(please note that this is a guest post from Tenox)


I’ve been hunting for a complete INTERACTIVE UNIX System for past 12 years or so. While I had the basic set of it for a good bit of time, no one seem to have have the real stuff – Looking Glass graphical environment. In November I got my hands on a box containing a massive set of 50 5.25″ floppy disks. There is the first time you can look on the GUI:

Through the looking glass..

The fun really begins with this page:
As of 2010 it has an Oracle logo and tells about an operating system by Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) for which support ended just 4 years earlier. In reality the OS was rather little known to the general population.


First introduced by Kodak in 1985 was mostly used for specialized applications. Later Sun bought it to help porting Solaris to x86 platform. Enough of history.

Version 3.0 presented here unfortunately only works on Bochs 2.4.2. There are some issues with the IDE/ATA controller that make it boot up only every second time while clicking on reset button. Version 4.x has issues partitioning disks under VMware but I’m sure this can be worked around.

The installation is straight forward once you have correct settings for the emulator (bochsrc.bxrc included). With this blog post included is a fully working, ready installed system, just double click run.bat. If it hangs, click on the Reset button. The root password is root. To shutdown the system cleanly type “init 0”, but this must be done from the text mode console.

I’ve spent a bit of time trying to bring it to a higher resolution but so far I only managed 800×600. You have a number of graphics drivers available under the “xconfig” program. One of the most curious features of Looking Glass are the icons. Some of them ROTFLMAO.


The next task will be to install and configure networking. But this is for another post.


Unfortunately the floppy disk is all but unreadable.

52 thoughts on “Fun with INTERACTIVE UNIX

  1. Is there a way to get this running using Qemu[Q for OS X]. I've compiled Bochs under OS X but I can't because of a "bus Error" in Bochs under OS X.

    PS Sorry for my bad English

  2. hi,

    i'm trying to boot this on a thinkpad t42 (not in an emulator) from grub (chainloder –force +1) and all i can get is an error message that says 'PCI parity error on bus/device/function 00F0h".

    now i'm not expecting you solving my problems, just tell me if you've tried it and it's not impossible. it'd be really cool to load this ancient SysV version from grub. oh, and don't ask why, i'm just a sucker for these things. :))


  3. oh, by the way, i've compiled bochs on linux with cirrus support, but there's a strange and rather annoying bug which is exclusive to the linux version: anytime i press shift, it messes up the terminal and from then on everything is upper case. even mouseclicks don't work in X. it's like if the shift key is 'stuck'. did you have this problem?

    anyway, thanks for sharing this, i'll try to get around the bugs and see if i can get networking running.

  4. Sorry, I kind of gave up on linux as a desktop somewhere around 1996 – 1997…

    It stemmed from the modules, eth0, and X11… Things I just can't stand…. Oh and all the libc's!

  5. hey, thanks for responding. i know what you mean, linux sucked royally before 2003-4. i'm not a linux advocate or anything, but if you're willing to try again, nowadays is probably a good time.

    anyway, i've fixed the issue, so to anyone having weird keyboard problems: turn off any keyboard mapping customisations and switch the layout to us. then it'll work fine.

    getting networking is really a pain, especially in bochs. i'm trying to get it working under qemu, i'll report back here.

  6. If anybody else is searching, I have a complete set of disks and manuals for Interactive Unix stashed away in a closet.

  7. @Deathgrip: which version? are they still working? are you willing to dd+scan them? or maybe sell the whole set?

  8. @neozeed: could you please reupload this? i’ve fscked up the boot image beyond fsck (pun intended) and don’t have the original zip.

  9. I’d second bamdad. Can you please reupload this? I missed the time to download this one.

    Please, please, pretty please! With cherry on top!


  10. Thanks for sharing this. I used Interactive UNIX in the early 1990s when dozens of us in my area set up a UUCP calling tree to exchange mail and Netnews with the rest of the world. We had a mix of Amigas, AT&T UNIX PCs (7300/3B1), and Intel boxes (mostly i386s, though I think the rich guys had i486s) running Interactive, all calling each other hourly.

    I picked up my copy of Interactive at Weird Stuff Warehouse in the Bay Area. All the white boxes filled my shopping cart. Shortly thereafter, Linux grew up enough to use and I switched to that and have been running it ever since. Still, it’s good to see Interactive preserved and not forgotten. It has a place in the history of UNIX on desktop hardware.

    • I’m lurking around Weird Stuff every so often. Too bad the most interesting stuff is behind the Staff Only sign…

      BTW what version of Interactive Unix did you pick there? I’m looking for 4.1 Workstation which included the Looking Glass environment.

    • I should probably find a ‘random’ button so you can jump to random pages.. Hopefully I’ve got tonnes of stuff on here by now…!

      • At least, not all hope is lost. For those who wants to keep Interactive Unix, I found an older version, 2.2, surfacing on*nix/AT&T%20unix%20-%20sys%20v/
        User: guest Pass: guest

        This is the only version of interactive unix with looking glass desktop in installation media form. If you want to have a look, you are certainly welcome to do so. However, there are some drawbacks as I tried to get it to work; be aware that you need to download all of the archives “AT&T Unix 2.2 [3.2].rar, AT&T Unix 2.2 [3.2].r00 and AT&T Unix 2.2 [3.2].r01” You need teledisk to write them onto floppies, or you can put it in a dos vm, and convert from there because teledisk is a dos program. Installing X11 with looking glass worked ok. However, starting them failed. This is as far as I got:

        cd /usr/bin/X11
        startx: xinit: not found.

        Executing ./X gets me a blank screen
        Executing ./xdm acts like hiccups: it changes resolutions and then gets me back to the command line.

        Maybe you could help me out with the issue? If you want the image installed in bochs, please tell me so I can upload it.

  11. hi can anyone help me with installing interactive on an ide disk. my problem is that after booting theres always message “LIL-”
    somehow bootloader doesnt work – but some years ago this worked
    maybe theres someone with experience.

    • that i have already done, but then there appears the dos message that theres no operating system present. is there a possibility to copy mbr from another disk to the new , because i have an existing disc which boots to interactive,but stops then with fsck – without possibility to cancel fsck.

  12. if you are interested – i copied mbr from old disc and put it on new disk. system now working – its still a productive system.

  13. I’ve got a set of 30 original floppy disks (3.5”) with version 4.1. I tried several times over the last couple of years to get it running in a VM (VMWare or VirtualBox), but always failed. Has anybody succeeded in doing this?

    • try qemu, it has a lot more options when it comes to legacy emulation. maybe even bochs, if it can run aix, it should be able to run ineractive unix as well.

      btw, is there any chance you can be convinced to make the images available somewhere? pretty please? : ))

  14. I don’t think I ever got it up on VMware. VirtualBox may be easier. I would suggest to contact Michal Necasek of os2museum. He has a high success rate of patching things to run in Vbox.

  15. BINGO!
    I have found a method to avoid ide bug,is simple..using scsi controller!
    On virtualbox use scsi controller buslogic,and use drivers floppy

  16. solution found,
    Here’s a fast guide
    1)Use Virtualbox
    2)Create a old machine(freebsd 32bit),controller scsi buslogic,disk 900mb,and floppy controller
    3)Insert boot floppy image,boot,insert serial and when ask insert loadable drivers and load driver scsi 6,buslogic
    4)select on menu
    analysis surface=no
    5)install system
    6)Important before reboot install kernel config diskettes
    (again) loadable drivers,select buslogic
    and reconfigure kernel with kconfig from menu(select configure/hpdd/reconfigure hpdd),install kernel

    • I tried to install interactive unix in virtualbox from the 4.1.1 media that I still have in a long forgotten box.

      I imaged the floppies to disk and used them from there. Unfortunately I do not have the looking glass version either. Just the basic with networking included.

      I could install interactive using the buslogic drivers, but then after the installation is complete and I reboot I get a message “Missing operating system”.

      Does anybody know from where this error message comes ?

      When I then attempt to install again the interactive unix installer will the the previously installed disk in the virtual machine and offer to do an update. So I think the installation worked successfully and it is just a matter of getting it to boot.

      • I tried images of size 2048mb and 1024mb with the buslogic and the aha-154x drivers.

        Better with 512mb sized images ?

        I looked at the manuals provided here:
        There is nothing specifying a size limit, it even talks about disks larger than 1024mb in these manuals.

        But I’ll try that suggestion. Ty

        • I’d try something under 500MB.. Plenty of older stuff typically have limits around the drives of the era, and were pretty silent about it, and nobody noticed as getting a 1GB or 2GB disk was something that would have been either far too big, or expensive if it even existed.

          Or that’s been my experience with PC UNIX, the filesystem may technically go to 2GB with FFS/UFS but the older filesystems were maxed in far smaller spaces. Xenix being particularly picky about needing to live in under 500MB for the boot loader to install correctly as well.

          You may have to use MS-DOS 5 to put a MBR on the disk as well. I vaguely recall not everything would put one on the disk if it were zeroized.

      • So I tried with various sizes:
        512MB disk: worked, I was able to install and boot ius 4.1.1
        1023MB disk: It installed, but I was not able to boot from the disk image
        1024MB disk: same as 1023MB disk
        2048MB disk: same as 1023MB and 1024MB disk

        However I can mount partitions from the bigger disks as a second drive when I boot from the 512MB disk.

        The partitioning program on 4.1.1 offers to fix the mbr. I did not need to copy a MSDOS mbr.

        raganata reported on November 22, 2014 at 8:32 am in this instructions above that he used a 900mb disk. I wonder if not the disk size is the problem, but the partition size of the root partition.

        I am still looking for installation media of 4.1.1 ius with the graphical environment since I only have the network edition of it.

        And I am willing to share my floppy disk images of the network edition of ius 4.1.1 if anybody is interested.

  17. It was used by the US Army as the base operating system for the Standard Army Retail Supply System-1 (SARSS-1) back in 1992. It was available as part of the Small Multipurpose Computer contract.

  18. Use mkpart to write the boot sector. I have several disks with ISC 4.1.1 and maybe the installation media as well if you still need it.

  19. I ran across this post because I loved dfs because it reported df in human readable text instead of blocks. The largest disk we every used was probably a Seagate 4.2GB Ultra SCSI 320 on DPT and Adaptec controllers. Unfortunately I still have these as well 🙂

    • Hello coggins,

      if you still got installation media or an installed version of 4.1.1 with the graphical environment that would be swell.

      I have submitted a version of 4.1.1 with networking, but without graphical environment to vetusware and it is also on winworldpc now.

      The networking version of IUS 4.1.1 works in virtualbox with the adaptec scsi disk driver and the amd lance net device.


  20. Nice article! I wrote it several times and tested the bochs image. Works fine.

    Anyone: sources for install media containing the X11 Window System for INTERACTIVE consisting of the following floppy disk sets?
    – System and Servers (3 disks)
    – Display Servers (2 disks)
    – Clients (3 disks)

    I found one listing but there seems to be no download option :-\

    I want to try it with real ‘386 hardware which already running INTERACTIVE 386/UNIX r3.2, v4.1


  21. Pingback: Emulation and virtualization guides – Vesko's Blog

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