makes Windows Phone 100% useless and reduces me to a feature phone with a nice camera.  Obviously Microsoft Office works nice on here, but it also runs on Android & IOS just as well.  I used it for work, and it was okay for me, but the lack of anything fun besides Minecraft was well.. sad.

There was an Uber application, however it’s been terminated, and instead redirects you to use a web page instead.  I was lucky in that I already knew where I was, and where I wanted to go, but the web interface to Uber is poor at best.  Looking around the map, or trying to pick locations on the web interface is just an all around terrible experence.

Naturally there are NO Google applications for the Windows Phone.  So you can only view YouTube via Edge, which actually works surprisingly well.  Even on a lowly 535 that really was only hampered by the tiny screen.  Speaking of Google the Mail/Outlook program on the phone reads Gmail just fine.

Another must have application for me is Google translate, which Microsoft certainly had no answer back in 2013, however there is now Microsoft Translator however it does NOT currently support OCR of Asian languages.  Which is a really big disapointment as the quality of text translations felt better with the Microsoft app.  That said, it is now available for Android and IOS, which goes to show that Microsoft really has no choice but to fully commit to abandoning their own platform.

There is one thing to be said about having next to no applications which is it is very free of distractions, and gave me more moments to looking around at the world, instead of staring into a tiny screen.  For those who care, here are some pictures from the 950.

It’s always interesting when a major player falters and misses out on a new platform setting themselves up for obsolescence.  And doubling down by not chasing the business market harder instead being happy to fade into irrelevance.  Microsoft has done it’s best to take the success of crushing most midrange to small range UNIX with Windows NT, but the lawsuits against Linux have in the long term set them up to fail on their own island.  Just as they have lost the mindset of generations of developers and even with their purchase of github in an attempt to stay relevent will be any indication if they really are going to long term exit the desktop/server market and become a cloud services company first, and a language developer second.

The desktop is dead, long live mobile.

Delivering WordPress in 7KB

I saw this over on Hacker News, and thought that trying out the susty theme from sustywp.com might be worth trying.

So, besides looking very different let me know how you think about the feel?

I’m just a little bummed out that this removes the Ultima banners.  On the other hand it sure does render PDQ.  But I don’t like how the colours clash, and I don’t see any user place to set the font colour or even what the highlights & link colours will be.

So in all likelyhood I’ll be reverting this, but in the meantime, here we are.

Sim Life for Windows

Sim Life on Crossover for OS X

Continuing in my eventual goal to get all the Maxis games (Sim City, Sim Earth) for Windows 3.0 I just acquired Sim Life.

Although the box that I have is the ‘Classics’ version, it actually does support Windows 3.0 as specified on the box.  The requirements were again massive for the era, but pitiful for today requiring an 80386 processor, and 4MB of RAM, and a VGA display!

Unlike Sim City, the UI in Sim Life prevents you from moving MID child windows under the title bar, making playing on modern machines much more tolerable.  My copy arrived with 3 low density 3 1/2″ diskettes, and a 204 page manual, making for a very hefty learning curve, along with a more involved experience then something casual, say Spore.

There is no doubt about how there is a great deal of overlap between Sim Earth and Sim Life, although the timescale is certainly more geared to life, unlike Sim Earth’s geological timescale, and even with these 3 programs it certainly feels like the save files should have been able to be transfered at some point, that the genesis of Spore is here with moving from geological to biological then to human lifetime scales.  Although with so many things to change and get involved in, I really have to wonder if dumbing down Spore was the ‘right thing’ to do, to make it more accessible, however there is no doubt that the space portion of Spore was terrible with only a single ship to command, which made growing an empire of any size once the Grox has been encountered impossible.

Having a modern display does make the sense of the planet feel laughably small, but it’s a game, not a real life simulation, and as such expected to execute on 16Mhz machines.  That said running on Crossover (Wine) on my Xeon it is incredibly snappy.  One nice touch is that Sim Life is able to detect sound properly and it’ll run silently on Windows 3.0, but with 3.1 with configured audio & MIDI drivers, it’ll play (annoying) sounds, and the occasional MIDI track.

The included catalogue for this game didn’t have any prices so I don’t know what the retail price was at the time.  And I have to admit, short of collecting old games for Windows 3.0 there is probably little value here compared to the far more relatable Sim City for Windows.

VGA display

Also it just goes to say that although it scales nicer for the UI on a VGA display, comparing my Apple Cinema display to VGA really makes for a claustrophobic experience.

Unless you are a diehard fan, I’d say that you’d get more out of the much flawed spore.  Although if you want to see how incredibly more detailed the older games were, you’ll certainly love this one!

BBC releases its computer history archive

I thought it was somewhat worth mentioning that the BBC was releasing their old Computer Literacy Project Archive.  Although they for some reason never released any of their materials to the colonies and or territories, so although I’ve never seen any of this stuff, I’m sure others know far more about it.

I’m kind of surprised they didn’t keep this kind of thing up, although I guess after David Braben made it a priority again, and the Raspberry Pi was born, completing the cycle of the birth of Elite!

So I picked up a couple Super Impulse Tiny Arcade machines

Warm glow of the LCD panel.

What is this, an arcade for ants?

I saw these at a local Toys R Us, and picked a few up.  They were selling for $200 HKD which is about $25 USD.  They are SUPER tiny, and yet very cool to actually play with.  They feature a single game on each cab, and luckily there is no coin slot, just a player 1 button.   As a bonus the marque does light up, which is why I wanted to do a dark/night picture of the machine.

The games have been modified for what I’d assume is an ARM SOC, and game play is somewhat easier.  For anyone looking for the exact arcade expedience, they will be no doubt disappointed as many things like sprite animations are simply lacking in this version.

That said the controls are surprisingly very responsive, and it’s almost a treat to play, except of course that the screen is so incredibly small, the sound is faint, and it’s not hard to have your thumb in the way obscuring things.

It’s a neat novelty item, but it’s no substitute for a nice USB arcade stick & a copy of MAME, or the actual PCB & a JAMMA harness.

Open Quartz

While stumbling around, I found Open Quartz, which is to Quake as FreeDooM is to DooM, or for those who don’t know it is free assets allowing a fully redistributed game.  Although the bundled levels are actually kind of reminiscent of Q3 Arena, one of the great abilities of Quake 1 was inline total game conversions like Team Fortress.  Yes it started as a Quake mod.

So I downloaded the Open Quartz binary pak’s and went to do a quick comparison of the two:

ctf with oq assets
ctf with id assets

I should do an update for QWDOS to allow multiple clients at once for OS’s that’ll support multitasking (Windows) where you can bind the client to different ports to allow more than one to work at a time.  The line is:

NET_Init (PORT_CLIENT);

Although I guess the next best thing is to change the NET_Init code to start with the default port as a base, and if it can’t bind to it, then just increment until you get a winner.

And yes, that is the Quake World for MS-DOS port running on Windows.  I built it with Visual C++ 5.0, although using a newer linker that I pulled from masm32.com, which would work with the newer libs, well all except the ogg vorbis stuff, so I just disabled it, as I just wanted to test, and didn’t care too much about music.

So I guess the next thing to do is bundle it all together into something more convenient to the end user.