Fun with Nano Server

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

While everybody is busy buzzing about Windows 11, I wanted to commemorate the finest operating system ever made by Microsoft – Nano Server.

The OS was somewhat esoteric, distant and unapproachable. It had a rather high entry barrier, requiring you to build it on a Windows Server 2016 host using PowerShell magic spells. You couldn’t just download and run it. Even if you managed to get it running, there wasn’t anything you could do with it for fun. People didn’t bother to even check it out. My goal is to demystify this a bit, lower the entry bar and made it super easy for people to hack it.

Background info (you can skip it)

Nano Server was an interesting attempt at creating a datacenter grade OS that’s not managed via local GUI, keyboard and mouse, but rather full automation, code and remote tooling. It went one step further than Server Core or Windows PE by completely removing GUI components and local shell. Hence it’s not actually called “Windows” or “Windows Nano” but rather simply “Nano Server”. Rumor has it, it started as MinWin. The OS has a rudimentary text mode console loosely resembling this of VMware ESXi. However Nano was much more than a bare metal hypervisor. It was a fully fledged operating system.

Ever since I first saw a demo on Microsoft Ignite (previously known as TechEd) I wanted to run aclock on the text console. Much like the WinNT BSOD edition. This article started around my efforts to run (or port if needed) aclock to this platform. At the time of writing, the technology has been dead for several years now and rigor mortis has kicked in. However all the artifacts and documentation are still available on Microsoft’s website. Probably not for long, so a good moment to do it now, before everything gets deleted from existence.

How to quickly deploy Nano Server and run command line apps on the console

The hard way: you need to download Windows 2016 Server (eval) and run a PowerShell command to produce a bootable VHD file. While installing, you may want the Desktop Experience. However Nano creation is basically just a PowerShell command so you don’t actually need it.

Microsoft provides (soon to be deleted) Nano Server Quick Start. However the steps are trivial so you can totally skip that and stick just to this:

  • Launch PowerShell terminal window on WS2016 host.
  • Run: Import-Module D:\NanoServer\NanoServerImageGenerator -Verbose
    (D:\ drive being where Windows Server CDROM is mounted)
  • Run: New-NanoServerImage -DeploymentType Guest -Edition Standard -MediaPath d:\ -BasePath c:\nano -TargetPath c:\nano.vhdx -ComputerName nano -Development
    (c:\nano folder and c:\nano.vhdx image will be created for you)

Done! This will build a .vhdx image that can be run under Hyper-V as Gen-2 VM (for Gen-1 or to run it on any other hypervisor change .vhdx to .vhd in -TargetPath while running the PowerShell command).

The easy way: you can just download a pre-built VM image from here. There are VHD for Hyper-v Gen-1 and VHDX for Hyper-v Gen-2 and OVA for everything else.

Once you boot it up you will be greeted with a PowerShell prompt. Just like that! You can type cmd to launch the good old cmd.exe shell. MS-DOS 2016?

Keep in mind, this is a developer mode (see -Development flag). Normally you would be greeted with a login prompt and a boring menu that allows to change some networking settings and not much beyond that. In production mode you need to resort to hacks (or this) to get stuff running, fortunately nothing like that needed here.

So what can you run on it?

Firstly in order to get some external utilities going, you can mount a SMB share using net use in cmd or New-SMBMapping in PS world. Nano being a server and all, you can also share out a folder via net share or use C$ (you may need to create a user by using either net user /add in cmd or New-LocalUser in PS). Alternatively you can install Posh-SSH and use SCP to transfer files. If you don’t have working network you can just shut it down, mount the vhd image on the host and copy stuff in to the image then detach the VHD.

Aclock worked on the first run, no issues, using standard win64 exe:

aclock running on Nano Server Console

Wow! So looks like Nano console does have basic terminal controls. That opens quite a lot of possibilities. But can you run more complex apps? Text editors? Web browsers? GAMES?

Well, yes…, but likely not, but it really depends – on dependencies (read: DLLs).

From all the editors I tried XVI is probably the best:

XVI Editor Running on Nano Server Console

Everything else has a variety of issues:

  • The console is not a real text mode as was promised in MinWin or even was in NT BSOD. Rather it’s a weird graphical mode that merely emulates text.
  • The font is lacking line drawing characters. Some editors like YEdit allow to use ASCII drawing characters fortunately.
  • There is no reverse video. This manifests mostly in menus, etc. however it also applies to the cursor.
  • There is no cursor, or rather the cursor is an underscore and not transparent cell. Moving arrow left in the CLI doesn’t actually move the cursor it erases characters. There is no line editing.
  • Also related to reverse video, it appears Nano console has some weird issues with colors.
  • Missing DLLs. Nano Server not being a Windows OS is missing a lot of Windows DLLs and it has its own nano DLL hell. This has actually been acknowledged in MinWin. As such a lot of apps will not launch due to dependencies.

For example YEdit works remarkably well except for the menus, which use reverse video:

YEdit running on Nano Server Console

Perhaps Malcolm could make a Nano edition of YEdit? 😉

Update: thanks to Ron Yorston you can also run BusyBox on Nano! All you need to do is get the 64bit version and before you run it set an environmental variable to disable ANSI emulation. In CMD set BB_SKIP_ANSI_EMULATION=0 in PS $env:BB_SKIP_ANSI_EMULATION=0. Done!

BusyBox on Nano Server

You even get ls colors and vi editor works flawlessly! Unix shell on Nano, thats awesome!

So what about games?

Initially nothing worked as expected. Either due to line drawing, colors or previously mentioned DLL hell. There was one game that actually worked – PowerShell adaptation of snake:

PowerShell Snake running on Nano Server Console

But I wanted something better. I had high hopes for ascii-patrol, which is pure text mode and they build it for win64. Unfortunately the game requires a bunch of multimedia / sound DLLs from Windows which are not present in Nano.

Thankfully Neozeed has stepped in, took the source code, amputated all the multimedia stuff, borrowed the Unix clock code and gettimeofday, and used an older Visual Studio to build it. But he managed to produce a fully working and playable version!!!! Truly amazing stuff!

ASCII Patrol Running on Nano Server Console

The binary is available here. To play the game scroll down one screen to start a mission. If you enter profile customization simply press ESC to get out. Thanks again Neozeed!

I’m hoping readers can find more text mode/ascii apps and games that will work on the console. Please comment and send links!

In another dimension, having a semi working text editor, Yori shell, smb/scp, maybe with help of mingw64, sdk tools or borrowed compilers from Visual Studio, one could have a self hosted developer workstation with this.

For now please just download the pre-build image, or make one yourself and run it in your favorite hypervisor and have some fun with it!

With this, goodbye Nano Server! You will be always remembered. I know folks at Redmond tried really hard to make it such beautiful gem.

So I was missing Windows 10 Phone, so I fired up the emulator

First you can download it here:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=53424

In my “C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\10\Emulation\Mobile\10.0.14393.0” directory I have a modest 2GB file called flash.vhd which contains the phone image. I copy it to where I run my VM’s and run it with the XDE emulator:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft XDE.0.14393.0\"xde /memsize 3072 /vhd FLASH.vhd

And I’m running in no time, I login, load some apps, then I notice the storage:

What is this, a phone for ants?

What?! the disk image is a paultry 10GB. I guess the idea is that you wouldn’t actually try to load up the emulator like it’s your daily driver, rather you load YOUR app and only YOUR app, and just pretend that this isn’t some weird offshoot nostalgia machine.

Well needless to say something needs to be done about this storage situation.

I look and find this package, vhdutils. I had to go to some sketchy site, but it did include source. I should put this somewhere more legit to take away from all those weird squatters.

Update from the future I put VHD-Utilities over on GitHub, along with downloadable EXE’s. I can’t get the original site to load in wayback to give credit to whomever wrote it.

30/09/2021 09:09 pm 6,995,017,728 FLASH.vhd

So with stuff installed onto my phone I’m almost at 7GB physical 7.6 virtual space. I could go all crazy with 128 or 256GB but it’d largely be stuff I bought… which of course thanks to the magical world of DRM won’t play.

Yeah I guess you are welcome that I bought all those movies, and stuff but sure I wasn’t going to watch them on this phone… emulator. Thanks. thanks again.

So the resize vhd is quick. brutal. and efficient. I go with 64GB, because, why not? I could probably just grow it again if I needed to.

resizevhd.exe v:\Windows10-Phone\FLASH.vhd 68719476736

Now for the fun part. We need to attach the vhd, and resize the volume. I hope you like diskpart.

In the MMC I attach the disk image.. it’ll pop a few folders as it’s got a bunch of drive letters. I’ve never explored a phone, I don’t know if the ARM images are just as weird.

Even more strange, it’s MBR!

So if you were thinking, lots of partitions, and a clear win for GPT, sadly this isn’t it.

Sadly there is no free partitions (although one hiding could be deleted…?) And the UI doesn’t support expanding a logical drive (the green container). But diskpart does.

As indicated above the emulator’s vhd is disk3. You can see it’s the 64GB disk. Select it.

Next list the volumes. The Data disk (J:) is what we want so select Volume 10.

Literally just ‘select volume 10’ and ‘extend’. Don’t tell me this is difficult.

Listing the volumes again will show a 59GB Data partition. Congratulations we did it!

Back in the MMC, you’ll see it as well how the Data partition, along with the green extended partition is now taking up the entire disk. So we can now Detach the VHD, and run the emulator again!

Nice!

And just like that we now have plenty of free space on the emulator.

I downloaded some games, and some music. It’s nice to be back home.

It’s not an extensive list as I didn’t game much on my phone but here is what I know works:

  • Final Fantasy 1
  • Heroes of Larkwood
  • Skulls of the Shogun
  • Sonic CD
  • FL Studio
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Pixel Dungeon +

Halo Spartan Asslt just closes, and Asphalt 8: Airborne doesn’t get the screen size right so it’s impossible to click enough buttons.

Sonic CD on Windows Phone 10

It’s nice that sonic runs, (haha) although using a mouse makes it impossible to control.

Now one fun thing is that the emulator is x86, nor ARM based so I converted the VHD to a VMDK, ran it under VMware, and YES it RUNS… sort of.

Perhaps a format that never was to be, the Phone/Tablet but it boots quickly and is so responsive. Windows without most of the .. Windows bits. I guess the real experiment will have to be will it run on a Surface?

It’s all 32bit anyways, and such an evolutionary dead end. Pitty.

Double Agent, WSLv2 and named pipes

So digging around an old SDK I came across an old friend, Microsoft Agent:

This was the bold new strategy of having a digital assistant that you could interact with on the desktop to help you with common tasks, and help with common issues. Oddly enough as popular a Alexa is these days, Microsoft’s attempts didn’t work out so well.

Perhaps it was the infamous Clippy of Microsoft Office infamy that left a bad taste in the world of talking animated agents. circling back to the popular Alexa perhaps Clarke/Kubrick had it right in that people prefer an omnipresent voice rather than some animated animal. Perhaps the need to animate Cortana led to it’s downfall as well.

Agent was at least an open ended platform so 3rd parties could drive the agent. However like so many other innovate things Microsoft made in the late 1990’s like Internet Explorer, Comic Chat, and Active-X, Microsoft Agent is no longer supported on Windows 10 (I didn’t even try Vista or 7). Enter Double Agent, a 32bit/64bit Active-X emulator of the old Microsoft Agent control. Download some characters for end users, and install them as Administrator, and you are in business!

How cool. Now for the fun part I took the sample ‘Hello’ from the Microsoft Agent Web SDK for C, and added a named pipe, so it simply sits on \\.\pipe\agent1 and will speak anything you send it. Pretty simple, right?

Adding WSLv2

Now one of the cool things about WSL(Windows Subsystem for Linux), is that you can run Linux commands from the CMD prompt. For example:

C:\Users\jason>wsl uname -a
Linux remlazar 5.10.16.3-microsoft-standard-WSL2 #1 SMP Fri Apr 2 22:23:49 UTC 2021 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Although there is a mechanism for sharing Unix sockets between WSL & Windows, I opted for something more casual and simpler, stdio redirection and a named pipe. I instead opted for the simple command:

@wsl x=$(fortune %1);echo ${x,,} > \\.\pipe\agent1

I should add, I found the hard way that UPPERCASE words are read letter by letter by agent, so I have to do the ‘,,’ trick to force the output to lowercase. Pipes and redirects appear to be interpreted by CMD, so I opted for environment variables instead.

So with some pipes, and a simple example I now have one of those annoying desktop agents reading jokes to me from Linux. It’s not a terribly complicated or involved program, but sometimes it doesn’t have to be. I do like how reading from a pipe is a great LCD, as anything that can open a file can send data to a named pipe, so this makes it ubiquitious.

I guess if I was more involved, I’d add timers, and have the agent walk around, sleep disappear etc etc. But I’m happy enough for it to be acting as a text to speech. The only downside is once kids see it, it’ll be the greatest thing ever. Perhaps Microsoft wasn’t wrong it’s just that the magic of an animated bird reading ‘zippy the pinhead‘ fortunes appeals more to children than to adults.

I’m sure there is books written about user interfaces, and the rise and fall, and rise again of the PDA, but I wonder what they have to say about Microsoft Agent?

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!

Enable Hyper-V on Windows 10 Home

So you are in a hurry and need to build a network in a box. It was a bit of a surprise, and you have no time. On site there is ONE computer, it’s a NUC. A tiny one. And you cannot replace the base OS for “reasons”… No problem, you say, just add in Hyper-V and you can build an ‘older’ but useful domain controller, exchange server, VPN & utility servers and then yeah you find out the killer:

Ugh

Windows 10 Home.

Well it turns out that you actually *CAN* install Windows 10 with a little command line shake and bake:

pushd "%~dp0"
dir /b %SystemRoot%\servicing\Packages\*Hyper-V*.mum >hyper-v.txt
for /f %%i in ('findstr /i . hyper-v.txt 2^>nul') do dism /online /norestart /add-package:"%SystemRoot%\servicing\Packages\%%i"
del hyper-v.txt
Dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Hyper-V -All /LimitAccess /ALL
pause

I picked up this tip from TheWindowsClub. And yep, it works!

Super cool!

Of course this also means you can turn your unsuspecting parent’s home machine into a remote server….

Presentation Manager for Windows NT

This is something that honestly deserves so much more. Back in the original scope of NT OS/2 it was going to be a C parallel of OS/2 2.00 Cruiser that had the promise of running on one of those new fangled microkernels, and those trendy RISC workstations. The 486 / Pentium were considered like the 68040/68060 to be the peak of CISC processors and from there on it was going to be a RISC world, the only question was to be which one?

Many of the Motorola customers who couldn’t afford to make their own (SUN with the SPARC), or license a school project (SGi with MIPS) were expected to use the 88000 processors that were expected to eclipse the 68040. There was an Apple initiative, and even a NeXT RISC Workstation built among many others. Only with the launch of the 88010 it was discovered performance was nowhere near expected and it’d take significant work to fix.

Back on the i386 side, Microsoft had been working with Intel on their upcoming RISC, the NTen aka i860. And just like the 88000 it too had performance issues, which resulted in Microsoft retargeting the MIPS.

Things changed along the way, and not only was the primary CPU platform dumped, but Windows 3.0 became such an incredible seller that OS/2 Cruiser was dumped from NT OS/2, and it became Windows NT. NT had been promised with the ability to run OS/2, MS-DOS, and POSIX applications, with an emphasis on Win16 and the new extended Win32 applications. However MS-DOS was super limited, POSIX was just enough to run vi & tar, Win16 was incredibly slow as it ran through WOW (Windows on Windows), and OS/2 had been kneecapped to the 16bit 1.x support as it was primarily a vehicle for running Microsoft SQL Server 1.0/4.0 . Another consequence of this is that OS/2 was command line only. In the back of deployment guides, and resource kits there was always an inference to a Presentation Manager subsystem for NT, although I’d never seen one in the wild.

Until I got a hold of a bunch of Microsoft Select CD-ROM’s that mostly were multilingual service packs of Office and Windows 98 / NT 3.51 & NT 4.0 But burred in there was a copy of Presentation Manager for NT 3.51!

First off it’s a text based install. It feels like October 1991 all over again. It installs a parallel OS/2 directory with presentation manager support.

Once it is installed it’ll setup program icons from the Windows NT side. Presentation manager runs in a separate window from the GDI. This is akin to how OS/2 would run Windows in a ‘full screen’ session. So oddly enough both support each other’s 16bit applications full screen, while reserving the desktop for 32bit applications. IBM would later introduce dual mode video drivers capable of rending Windows and OS/2 applications at the same time. Clearly Microsoft would never do this.

Launching the control panel reveals that it’s OS/2 version 1.3. No big surprise there. You can return to the Windows NT desktop either via the Windows NT icon in the bottom right, or via a Control+Alt+Delete.

The DeScribe 3 beta installs pretty smoothly into the subsystem. However running Describe is a different story:

It hangs trying to open or do anything. Even the ‘help about’ is too much. Such a pitty.

The readme warns against trying to copy the file manager from OS/2 although it does tell you what files to copy in manually. Naturally there is no ‘console’ for Presentation Manager, rather that is handled on the Windows desktop.

No doubt there had to be some big customer that demanded a way out for their investment in Presentation Manager on Windows NT. Otherwise this would have been built in. And it’s only 5 diskettes so it’s not a space issue. I suspect since it was on a Select CD, it really was not meant for wide scale distribution.

Last time I tried, Excel 3, and Word 1 had issues running on Windows NT, as the loader tried to intercept them as Win16. Things didn’t go so well. Or maybe it’s my memory. I went ahead and installed Excel 2.2 for OS/2

Despite it being text mode, it has Presentation Manager hooks, and needs PM Shell to be running. It’s a simple setup program, but yes, it’s text mode.

One nice thing about Describe & Excel is that they can see the program groups on the NT side, and create icons over there. However NT has no ability to read OS/2 resources so the icons are all incorrect.

And yes, Excel for OS/2 runs on Windows NT! Back then Excel was super expensive, this is before the big Office OEM bundles that took over the industry. So I could totally see preserving this massive investment in Excel.

Despite having 80286 emulation in the earlier versions of NT, and 80486 emulation in Windows NT 4.0 (Yes DooM runs on the MIPS!) the OS/2 subsystem was never available on the RISC platforms. I suspect had Windows 3.0 not been a big seller it may have. Then again without the big ‘rabbit out of a hat’ like DOS Extenders, Windows would have died on the vine. Who knows, maybe NT OS/2 is a thing in a parallel universe.

Yedit – The missing edit.com replacement for modern Windows

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

I previously lamented about lack of a small text editor for Windows text mode console. Something simple to just edit a text, configs, .ini, .reg or .cmd/bat files. Kind of like edit.com in MSDOS and Windows 3.x/9.x. Edit.com could even run under Windows NT up until XP inside NTVDM DOS emulator. I seen plenty of people use it this way. Sadly, instead of porting it to the modern Windows it was just whacked. While there are plenty of 3rd party editors to choose from none of them is perfect. They are either expensive, overly complicated, poorly ported from Unix, VMS or TOPS20, no longer maintained or require a steep learning curve for a casual Windows user.

My cries must have been heard in Redmond circles. Malcolm Smith aka malxau (author of Yori, a super awesome command line replacement for Windows) stepped in and made a brand new, text mode editor called Yedit. By default It comes as part of Yori installer however it’s easy to separate it to a stand alone exe.

Yedit on Windows NT

There really isn’t much to talk about Yori. It has no special features. It doesn’t try to be an IDE, word processor, hex editor or an operating system. It’s just a perfect replacement for edit.com. Thank you Malcolm! I really wish that Microsoft just put it in Windows 10 now.

Yedit on Windows 10

While checking out Yedit you should also give Yori a try. It’s really a fantastic CMD replacement shell.

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!

Fun with OpenServer and Merge

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

A friend and I were recently discussing differences between WABI, WINE, WISE, Merge, VP/IX, FX!32 and SoftWindows. This article covers Merge specifically which is a DOS/Windows emulator initially built for AT&T 6300 Plus computer. Later ported to UnixWare, OpenServer and eventually served as basis for Win4Lin. Later versions of Merge were build using Microsoft WISE SDK which allowed to run apps without full copy of Windows kind of like WINE. I will be running it on OpenServer 5 using VirtualBox. However one could get it going on UnixWre and under any other hypervisor same as easy.

For Vbox/OSR5, when creating a VM, make it other/other type, give 256MB to 1GB RAM and 4GB HDD. Once VM is created go to Settings and change network adapter to Intel PRO/1000 MT Desktop and Attachment to Bridge mode. For some reason I could not get DHCP working out of the box. Also under Display change graphics controller to VM SVGA.

One can get the last “real” OSR5 from this link. There also are never Xuinos versions and specifically targeted for VMware, for example this one.

Boot and go through the prompts as normal. At some point you will be stopped by a lovely prompt for license number and code:

Enter SCO043568 / pnhohvqm to get past this.

Watch out for this screen:

Don’t worry about not being able to get the NIC detected at this point. Leave it as Deferred for now. You need to install MP5 update and a driver update for this to work. This will be covered later.

Select some decent resolution for VESA SVGA:

Also select PS/2 Mouse:

The rest should just fly through on autopilot. Once system boots login as root with the password you set.

First thing you will need to install MP5 update. Download the ISO file from this link and attach to your hypervisor. Open the terminal and type “custom” to install software. Or double click that fancy “Software Manager” icon on the desktop. Under Software click Install New… and select this host. Select your attached cdrom.

You will need to install Maintenance Pack 5 and GFX / NIC Drivers:

Make sure to hit install twice one for each of these items as they cannot be selected together. Once complete you will need to reboot of course.

After reboot you should be able to add and configure the NIC. You will need to either run “scoadmin” or go to System Administration – Networks – Network Configuration Manager. Add a new LAN adapter. The Intel PRO/1000 should be detected automatically. I could never get DHCP to work and just used static IP config there. Make sure to ok re-link the kernel and reboot.

Installation of merge is a little bit more complicated. The latest version can be downloaded from here. If you are installing under UnixWare then this is your folder. Transfer it to your OSR5 VM via browser, ftp, samba, iso file or however you like. Open a terminal and go to the directory with the cpio file file and run:

cpio -icv -I osr5_merge5323a_vol.cpio

This will produce a bunch of VOL* files. These are installed with “custom” as well. However instead of cdrom you select Media Images and point to the directory with extracted VOL files:

There should be an option to install Merge.

You will be also prompted by a lovely license code prompt. Enter SCO837369 / bhtepkxy to get through. You will need to reboot again.

After login there will be a new folder on the desktop with Merge tools:

Root is not allowed to run it, but you can pre-install Windows as root. To do so go to Merge Setup and open System Wide Administration. You will find a button to Load Windows CD. You can just mount any bootable Windows 9x cdrom to your hypervisor and Merge will copy it for you.

There will be a prompt for network configuration. I opted for WinSock option which is user mode emulation, it’s enough to get a web browser going. If you need to use SMB/CIFS, open network shares, etc you will need the bridged mode with extra IP address for the guest.

Finally you will need to create and login as a different user to get this thing running.

This is the final product, with 4 level inception:

For the lazy of course provided is a fully installed OVA, one with VBox NIC and one with VMware NIC. Passwords are root/root and tenox/tenox. Note that this image has a static IP address of 192.168.1.111.

Have fun with virtualization!

Update: Article about OpenServer 6 and MergePro

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!