So what is the deal with A/UX anyways?

The year is 1983, and several Apple employees visit Brown University, and get some idea of what Universities want in a computer for the coming future. The big buzz of the era was the so called 3M machine:

  • 1 Megabyte of Memory
  • 1 Megapixel display
  • 1 Megaflop of performance

Naturally the Macintosh didn’t fill this void, instead leaving this to the new SUN-2 workstation. However seeing the opportunity, in 1984 the seeds were planted for the ‘Big Mac’ project. The hardware design was headed by Rich Page, which included new things like ADB, and dedicated video RAM, along with a 68020 processor, and 68881 maths co-processor. Additionally Big Mac was intended to run a UniPlus version of SYSV Unix, along with the MacOS Toolbox being ported to run directly on top of Unix.

All that I can find of the Big Mac project is this insanely low resolution image, along with the codename ‘Milwaukee‘.

However all this came to and end in 1985 with the ouster of Steve Jobs, who in turn took various people including  Bud Tribble, George Crow, Susan Barnes, Susan Kare, Dan’l Lewin, and Rich Page. Apple followed up with a $5MM USD lawsuit alleging that Jobs had done research for a next generation product and taken the key staff, namely Page from Apple to make it reality. The suit was eventually dismissed.

From there the race was on to build a 3M machine. NeXT would take the Big Mac concept further with the NeXT CUBE which included ADB, NuBUS and a 68030/68882 + SCSI + Ethernet setup. And for the OS, 4.3BSD Tahoe+Mach 2.5, along with a new Objective C language, and new OO frameworks.


Back at apple however the ‘Big Mac’ project seemed to have stagnated, and was slimmed down and eventually shipped as the Macintosh II in 1987. There no doubt was a re-awoken sense of urgency in the academic space for the 3M market, now that NeXT was making a 3M machine Apple of course didn’t want to be pushed out of the new space. Apple released a real 1.0 product (1.1.1 survives, although you have to run ( /etc/toolboxdaemon & ; term) to get anything fun from Shoebill with the ISO), what can barely be called a bare bones SYSV port with overlapping terminals at best..

A/UX 1.1.1 codename ‘Circle K’ running on the Shoebill emulator

Overwhelming, and interesting this is not.

This of course was more like a tech demo, running a single ‘Unix toolbox app’ at a time. Pricing according to usenet was around $500 for the software, keeping in mind of course that a Macintosh II would be far more expensive. Version 1 also started to add BSD features namely curses in 1.0, allowing you to port simple terminal ‘graphics’ to the OS. The trend of adding BSD features was only going to continue from here! But all of this is a large step up from the earliest known version simply labeled as 0.7 which despite it’s ‘Oreo’ appearance is strictly text mode only.

Oreo is text mode only.

Dawning of a new era

The real magic is in 2.0:

Sim City on A/UX 2.0 code name Perestroika, Space Cadet

Think of it more like the OSX of the 1980s. Finder has been ported over to the Toolbox on Unix API allowing A/UX 2.0 to run off the shelf MacOS applications. Under the hood however is the same UniSoft SYSVr2. However running MacOS on top of Unix gives it far faster disk IO, and of course the much vaunted memory protection, although with the massive catch that it’s only for Unix applications. You can still crash applications, and even finder. However you can telnet into the box and restart services, or perform a graceful reboot.

For Unix fans this was the first time you could get ‘off the shelf applications’ that didn’t cost a fortune, along with the standard Unix far. Amazingly both the C compiler and Fortran 77 compiler are included in the box. By 1990 many a company was making these only available for a separate purchase. Version 2.0 also brought along some BSD features with the big one being UFS support for longer filenames, and faster disk performance than the aging SYSV filesystem.

Of course it wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows as around this time Apple launched a lawsuit against Microsoft, and Atari over the visual iconography of MacOS (Oddly enough GEM on the ST was ignored). This so called ‘look and feel’ lawsuit lead to a boycott of the fledgling Unix from the FSF, which in turn hurt things like binutils/gcc/gdb etc being easily available to A/UX users.

So what went wrong?

Without even looking at the follow up version 3, and the products demise in the transition from 68000 to PowerPC, the writing was on the wall.

  • Price

The damned thing was just too expensive! From WikipediaWhen introduced, a basic system with monitor and 20 MB hard drive cost US$5,498” Version 1 was available on tape, and later CD-ROM, I think there was a floppy version, but without a doubt a 20MB disk is far too small. Just as anything under 4MB of RAM is not going to be realistic. Adding in these components you are going to be into the low end of SUN’s catalogue. And why would you take a chance on Apple when you could go to an established Unix vendor?

The other issue is that Unix being Unix you really needed a MMU, and Motorola MMU chips were expensive. Also A/UX had drivers for SCSI only. This prevented a ‘low end revolution’ as the low end machines like the 605 didn’t have SCSI, or full 68040’s. Even the end of the line Quadra 800, sold for an eye watering $4,679!

  • Direction

What was the heart of A/UX? It was a Unix with a one button mouse, and optional X-11.. with A ONE BUTTON MOUSE?! It was a SYSV Unix, not a BSD, but did include BSD TCP/IP, NFS & UFS filesystem. It was shunned by the FSF as a first tier platform so people had to fidget with code to get it to compile. It was GSA C2 certifiable, but did anyone actually use it in that role?

It was also a Unix with a version of Outlook, and Excel, AfterDark, Fortran 77, and a dead simple UI.

Even after all this time, answering what A/UX was seems to be an identity crisis.

Where did it go right?

One of the big deciding factors in getting workstations for government compliance was the so called C2. This meant things like enforced passwords, auditing and POSIX. It’s everything that the POSIX subsystem for NT was built for, to check just enough boxes, while for Apple A/UX just gave them an instant win. I have no idea if it ever happened but I’m sure somewhere someone was using a Quadra with Word Perfect and A/UX to be a super expensive and certified Mac. Obviously the MAE project dovetails into this, giving commercial MacOS applications to Unix users, but so many others have covered that, and the short version is that it’s incredibly fragile and not very robust at all.

I’m sure someone used it as a fileserver, heck even in the PowerPC generation there a straight port of AIX to a server along with AppleTalk modules.

The demise

Its easy to point to using UniSoft SYSVr2 as being a cost factor, but it really was the hardware requirements. Without any AUX for the LC it was doomed. This wasn’t going to be the Unix for Grandma. Transitioning to the PowerPC removed the braindead CPU problems of lacking a MMU or FPU, but I suspect that the tricks of the 68000 translator would not have run, and certainly wouldn’t pull off things like device drivers. Worse stil people just got used to System 7, and had hopes that the fabled Copeland / System 8 would bring about something strong enough like a Unix without any of the complexities.

Timelines, however slipped, Apple had flirted with MkLinux but didn’t fully commit. Indeed these were dark days, it’s like they were so dead set on going forward to not see a seemingly obvious solution to the OS problem in the past.

Looking at Carbon, and Toolbox32, it’s hard not to imagine a world pushing ISV’s to write for a protected MacOS, but they’d never had bought NeXT. As a matter of face, I would argue that without Steve’s media connections from Pixar, Apple would have slid away into irrelevance, as media outsells the PC tech anyways. Even in 2010 Jobs had called Apple clearly in the ‘post PC era‘.


Re-visiting Gopher on A/UX

Rather unintentionally some 7 years ago (to the day!) I was playing with an early gopher server on Linux, musing that one day it’d be cool to run it fully on A/UX (what is it anyways?!). And thanks to Qemu’s 68040 support the time is at hand.

First off I need to run this on Linux so I’ll need to build the appropriate branch myself. Thankfully Cat_7 has boiled it down to a really simple formula:

git clone -b q800.upstream q800-upstream
cd q800-upstream
./configure --target-list=m68k-softmmu --enable-gtk --enable-sdl

In my case I remove the gtk and sdl as I’m running this headless.

Now onto the OS itself. While I had numerous images built over the years for Shoebill there was one major issue when compared to Qemu, and that is Shoebill loads the kernel directly while Qemu emulates the hardware so it will boot MacOS 7 directly. While on the surface this is mundane that does mean however that none of my images will actually work on Qemu as they don’t include a blessed copy of System 7. Not that I care that much I could always do a simple dump/restore [ dump.bsd 0f – /dev/rdsk/c0d0s0 | (cd /mnt; restore xf -) ] of my A/UX stuff that I care about anyways. Luckily since I had added that SCSI file support to Cockatrice I could still partition out some disks and install from there.

Now for the further bit of bad news for me is that I found that the 68020 based Shoebill ran 3.0.0 far more stable than 3.0.1 or 3.1. So I’d built everything around 3.0.0. And of course trying to boot 3.0.0 on a Quadra 800 just gives you a hard lock up. I don’t have the setup disk for 3.0.0 but mounting the CD-ROM gives you access to the disk tool (the 3.0.0 version doesn’t check for the Apple string on SCSI ROMS so you can partition with that as well). Anyways too much time thinking I’d done something wrong until this had to be pointed out to me:

Compatibility matrix from penelope

That’s right, 3.0.0 doesn’t run on the Quadra 800. Much longer ago I had a Quadra 950, fantastic beast of a machine, and yes it ran 3.0.0 just great. So shockingly running the right versions got me up to a working system just fine.

Now of course back in the Shoebill days I got ‘3.0.1’ kind of working by cheating. The /mac programs didn’t work on Shoebill however I could copy them over from 3.0.0 to get a working system. Could I substitute a 3.0.1 kernel & /mac directory onto a 3.0.0 system?

So first up the System 7 install from A/UX 3.0.0 is too old for a Quadra 800. Obviously just use the one from 3.0.1. Great.

This lead to a problem where the root filesystem always needs to be checked in single user mode. Something that is shockingly hard to do when your Quadra runs so fast as you have less than a second to hit the ‘top’ button to halt the autoload.

Naturally the standalone runs fine, with no errors.

Thinking that it’s the start-up scripts I remove all the fsck’s and then get this message:

Great a kernel panic. ialloc: dup alloc. Thinking that maybe it’s confusing the UFS, I go ahead and format the disk in SYSV and restore the image onto that.

This gets me another kernel panic, this time no root filesystem. Surprise the SYSV filesystem was made optional in a default install. I run ‘newconfig sysv’ from 3.0.1 and copy that kernel back, and for good measure the shared libraries from 3.0.1. Now I get a different error:

Interesting, I try to hit restart, and instead I get dumped into text mode!


So here we are a 3.0.1 kernel with a 3.0.0 userland! I’m going to use this as a server anyways so I don’t really care about the Mac UI. Naturally so many twists and turns I’ll just skip to the end. Networking didn’t work correctly. Maybe I should have copied all the network stuff from 3.0.1 over but at this point it’s basically a 3.0.1 system so why even bother?

So the next thing of course is just to setup Qemu to listen on a loopback and add some disks. A lot of disks.

./qemu-system-m68k \
-L pc-bios \
-m 256 \
-M q800 \
-vnc \
-serial stdio \
-bios Quadra800.rom \
-net nic,model=dp83932,netdev=ne -netdev user,id=ne,hostfwd=tcp:,hostfwd=tcp:,hostfwd=tcp: \
-drive file=pram-aux.img,format=raw,if=mtd \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=0,drive=hd0,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.0" \
-drive file=scsi0.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd0 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=1,drive=hd1,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.1" \
-drive file=scsi1.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd1 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=2,drive=hd2,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.2" \
-drive file=scsi2.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd2 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=3,drive=hd3,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.3" \
-drive file=scsi3.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd3 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=4,drive=hd4,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.4" \
-drive file=scsi4.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd4 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=5,drive=hd5,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.5" \
-drive file=scsi5.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd5 \
-device scsi-hd,scsi-id=6,drive=hd6,vendor="SEAGATE",product="ST225N",ver="1.6" \
-drive file=scsi6.vmdk,media=disk,format=vmdk,if=none,id=hd6
Yeah well… great!?

One nice thing is that since we are on Qemu I don’t have to use raw disk images, I can zero stuff out and use VMDK’s. Nice. I guess I could bridge the VM later, but for now NAT is fine enough as all I need is telnet & gopher. So I grab gopher2_3.1.tar.gz, rebuild and move over my gopher site from Linux into A/UX and I’m up and running in no time. It was shockingly easy. I update a few things to reflect it running on A/UX now.

Currently 2 days of uptime!

And just like that I took my semi popular gopher site, and moved it to A/UX seven years after thinking that this would be a ‘good idea(tm)’. I’m sure it won’t backfire spectacularly.

I don’t know if any of this is useful or interesting but it was to me. It’s been nice that Qemu has been able to keep uptime in several days, I had 3 days of uptime before I took it down to max out the storage so I could possibly do more with it.

Naturally it’s still available as gopher://

So Apple is finally moving to ARM

Dawning of a new era. Again.

Details don’t seem to be anywhere near as complete as I’d like them for now, but the long speculated move to ARM has finally begun. Interestingly enough, it’s the end of OS X 10.x as now we have version 11, currently named macOS Big Sur:

I guess the more interesting thing will be the emulation in the new Rosetta2, if this is actual emulation or is this going to be relying on LLVM’s intermediary byte-code, allowing a user experience more akin to Java.

With the move to ARM, this will spell the end of the Hackintoshes. Which is a shame, as the best way to experience OS X, most certainly has been on non Apple hardware. I guess time will tell regarding the adoption of the desktops, but as always since the introduction of the Apple Store & Apps, computers have accounted for a negligible fraction of Apple’s sales. Even sales of iPads surpass those of all the computers combined.

The upcoming transition kit will be a Mac mini sporting the A12Z SoC, 16GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. This is the same processor in the current iPad Pro.

The Transition Kit is $500 USD, however it’s invite only. You can try your luck here at:


Naturally I was denied the opportunity to give them $500.

I suppose as time goes on more and more details will become available. I’m sure there will be a race to get Qemu to run Big Sur, although Im sure the retail product will be signed and encrypted, and Apple will consolify their ecosystem.

On the gaming side, however being able to run iOS apps on the desktop means that the Mac is now a serious gaming contender for the casual market. Can apple bridge the Candy Crush gap where Microsoft failed with RT?

Stop Mojave from updating to Catalina

I don’t know how unique my experience is, but Catalina is so unstable it’s totally unusable. Downgrading to Mojave (which was it’s own thing) has made the trashcan a far better Mac experence.

You have to do this from an elevated terminal, but it’s a quick fix to block the stupid Catalina upgrade:

TrashCan:~ jsteve$ sudo /usr/sbin/softwareupdate –ignore “macOS Catalina” Password: Ignored updates: ( “macOS Catalina” )

And there we go.

Up to date!

And there we go, Catalina is now banished!

Although that means this 2013 machine is really now obsolete and stuck in the past.

Apple kills 32bit software

I know it’s been a long time coming but here we are. Such a shame compatibility isn’t a priority. No more crazy stuff like running GCC 1.3 on OS X.

I got this email yesterday :

If you use CrossOver for macOS, this information is VERY IMPORTANT for you.

Earlier today, Apple released the new macOS Catalina. Catalina does not support 32-bit applications. Currently, CrossOver still uses pieces of 32-bit code for every function and will not launch or install any Windows apps in Catalina. If CrossOver is critical to you macOS experience, we ask that you wait on upgrading to Catalina until we release a Catalina compatible version.

At this time, we anticipate that an alpha version will be available sometime in the next 30 days. We will continue to update you as development progresses.

Macintosh Application Environment (Failure pt 1)

It’s a rainy day, and I didn’t feel well enough to wander around outside, and check out the ‘spyware street lights’. Although that’s the latest rage at the moment along with the usual stuff.

Instead I thought it’d be fun to try some ‘undercover’ software like that time when Apple thought it would be a good idea to port the ToolBox to Unix and run it as a competitor to programs like SoftPC as people with $30,000 workstations clearly needed a virtual Macintosh.

So I spent way too much time letting my 2006 Mac Pro grind out a Solaris 2.6 install, and then using the latest Tenox dump on I installed MAE 2.0! For anyone wondering the actual serial number is: 192c4838330166201b

And after serializing the app, and running it, I get a nice kernel panic. I thought I was playing it safe by opting out of the kernel module stuff as I don’t care about reading MacOS formatted diskettes.

I guess I really need Solaris 2.4 and those weird patches.

Internet Explorer. For Unix. Really.

Meanwhile you can rest assured that Internet Explorer 5.0 loads up just fine. It is painfully slow, but there it is. I was even able to download stuff with my ‘http backdoor’ thing to vpsland. So at least that works.

Hard to imagine a time that Microsoft was going cross platform under Gates, but Internet Explorer 3/4/5 were available on MacOS & OS X, with 4&5 under Solaris and HP/UX. Then of course there was that SUN Java lawsuit and they pulled the rug out from interoptability. Although I was a Linux on SPARC user in this era, having it available on Linux would have helped a LOT, but naturally Microsoft didn’t entertain that Linux market thing as it was cancer to them. Meanwhile Chromium Edge is only a Windows / OS X thing.

I was hoping to go further, but it appears not today.

Apple releases the Cheese grater MK II!

As someone who’s owned a few G5’s over the years, and 2 intel ‘cheese grater/Mac Pros’ this is like exciting news! Although I don’t see why this machine took YEARS to churn out after the trashcan fire, but here we go!

Mmmm Cheese

Somehow the aesthetic is even more cheese grater than the prior G5/Pro’s. Almost a desperate call back to pros saying you missed the grater, so here it is again! Now with more grating action, and like the iPhone now with rounded corners!

Single Processor!

One thing I’ve heard time and time again is that XNU really struggles with multiprocessor setups. And I guess we’ve hit that peak as that 2013 Mac Pro was single processor, and the new Mac Pro continues in this trend with a single processor, a Xeon from the ‘W’ or workstation lineup. Which I guess isn’t all that surprising.

The real great thing is expandibility is back! SLOTS SLOTS SLOTS! Although there is no front 3.5mm RCA audio (lol remember that?!) there is 2 USB-C on the top of the case for somewhat accessible ports. Still not too bad.

Another quick to open and upgrade machine. Just like the good old days of the cheese grater!

Although many were hoping for an end to the NVIDIA embargo, bringing CUDA to the table, there was no such luck. Instead the whole ‘dual GPU’ thing was doubled down on.

Radeon Pro Vega II Duo

Bundled is the Radeon Pro Vega II Duo card, featuring dual GPU’s on the same card. Although the case is now large enough for two of these cards giving you 4 GPUs in the box.

So far, so good right?!

And then there is the expected MSRP. $5,999 USD. For the cheapest ‘base’ model featuring a bare 8 core, 16 threaded processor clocking in at 3.5Ghz.

However this does mean for people who want to collect old Mac stuff, the trashcans are no doubt going to crash in price. If you enjoy having a stack of external peripherals, and wires and cables everywhere. Kind of like the old Power Mac G4 Cube.

T’is the season for upgrades!

I’ve had this 2006 MacPro for quite a while. I’ve taken it home as didn’t have a ‘good’ home machine as I have my better stuff in the office. Anyways the machine is far obsolete with 10.7 being the last official release supported, and although you can treat it like a hackintosh and go much further, Apple is making their binaries tuned heavy enough that all the spectre/meltdown patches broke the old Xeons.

So I installed Windows 10, and found I can go all the way to 1809 without any issues. I put in a GT 1030 with DDR5 RAM and it can even game to extent, although the 13 year old 2Ghz processors were certainly holding it down. Upgrade processors have always been available when I had this machine but they were expensive, and I wasn’t sure if they’d work. Well I picked up a pair of Xeon x5365 for $88 RMB each and pulled the plug.

A score of 167!

Supported features of the old Xeon 5130’s:

  • MMX instructions
  • SSE / Streaming SIMD Extensions
  • SSE2 / Streaming SIMD Extensions 2
  • SSE3 / Streaming SIMD Extensions 3
  • SSSE3 / Supplemental Streaming SIMD Extensions 3
  • EM64T / Extended Memory 64 technology / Intel 64  ? 
  • NX / XD / Execute disable bit  ? 
  • VT-x / Virtualization technology  ? 

I thought the thing to do was a quick benchmark of before and after. I was getting a whopping 167! That means if Cinebench scales to 100% efficiency I get a core score of 41. While my ‘newer’ machine’s E5-2620 v2 was scoring 52, and the current E5-2667 v2 is scoring 77.

It took two hours, but I finally got these 2 Xeon x5365’s installed giving me a score of 560, or a score of 70 per core. Nice!

Much progress

And here is the CPU features of the Xeon 5365:

  • MMX instructions
  • SSE / Streaming SIMD Extensions
  • SSE2 / Streaming SIMD Extensions 2
  • SSE3 / Streaming SIMD Extensions 3
  • SSSE3 / Supplemental Streaming SIMD Extensions 3
  • EM64T / Extended Memory 64 technology / Intel 64  ? 
  • NX / XD / Execute disable bit  ? 
  • VT-x / Virtualization technology  ? 

If you are expecting to run new and exciting software that requires SSE4/SSE4.1/SSE4.2 and the infamous POPCNT and LZCNT instructions you will be disappointed. Sorry Apex Legends fans. This also means that VMware Player is capped to version 12.

Also, while there is a POPCNT Emulator, it will trigger anti-cheat software, and you will get perma banned. Pitty.

Another thing worth noting is that it’s worth looking at the TDP of the various sSPEC of Xeons. I was lucky and I was able to source the SLAED variation which has half the idle TDP of the SLAC3 variant.

So yeah, this is basically as far as this thing can go CPU wise. Although I have 16GB of RAM, apparently it can go to 32GB, which means buying all new memory modules. I guess I can do a better video card. I’m hoping that I can run more stuff at once, I was hitting a point with all 4 cores were maxed to 100% way too much.

I was going to show off the new CPU’s but apparently the pictures didn’t come out and I wanted to get this upgrade over with, as I had mentioned it did take 2 hours. The plastic retainer in the memory cage, and that stupid cover for the processors was the hardest PITA to remove. I probably spent at least 30 minutes pulling that damned thing off. I never removed the CPU shield before and 13 years, 3 nations, 2 continents worth of dust was unreal. Maybe it’s just as well the pictures didn’t come out, as it was pretty disgusting in there. It’s also no wonder the old CPU’s were running hot.

I wonder if this machine counts as being vintage now? Apple’s sliding scale of support is a weird thing.

Installing Windows 10 pro onto an older Mac Pro

So I have this 2006 Mac Pro 1,1 that I’ve had laying around and I wanted to put my old Nvidia 1030 into it, along with Windows 10 for a newer (stronger?) home machine.

So I burnt the downloadable ISO from Microsoft onto a DVD, tried to boot it up and got this:

Ignore the microwave…

I got stuck at this “Select CD-ROM Boot Type : ” prompt, which you can’t type anything into. Apparently it’s a common and known issue with 64bit boot code, as the older Intel Apple Mac’s are of course 32bit only. So there is a fix, you have to use something called “oscdimg” to rebuild the ISO with a 32bit friendly loader.

So first I just used 7zip to extract the downloaded ISO, and then create the new 32bit ISO with the following:

oscdimg -n -m -bc:\temp\Windows10\boot\ c:\temp\Windows10 c:\temp\LegacyBootWindows10dvd.iso

And yes, it boots!


Now what about those special ‘bootcamp’ drivers? Obviously under Windows 10 there is no nice way to get the ones you want. And what about which model/download package to get?

Then I found Brigadier!

It’ll probe your hardware type and grab the drivers for you!