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!

Dell UNIX Lives Again!

(please note that this is a guest post from Antoni Sawicki)

Dell UNIX is so ultra rare among rare Unix species that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. I have been hunting this elusive but important piece of computer history for well over 15 years now. Fortunately thanks to Charles H. Sauer and his excellent blog post I was finally able to lay my hands on disk and tape images and the restoration process begun.

The install tape

The system can be installed from either a tape or network server (presumably NFS). Unfortunately no virtualization software can emulate a tape drive. Hopes for a network install are even slimmer since the required network support floppy disk has been lost and chances of suitable Ethernet driver working in Bochs or Qemu are equal to that of finding the lost floppy disk.

I have decided to try a hard disk image from a readily pre-installed system. The original Dell 486 workstation had a 1GB SCSI hard disk. Unfortunately neither Dell UNIX supports LBA mode nor Qemu/Bochs support the Adaptec 154x controller required by the OS.

As all normal install options have been exhausted, the only option left was to use a second hard disk image as source of cpio archive files. Booting from the two install floppies and attaching two disk images was a snap. The next step was to inject the tape “file” in to a right place on the disk, so it can be read by cpio command. A hard disk in Dell UNIX is pretty much unusable without a valid SysV partition and VTOC. Fortunately dellsetup command does it all for you. Once VTOC was put in place I’ve attached the transfer disk image as a loopback device in my host OS. In couple of iterations I was able to aim the host os dd if=file1 of=/dev/loop0 bs=512 seek=offset at the right place, which you work out using prtvtoc /dev/rdsk/1s0 command. Then cpio -ict < /dev/dsk/1s1 was able to list contents of the emulated tape… with errors…

In my infinite wisdom, for some unknown reason I’ve assumed that LBA addressing is required above 540MB. So to be on a safe side I have made the hard disk images 512 MB. What a mistake it was! I have lost several hours trying to figure out cpio header errors coming from the disk… By pure coincidence, while the tape archive was installing (with errors) I was researching for this very blog article and found that LBA starts at 504 MB… Recreating the hard disk images just few MB smaller took all tape and prior boot problems away!

Once the cpio archive was extracted I have made few final touches taken from the original tape install script. After a reboot Dell UNIX booted perfectly. You can experience this by using the firstboot image file. The final part of installation was injecting the second tape file containing System V PKG file to the transfer disk image and running pkgadd -d /dev/dsk/1s1. This is what’s included on allsoft.img.

Dell Unix at First Boot

Some final notes on running the OS:

  • To enable mouse to work:
    • Qemu just add “-chardev msmouse,id=msmouse -device isa-serial,chardev=msmouse” to the launch arguments.
    • Bochs add to the config file:
      mouse: type=serial, enabled=1      
      com1: enabled=1, mode=mouse
      then you have to kill mousemgr process and prevent from starting by deleting /etc/rc2.d/S25mse
      then edit /usr/lib/X11/Xconfig:
      disable Xqueue      
      enable Microsoft Mouse
  • To enable keyboard to work correctly in VirtualBOX start with Num Lock OFF.
  • You can use qemu-img utility to convert the image to VMware vmdk to use in VirtualBox.
  • To run X window type startx

X11 and all its glory

  • To attach it to internet use SLIP as there is no working Ethernet driver.  Contrary to most UNIXen of the time, the command is not slattach, but rather slipattach.  Thankfully it does work the same way.  I have found that running Dell Unix with VirtualBOX, along with Windows NT 4.0 I was able to connect into the Dell Unix VM, and get network access.  Just set the two VM’s up for a named pipe (\\.\pipe\dellunix) and make one of them a server, and start that VM 1st.  The steps to prepare Windows NT have been outlined before.

Telnet via SLIP

Legal disclaimer: Dell UNIX is a commercial software and should not be distributed without manufacturers permission. However as the operating system has been dead for 20 years and with a long tradition from Unix Heritage Society and Bitsavers I’m publishing this in good faith under abandonware category. If Dell or any other copyright holder wishes this software removed, please let me know.

Attached are:

  • firstboot image
  • all (pkg) software installed
  • setup instructions if you wish to install from scratch.

Download:

You may also be interested in my post about a sister System V operating system – Interactive UNIX:

Update: Dell Unix now runs on 86Box with higher resolution and proper networking.