Dell Unix on 86Box

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

In a few recent projects such as QNX 1.2 (and demo disk), Interactive Unix (also older post ) and Caldera (and older post) I have tried the 86Box emulator. Unlike others, now I could utilize an emulated video and network cards of wide variety. As everything I did simply worked out of the box I instantly fell in love. Truly awesome 86Box is now my daily drive for running old PC operating systems. As such I have decided to revisit some of previously half assed posts with the new weapon.

I have virtualized Dell Unix back in 2012 using Bochs and QEMU. Even with community support we have struggled to get a decent video resolution and had to use SLIP for networking. Today let me present Dell Unix more properly, with 1024×768, 256 colors video and proper networking using emulated VGA and NIC.

I started with allsoft.img which is Dell Unix and all packages installed from the tape on Bochs. I have disabled a few services in /etc/rc2.d namely mouse daemon (mse), sendmail, uucp, lp, etc.

For X Window I have edited /usr/lib/X11/Xconfig, enabled serial mouse (Microsoft) and 1024×768 mode. I have used Tseng ET4000AX VGA which is detected by Xmach server. This allowed X / xinit to run correctly. However for startx to work you need to edit /usr/lib/X11/xinit/xserverrc as it seems to be using slightly different configuration. For graphical login you can probably add x:3:respawn:/usr/bin/X11/xdm -nodaemon to /etc/inittab. However I have noticed that when ran from init, xdm seem not to pick up the Dell customized config files. Perhaps rc startup script should be created instead.

As a final note on X, the system has virtual consoles, like other SVR4 you access them by pressing SYSRQ and F keys. F1 is a text mode console, F2 is Xserver. This is my Dell Unix hero shot:

Networking was even easier. Dell Unix supports WD8003 and 3C503 NICs. I wanted to first try the WD one. In /etc/conf/pack.d/wdn/space.c you can find the predefined hardware probes. I have picked one of supported modes and the card was detected on subsequent reboot. That’s it. No need for kernel rebuild or any configuration. I have not tried 3C503 but if you want the driver for it is named ie6. For TCP/IP configuration you set your IP address in /etc/hosts and gateway in /etc/inet/rc.inet file.

I was able to quickly compile Mosaic, which curiously had Makefile settings for Dell Unix, and take it for a spin on the web with help of WRP:

One could probably want to compile more recent version of Mosaic with PNG support or maybe some more recent browser all together.

The system comes with a bunch of open source software in /usr/dell however as there was no bash or even gzip I have compiled some essentials. They are available here and as a /usr/local tarball.

For the lazy, as usual you can get a complete os image for 86Box here. Make sure to attach pcap to your local network interface and set IP address / gateway / dns server accordingly.

If you port some cool software or find any interesting gems in Dell Unix please comment!

Have fun with virtualization!

Update: I have been looking at contents of various distribution media for Dell Unix that have surfaced here and there. On a DAT tape I bought on eBay a few years back I found this file:

Whoa! Of course I want to install all of it! This is how FrameMaker 3.0 looks on Dell Unix:

I have updated the disk image for 86Box to have this included. You can run demo mode of FrameMaker by executing /usr/frame/bin/demomaker. I also imagine that this can be installed on pretty much any x86 SVR4 and above, maybe even Linux. If anyone has a license code / serial number please let me know!

4 thoughts on “Dell Unix on 86Box

  1. “As everything I did simply worked out of the box I instantly fell in love. Truly awesome 86Box is now my daily drive for running old PC operating systems.”

    Unfortunately… Still no UART/Serial IO! You can’t debug old stuff like that! :-/.

    • Dev team member here. I’ll try to do serial after the v3.0 release we’re in the middle of sorting out. I’ve needed to use WinDbg in 86Box more than once, for which I wrote a nasty hackjob on top of the existing serial mouse code.

  2. It’s great to see 86box get some much-deserved love. I’ve been using for it for quite some time -a couple of years, I believe. So far the only thing I’ve thrown at it that hasn’t quite worked has been 386BSD, but even that can kind of sort of work by using the 1.0 github version and booting a small kernel with boot in freedos.

    I haven’t done a lot of other Unices in it yet, but it’s let me use OS/2 warp almost flawlessly.

    Being lazy, I’m definitely taking you up on the 86box image -thanks for providing it!

  3. I have several different FrameMaker keys and unfortunately none of them work with this version. I tried 2.0d for NeXT, 3.2 for NeXT, and 3.0 for Windows and none of those keys work. It looks like FrameMaker used a different format for each release. All of those listed have different numbers of digits and formats. Unlike say, Mathematica where most of the early versions used the same key format.

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