Citrix South Beach: aka the missing link from text to graphics

A long long time ago, in a distant continent I once interviewed at this small company called Citrix. It was some QA position, they didn’t need programmers. I’d passed the interviews easily as I’d been programming serial TSR’s so I was hip to the 8250/16450. Citrix was an interesting but troubled company. They had incredible contacts and more importantly a deal from Microsoft that gave them access to OS/2. Sadly OS/2 1.0 had been a dud, and by the time OS/2 2.00 saw even a limited release, Microsoft had pulled out of OS/2. Citrix was a company that had lost twice in what should be a big market. -Multi user commodity systems.

Citrix Multiuser 1.0 was based on OS/2 1.21, and was limited to 16bit protected mode apps. Citrix Multiuser 2.0 was based on the Limited Availability version which means that it cannot run “GA” or General Availability programs. So no 32bit programs here. Instead it can run the same 16bit protected mode applications, however it can also run MS-DOS based programs. DOS4/GW programs run so oddly enough the only real commercial stuff that can be run is MS-DOS.

So here we were 1994. Citrix had struck out twice, but this time it was going to be different, but the deal had to be re-struck again. I have no idea how they managed to secure this lucrative deal again, but Citrix was able to get access to the source access Windows NT, after the 3.1 release to 3rd parties (when they got DEC involved). By now the world had gone Windows, Office 4.2 was a thing, and on the high end side, NT had SQL & SNA, and there was most defiantly a market for multiuser systems as there had been from the old days of Unix, with the old mix of ASCII and network graphical terminals.

The CD looks like a normal-ish NT 3.5 Server CD although there is no MIPS or Alpha builds, as expected everyone at Citrix would be working and targeting the larger established i386 market.

As you can see this is Beta build 101.

In the text mode setup it looks like a normal setup program. No doubt they had better things to do than skins, wallpapers and themes. HOWEVER there is a silent IDE bug that many people will no doubt run into:

Although it works okay in short bursts, the IDE driver will send a command 28 zero byte and then shut down the controller. From this point it hangs. So that means we either need to generate all the floppy disk images (not going to happen!) or do the MS-DOS cross install. Yeah I’m doing that instead.

When setting up under Qemu, use the AMD PCNET card. It’s much easier. I set it to Twisted Pair, and PCI bus. I’m not sure if those matter all that much, but it works for me!

If you are going to use Hyper-V, you’ll need the GF100 NIC driver, but use the Windows NT 3.1 driver, as this is technically a beta of NT 3.5 and the production 3.5 driver will blue screen.

I set the driver to autosense.

I also had both Qemu and Hyper-V bluescreen when doing DHCP. I don’t know what the issue is, and I’m too old to care as I don’t have source code to South Beach, and even if I did I’d probably regret posting fixes. So static IP address it is!

Ready to login

Honestly again the air in the office when I was there is that everyone was running around like crazy to QA the product, and get ready to expand client support. While I was too much of an OS/2 fan boy, they certainly knew that from now on everything was going to be about Windows NT.

Logging into the Citrix the first fun thing to do is to define some remote terminals, using the WinStation app.

The first interesting thing is that async terminals are supported. Along with using either NetBIOS or Winsock protocols for connecting clients. Isn’t that great! TCP/IP built in!

Now for the crazy part. The only client that works is MS-DOS based. Yes there is no Win16, no Win32, no Java, no protected mode DOS, no Linux, SunOS, Solaris, DG/UX, AIX, HPUX, Xenix, UnixWare or SYSV i386ABI. ONLY Real Mode MS-DOS. Despite the connections being able to be ICA version 2 or 3, they are incompatible with newer Windows based clients from Win Frame.

This it the following list of supported protocols. Although I had Novell Lan WorkPlace and used it before for Desqview X, I can’t find it at the moment. good luck finding FTP TCP/IP, in retrospect it’s a terrible name, and for all intents and purposes it’s disappeared from the earth. So that leaves Microsoft TCP/IP. Now all the LANMAN clients have it, although this isn’t what it wants. It wants the MSCLIENT found in the “\CLIENTS\MSCLIENT\NETSETUP” path from a retail version of NT Server 3.5

The DOS client is.. very touchy. Deleting profiles can lead to a corrupted profile. Altering existing profiles well yeah can lead to a corrupted profile. I thought it was EMM386 causing issues but it locks up on it’s own.

Revenge of text mode UI

One interesting thing I found is that the text mode UI didn’t die. It’s still very much alive. As mentioned above you can connect async terminals, or even connect over the network!

Text mode does bring up a Program Manage analogue, but all my programs are graphical so it’s kind of moot. But rest assured text mode stuff works great.

PowerStation Oregon Trail

So 32bit Fortran stuff works great, what about MS-DOS?

Here is MS-DOS / Qbasic editor. Running on Citrix South Beach! Great, what about OS/2?

OS/2 F2C Dungeon

And here we go running the f2c translator through Dungeon to get an OS/2 text mode app. As you can see forcedos reveals that this isn’t a bound executable, instead it only runs on the OS/2 subsystem.

As you can see the os2.exe/os2srv components of the OS/2 subsystem

And of course it looks better on the graphical client to mix and match them all.

Win32/Win16/OS/2 all at once!

Indeed Word & Excel for NT work great alongside everything else.

Obviously somewhere post South Beach the text mode stuff dropped off. I’ll have have to dig for more, but it’s kind of neat the idea of a real text mode NT. Sadly South Beach doesn’t seem to like VMware. I haven’t dug too far, as I like WSLv2 so I’m stuck with Hyper-V. It may work fine on ESX I haven’t tested. Obviously you need the appropriate drivers, ill try to update links later, if anyone cares.

No doubt that finally Citrix was no positioned to realize the dream of multiuser commodity based hardware along with commodity applications. Of course it wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows, and no doubt there was a toll needing to be paid between Windows NT 4.0 and on the way to Windows 2000. But back in 1994, things were looking good!

Conventional RAM aka that old foe

640K ought to be enough for anyone. Well I’ve been poking around with an old beta that I had a long long time ago, lost, found, lost again, recovered, lost and found while looking for something entirely different again. I’ll spoil it later but anyways while messing around I needed a MS-DOS client, and it needs the MSNET TCP/IP stack, not to be confused with the LANMAN TCP/IP stack, and it doesn’t work with the Windows for Workgroups stack either. So yes I setup all 3, and of course found out that it really was the worst of the 3, the MSNET one.

Anyways convential memory is below 1MB. Back when the PC was new, it seemed that going from an Intel 8080 processor that could addresses a mere 64kb of RAM to the IBM PC that could address a whopping 1MB it seemed unlimited. A decision was made to segment the machine into 640kb for user programs reserving 384kb of RAM for hardware.

MSD memory map

And then something happened where drivers became user programs, and suddenly loading a mouse driver, CD-ROM driver, audio driver, networking stack and you have not enough memory available. Welcome to the living hell that was 1988-1995. In this virtual machine although it has 64MB of RAM in MS-DOS the largest free space with everything loaded is 366KB.

Microsoft Windows and DOS (among other products) started to include this fun tool MSD, Microsoft Diagnostics that would let you explore your memory, to see what was actually in use.

Imagine the absolute frustration here. 64MB of RAM, and yet there isn’t enough free to run a simple program. HOW ANNOYING!!!

Looking back at the MSD memory map, you may noticed from the map there is memory available, and possibly available. What does that mean? It means that there is no ROMS, or device RAM in use currently using that hardware reserved memory. Sadly for the 8088/80286 users they either don’t have a MMU, or one that only really works for protected mode segmentation. The 80386 however had a MMU sophisticated enough to let you map whatever you wanted where by booting MS-DOS into a protected mode environment and using v86 mode to map whatever you wanted where, by using the included program emm386.exe I’m sure plenty of others have touched on this program, and I’m going to just make a quick glance at it.

Typical PC memory map

If you look at a typical PC memory map you’ll find that location A000-AFFF is actually reserved for graphics memory. Since we are using VGA that also means B000-B7FF is also available. that means for text mode programs we can open up all this RAM for smaller program & driver use, along with the memory after the VGA BIOS, until the ROM BIOS of the computer that’s CC00-CFFF in my case, with D000-DFFF and E000-EFFF also being open. Obviously the fun comes in that not every PC has the same peripherals ROMS installed so this isn’t guaranteed to work in every instance.

In my case I don’t need EMS emulation at all I want to map it all to UMB or upper memory blocks for drivers and TSR’s. So I load emm386.exe into the config.sys like this:

DEVICE=C:\DOS\EMM386.EXE NOEMS I=B000-B7FF I=D000-DFFF I=CC00-CFFF I=D000-DFFF I=E000-EFFF

I didn’t put in any exclusionary ranges as EMM386 figured it out all on it’s own in MSD, but you may need to specify ranges to leave alone.

This gives me 519KB of free conventional RAM. Oddly enough a lot of the networking stack moved itself into UMB without me having to do anything. It’s probably more so a function of the MSNET I used from a Windows NT 3.5 Server CD-ROM being dated 1994, so I didn’t have to play with the load high command.

Back when the PCem forum was up I had this config, although keeping in mind that although it was far more aggressive!

DEVICE=C:\DOS\HIMEM.SYS
DEVICE=C:\DOS\EMM386.EXE 4096 frame=d000 x=a000-afff i=b000-b7ff x=b800-bbff x=c000-c7ff i=c800-cfff i=e000-efff ram
DEVICEHIGH=C:\DOS\CD1.SYS /D:CDROM01
DEVICEHIGH=C:\DOS\SETVER.EXE
DEVICEHIGH=C:\DOS\ANSI.SYS
DOS=HIGH,UMB
FILES=40
@ECHO OFF
PROMPT $p$g
PATH C:\DOS;c:\windows
SET TEMP=C:\TEMP
LH MSCDEX /D:CDROM01
LH SMARTDRV
LH IDLE
LH DOSKEY
LH SHARE

This got me a whopping 619Kb free in MS-DOS, along with 4MB of EMS, and 12MB XMS (on a 16MB config).

In the spirit of the old ‘Linking the linker‘ (I’m not certain that this is the actual article but it does certainly read the same way, didn’t Tim have 2 blogs?), I went ahead and claimed the video memory for the heck of it.

Using range A000-AFFF (64KB EGA/VGA Graphics RAM)

Obviously you cannot run graphical programs, but 605kb of conventional RAM, wish some 206Kb worth of network drivers! Not bad. I could probably squeeze a 32kb EMS frame in there, and get what would be an incredible 1-2-3 machine for the era. But I’m not such a big Lotus 1-2-3 fan anymore.

As always it’s 2021, and normal people will glance and WTF, you have 64MB of ram how can you be fighting for kilobytes. Anyone that used MS-DOS based networking will cringe and look the other way. These were not happy times.

In other news the client ran, sadly it’s too new for the server.

FreeDOS running Windows 3.1

Yes, really it’s FreeDOS running Windows 386 Enhanced mode. For real.

perditionc posted this over on the freedos list:

Hello everyone,

So it took me a bit longer than I planned, but below is the
information needed to reproduce and links to sources.  (Be kind, I
know that the code needs more work.)

To see it in action, from installing FreeDOS & Windows to running I
posted an updated the video (about 4 minutes, sped up some stuff and
cut some scenes down but its originally a single recording from first
boot until the end)
Steps:
download boot disk - http://server2.fdos.org/tests/fdos2043w.img
contains:
    kernel *** requires patches, see below for source
    command.com (FreeCOM)
    fdisk
    format
    sys
    share
    edit

have available Windows 3.1 install media (*** not provided ***)

create a virtual machine (or have a compatible real computer)
example has a 200MB hard drive with 32MB of memory and otherwise
virtual box's Win 3.1 default settings.

boot FreeDOS floppy
fdisk
    create a primary partition, don't use FAT32, use all available
space, ensure active
reboot so kernel see new partition
format
    format the C: drive and set label as desired
fdisk /MBR
    install master boot record so hard drive is bootable
sys C:
    install system boot record and files to C: partition
    copies kernel.sys and command.com to C:
copy share.com c:
copy EDIT.* C:
    so have available after install Windows
Optional: take out (disconnect virtual) floppy from drive and reboot,
ensure hard drive boots
Optional: create a CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT so not prompted with
date and time
Install Windows
    put in first Windows floppy and run SETUP
    follow prompts until complete, allow it to modify CONFIG.SYS and
AUTOEXEC.BAT
Optional: edit AUTOEXEC.BAT to load SHARE.COM
    (if you do not do this step, you must remember to do so before
starting Windows)
Edit C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM.INI   (adjust based on actual installation and
editor of choice)
    find [386Enh] section, at bottom add line:
    InDOSPolling=TRUE
    save file
win
    start Windows, will be in Enhanced mode if supported
Source:
Kernel patches - http://server2.fdos.org/tests/kernel-win3-patch.diff
rest of sources (kernel, FreeCOM, format, fdisk, sys, share, edit) -
https://github.com/fdos

Credits:
Bart, Tom, and others who have improved the FreeDOS kernel to where it is today
All the other FreeDOS developers, especially for FreeCOM, FDISK,
FORMAT, and EDIT
And Eric who's original research helped with the initial
implementation of the necessary patches a decade ago
(https://web.archive.org/web/20061001224249/http://www.coli.uni-saarland.de/~eric/stuff/soft/specials/win3.x-dosext-freedos-notes.txt)

I will be working on improving the code, specifically the critical
section handling and hopefully remove the need for the InDOSPolling
flag being set as well.

Enjoy,
Jeremy

And sure enough I was able to reproduce Windows 3.1 from the binary. I haven’t looked at patching/building yet.

Turning off virtual memory let’s FreeDos run in a Window!

Even more amazing to me BattleTech 3025 can run CGA mode in a Window too!

I should add that VMWare player didn’t work, nor did later versions of Qemu either. I had much better luck with my mutated Qemu 0.90 fork thing. ISA Cirrus card for sure!

Being able to run Windows 3.1 in 386 Enhanced mode has been one of those holy grails of compatibility. It’s great to see this in action!

I should add that Windows/386 and Windows 3.0 don’t work. 386 needs some versioning set, and 3.0 is convinced that the memory is too fragmented or that C: is really A:. Also Win32s doesn’t work either, but still Sim City, Excel and Word run fine!

As a follow up, 3.11 for workgroups or not doesn’t work either.

UnixWare 1.0 on 86Box

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

I certainly can’t claim to be the first as this has already been done by our friends at OS/2 Museum. However with low vanilla VGA resolution and no networking the results were unsatisfactory. Having so much success with 86Box I decided to try to do a little better.

I bought my UnixWare 1.0 media kit years ago on eBay. Unlike the tape set owned by OS/2 Museum mine had CDROM as install media. Unfortunately despite many many tries with different types of cdrom/bus/ide/scsi card I could never get the OS to see it. The cdrom/iso image is just a typical set of sysv packages. As such I wanted to see if it would be possible to convert it to a set of floppy disk images and install this way. Attached the iso image in UnixWare 7.1.4 VM and did a pkgtrans like so:

pkgtrans -s cdrom1 diskette1

From there I created a bunch of floppy disk images, which I later used for installation. Thanks to Plamen I was also able to get TCP/IP disks which I added to the install set.

Update: thanks to ArtiomWin I also got a BusLogic HBA driver disk, which allowed me to see the cdrom attached over SCSI. As such I decided to remaster the original iso image with added TCP/IP set, Update package and bash+gzip. The iso image is here.

Upon first boot after install from CDROM you get prompted to choose a NIC driver:

Unfortunately none of them really worked in 86Box for some reason. They get detected and you can see the MAC Address but not much after that. 3C503 and NE2K freeze the system, WD works bit better but you can’t really communicate with anything. Maybe it’s just my PCap configuration.

After installation I mounted the cdrom again and added TCP/IP set:

mount -r -F cdfs /dev/cd0 /mnt
pkgadd -d /mnt tcpnfs
pkgadd -d /mnt update

cp bash gzip /bin

One of main issues bugging me was lack of proper resolution. UnixWare 1.0 has a high resolution mode for Tseng ET4000 card which is supported in 86Box. You can change the resolution using /usr/X/adm/setvgamode as root. It worked perfectly, except for fonts, which required some surgery in /usr/X/defaults/Xwinfont (remove everything after 75dpi font path). This is how it looks like fixed up:

UnixWare comes with Merge DOS emulator. It can even run graphical applications in windowed mode for CGA and HGC. VGA is only possible in full screen mode.

All this cool stuff before Linux was even born!

DOS Menu is invoked by Scroll Lock. You can switch consoles between text and X11 by pressing CTRL+ALT+SYSRQ and ‘p’. I have also added bash and gzip binaries.

The ready to run 86Box image is here. Virtual Box OVA here. Install media here. Login with user/user, root/root.

Have fun with Virtualization !

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!

Fun with VP/ix under INTERACTIVE UNIX 3.0

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

This is a continuation of the vintage DOS/Windows hypervisors and emulators for Unix series. So far I have covered things like Merge, MergePro and Wabi. This time I’m taking a closer look at VP/ix. This early DOS hypervisor was developed by Interactive Systems Incorporated (ISC). Initially released and included with their INTERACTIVE UNIX System V/386 operating system it was also available for SCO Xenix 386, Sun 386i, AT&T WGS as Simul-Task 386. The last two versions were significantly enhanced to allow DOS/Windows graphical apps run in windowed mode, which unfortunately is not the case with IX and Xenix, where graphical apps can only run on the console. VP/ix was released around the same time as Merge in 1987 and it was its main competitor. Both products are early hypervisors, they use Virtual 8086 mode and require 386+ to run on. This is in contrast to SoftPC which is a full x86 emulator that can run on different CPU/architecture hosts.

VP/ix comes with ISC INTERACTIVE UNIX that is covered in my previous article. The product was installed as part of the 50 floppy disk set. You run it with an icon in Looking Glass environment or invoke from terminal or console via “vpix” command.

VP/ix comes with it’s own custom version of MS-DOS 3.30. It allows a variety of cross unix/dos enhancements such as shared disks, automatic dos/unix file format conversion, listing unix attributes from dos as well as running unix commands from dos and vice versa. One of super cool features is that you can pipe output of DOS commands to Unix command, for example:

C:\> dir | wc -l

…will do a DOS dir and pipe it to Unix wc command. You can map Unix paths to DOS drives:

VP/ix has an interactive Menu invoked by SYSRQ + ‘m’ key:

You can load floppy disks, turn sound on/off, restart/quit or run unix shell.

As for running normal text mode apps it’s business as usual:

Multiple instances of DOS can be launched and files shared between them. Also if you are a different user on different terminal or connected remotely. Remote terminal also supports mapping dos line characters to ASCII.

The same however cannot be said about graphical DOS or Windows apps. Under INTERACTIVE UNIX and Xenix you need to run them from the text mode console:

One day I will probably want to look at VP/ix on Sun 386i or AT&T WGS as they solved this problem. Newer versions of Interactive Unix (4.x) and VP/IX also need to be investigated.

According to the documentation, you can run Windows 3.x in real mode using win /r however I did not have patience to install this.

INTERACTIVE UNIX 3.0 with VP/ix preinstalled can be downloaded here for 86Box or VBox OVA, however the later does not have networking and resolution is only 800×600. Login as root/root. When importing OVA in Vbox you may need to disable import as VDI. For 86Box version please read readme on how to circumvent licensing error.

Also VP/ix for SCO Xenix is available here.

Have fun with virtualization!

Fun with OpenServer 6 and MergePro

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

In a recent post about OpenServer and Merge I covered OpenServer 5 and Merge 5.3. Thanks to a comment from Uli I have learned about MergePro which looks like is a rebranded Win4Lin. Intrigued I wanted to try it especially that you can download it from SCO ftp server as Uli pointed.

I’m going to be using VMware Fusion on Mac, which is now free for personal use. They call it Fusion Player, however unlike Workstation and Player, it has exactly same features as non-free Fusion version. For the OS I’m going to use Xinuos OpenServer 6 Definitive, however you can easily download OpenServer 6.0.0Ni from the ftp. I also have copies in my archive.

Installation is straightforward. You can skip licensing and use evaluation license, however for convenience you can use following keys:

Xinuos OpenServer 6D2M1: SCO053269 / ejcaagmy
SCO OpenServer 6.0.0Ni: SCO398943 / ysloudwl

If you are installing 6.0.0Ni you will also need MP4 update. 6D2M1 is already patched.

To install MergePro you need to copy this package to the host os and install like so:

# pkgadd -d /tmp/MergePro-6.3.0-04f_pkgadd.stream

In the following step, mount Windows 2000 or XP SP1 or SP2 ISO and run:

# loadwinproCD

Once Windows is loaded you need to install it as a non-root user using:

$ installwinpro

After it’s installed, to run you type:

$ winpro

Unfortunately I have failed to install Windows XP with variety of errors and blue screens. Windows 2000 works fine, however it feels bit sluggish and mouse click doesn’t always register. It looks like there are some sort of Windows Guest Additions being injected in to the OS so one would expect this to work just fine.

During startup I have noticed that MergePro installs and uses KQEMU kernel module. Also this screen looks suspiciously familiar… where did I see this before?

The BIOS and VGABios look definitely stolen from Bochs. HDD controllers look like Win4Lin. I’m not going to go in to deeper analysis of what MergePro is made of at this time. Looks like a topic for another article or even better – your comments 🙂

Also if you want to license the copy of Merge use following key:

MergePro 6.3.0f: SCO138318 / bhtecusg

Finally for the lazy here is fully installed OVA, password is root/root and tenox/tenox for the regular user.

Fun with Caldera WABI

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

In the previous post about SCO Merge I briefly mentioned WABI, which is a Windows ABI emulator for Unix. Initially released by Sun Microsystem, it’s believed that it came with acquisition of Interactive Systems Corp (ISC) and Interactive UNIX. It was available for SPARC and x86 Solaris as well as AIX on PowerPC. Around 1997 it was released for x86 Linux by Caldera. This article will focus on Caldera’s version specifically.

Although entirely possible to install WABI on another RPM based distribution such as Red Hat, I’m a purist and wanted to try it on Caldera Open Linux. The install is pretty straightforward you mount the iso file and run install script. In a next step you need to install an update to version 2.2D. This is done by replacing /opt/wabi/bin/wabiprog with extracted version of this file. Thanks to readers of this blog post for sharing these.

When launched for the first time, you will be prompted to provide copy of Windows 3.1. This the main difference with WINE which specifically does not require copy of windows to run apps. I have noticed that WABI is rather picky about lower vs uppercase when installing software. There is an utility called wabimakelower to help there. You can also add an icon to one of Caldera Linux / Looking Glass program groups.

Once you run it, it’s Windows 3.1 as usual:

WABI was designed for running productivity apps such as Office:

You can even run Visual Studio:

Curiously WABI is not a MS-DOS emulator. In order to run DOS apps you need to install such and configure it in WABI Control Panel:

For the lazy, a readily preinstalled version is available as OVA and 86box. Root password is “caldera”.

There also is a User Guide in PDF.

Have Fun with Virtualization!

Building OSKit

Way back in the late 90’s from the University of Utah there was this fantastic project that promised to bring Operating System construction to mere mortals but taking existing PC operating systems, Linux, NetBSD, FreeBSD and break them down to their best components, and then interlink them using COM allowing you to glue the best parts together like lego.

And the project was called OSKit.

It was fantastic for something unknown at the time for creating so called ‘bare metal programs’ that didn’t have a real operating system, but rather could use operating features like LIBC, or the EXT2 filesystem. It was almost that level of ‘MS-DOS’ like feeling from protected mode, but being able to take more stuff with you.

Take the following humble program, hello.c:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <oskit/clientos.h>
#include <oskit/startup.h>
#include <oskit/version.h>

int main()
{
#ifndef KNIT
	oskit_clientos_init();
#endif
#ifdef  GPROF
	start_fs_bmod();
	start_gprof();
#endif
	oskit_print_version();
	printf("Hello, World\n");
        return 0;
}

Compiling this, and linking it is pretty straightfoward:

i586-linux-gcc -c -o hello.o -DOSKIT -MD -DHAVE_CONFIG_H  -DOSKIT_X86 -DOSKIT_X86_PC -DINDIRECT_OSENV=1 -I. -I../../examples/x86 -I../../examples/x86/more -I../../examples/x86/shared  -I- -I../../oskit/c -I../../examples/x86/shared -I../.. -I../.. -nostdinc -Wall  -O2 -g  hello.c
i586-linux-ld -Ttext 100000  -L../../lib \
        -o hello ../../lib/multiboot.o hello.o          \
        -loskit_clientos -loskit_kern -loskit_lmm \
        -loskit_c ../../lib/crtn.o

And of course transforming the ELF into a multiboot executable that GRUB can load:

/oskit/bin/mkmbimage hello

And now you are ready to boot, on say Qemu?

I was kind of surprised it never really took off, maybe it was too far ahead of it’s time. The most notable project I’ve seen that used it was OSKit-Mach, although they later on abandoned OSKit.. I’m not sure why but I would suspect the lack of updates post 2002 would have something to do with it.

Building this was… Interesting as I recall this being somewhat difficult, and I know I’ve probably made it more difficult, but I thought it would be ‘fun’ using the tools of the time. And 1999 has us at Debian 2.2r0. Which thankfully is on archive.org and is a mere 3 CD-ROMS for the i386 binaries. Installing that into VMWare wasn’t so difficult, and swapping CD images around I was able to get enough installed to start building things. For those of you who don’t want to install Debian, here is my pre-compiled Linux on Linux toolchain: i586-linux2.tar.gz. It’s i386 on i386, so you will need to be able to run i386 ELF exe’s. For OS X users that haven’t installed Catalina, you can try OSX-Linux-2.00-i586-gcc2723.tar.gz

I should point out, that although things have to be patched around for older versions of OSKit, 20020317 does build fine using GCC 2.95.2 (20000220) from Debian 2.2r0. So if you want to build in a VM, then you really don’t need any of this. But I’m strange, and I have my WSL2 Debian 10 to think about. So the easiest way to build GCC 2.x is with GCC 2.x so why not start in Debian?

First let’s prep our destination directory, and populate it like a good little cross compiler:

rm -rf /usr/local/i586-linux2

mkdir -p /usr/local/i586-linux2/i586-linux/include
(cd /usr/include;tar -cf - .)|(cd /usr/local/i586-linux2/i586-linux/include;tar -xf -)
mkdir -p /usr/local/i586-linux2/lib/gcc-lib/i586-linux/2.7.2.3/
cp /usr/lib/crt*.o  /usr/local/i586-linux2/lib/gcc-lib/i586-linux/2.7.2.3/
mkdir -p /usr/local/i586-linux2/i586-linux/lib
cp /usr/lib/*.a /usr/local/i586-linux2/i586-linux/lib

With that out of the way, we can build the ‘patched’ binutils that was on the old OSKit archive, I used this binutils-990818-patched.tar.gz

./configure --target=i586-linux --prefix=/usr/local/i586-linux2
make install

Next I’m going to build GCC 2.7.2.3 as OSKit mentions to use 2.7 and I figured why not the last of the line? It seemed like a good idea to me.

./configure --target=i586-linux --prefix=/usr/local/i586-linux2
make LANGUAGES=c libgcc1.a
make LANGUAGES=c
make LANGUAGES=c install

Building is a little weird, as I build the libgcc1.a first, then ONLY the C language, then install that. OSKit is written in C, and I didn’t feel like even looking at dependencies for C++/ObjectiveC

Unix person, I’m not a great one, so a quick hack to get the new GCC onto the path:

PATH=/usr/local/i586-linux2/bin:/usr/local/i586-linux2/lib/gcc-lib/i586-linux/2.7.2.3:$PATH
export PATH

And now I can build stuff!… I then tar’d if up and copied it to my WSL instance, and now I can cross compile fine (a big plus of WSL2 is that you can install the 32bit support, and run old EXE’s! Take that Apple!)

Next up is OSKit, I’m using the last version from 2002, oskit-20020317.tar.gz.

Now it’s worth noting that a few things need to be edited, the ‘OSKit on UNIX’ thing won’t build cleanly and I didn’t investigate as Qemu is a thing now. So disable it in the modules.x86.pc file. Then run configure like this:

sh configure --host=i586-linux --prefix=/oskit --build=i586-linux --enable-modulefile=modules.x86.pc

Despite using the host, build or target setting it doesn’t pick up prefix of our cross compiler, so you have to manually edit Makeconf

Be sure to change the tool exports to look like this:

export CC       = i586-linux-gcc
export LD       = i586-linux-ld
export STRIP    = i586-linux-strip
export AR       = i586-linux-ar
export RANLIB   = i586-linux-ranlib
export OBJCOPY  = i586-linux-objcopy
export NM       = i586-linux-nm

And finally remove -fno-strict-aliasing from OSKIT_FFLAGS, and now you can build!

The bonus is that it’ll build well under a minute on a modern machine.

As mentioned above you should now be able to take the hello world example kernel, and transform it to a multiboot, and boot it via grub.

Again this was such an exciting project I’d hate for it to just suddenly die in absolute obscurity. Maybe it’ll inspire others to try “assisted bare metal” programs, there was a DooM OS, among others in the era.

It was 25 years ago today

32bit computing arrived to the masses. Although it’s incredibly frail by modern standards, Windows 95 did deliver on the promises of OS/2. Depending on your apps, and drivers of course. Although OS/2 did have int13.sys to pass disk calls to a special v86 machine which then used the disk BIOS to make disk access possible, Microsoft and IBM stopped short there, not going all the way letting OS/2 use MS-DOS device drivers. Windows 95, however could.

This was always the winning strategy of Windows, is that it relied on the incredible OEM driver support for MS-DOS. Of course this would also be a catastrophic weakness. From my personal experience being able to leverage ancient MS-DOS drivers also helped squeeze as much as possible out of existing hardware. Case in point, the NDIS2 drivers for the AT&T Starlan 1mbit cards worked fine under Windows 95, additionally you could lost just the lower level drivers, and 95 could then load it’s protocols on top of that stack allowing you to have a TCP/IP network over that 1mbit Starlan stack letting you telnet into your 3b2 (or setup SAMBA, and doing file/print sharing).

If anything the biggest flaw of Windows 95 was not installing TCP/IP by default. However unlike many OS’s of the time, Windows 95 did include LAN and dialup stacks. There was plenty great about OS/2, but it’s refusal to integrate networking into the operating system hamstrung things like named pipes, peer, and larger apps, as you would have to buy and license a stack of stuff to bring OS/2 up to where it should be, while NT and 95 were complete out of the box.

Windows 95 was an excellent bridge OS for the era, until OEMs finally got around to writing drivers for Windows NT. Once the mainstream could finally take that leap, and leave MS-DOS far behind. But that didn’t really happen until Windows XP.

That being said, the favorite thing is to run Windows 95 in a browser. I found https://copy.sh/v86/ the fastest and best, as it loads a short 6MB compressed core image, and you are instantly teleported to the 95 desktop.

Try it out, play some solitaire and enjoy!