Legacy OSes Archive

Symbian won

I was working in the mobile phone industry just as smartphones were taking off. I saw the Palm Pilot rise and fall. I witnessed NEC and Sagem and a host of companies launch smartphones and then disappear. But the greatest tragedy of them all was Nokia and their Symbian Operating System. Symbian was, for its time, a brilliant OS. It ran 3D games smoothly, had terrific hardware support, a decent ecosystem for developers. And it was bloody annoying for users. Every few minutes, Symbian would interrupt you to ask “Are you sure you want this app to connect to the Internet?” His final paragraph has a point.

The Counterpoint program launcher

The Counterpoint program launcher was supplied with the Amstrad PC5086 and other Amstrad PCs from that era. It acts as a user-friendly front end, replacing the full GUIs (Windows 2.0, or GEM) supplied with previous models. The Amstrad-branded version opens with a warning that it should only be used on Amstrad computers. However it appears to run successfully in non-Amstrad environments, such as the virtual machine used to make these screenshots. I love discovering user interfaces I’ve never known about this before, and this one fits the bill just right. Wild UI experimentation was the norm during the late ’80s and early ’90s, before we all settled on what we’re all using now. Digging into the past and learning from even relatively obscure footnotes such as these is fascinating.

Installing NextStep OS (OpenStep) in VirtualBox

I’ll be setting my system up on a Windows machine, but you could just as easily set it up on a macOS or Linux machine. When I first attempted this install, I used VMware Workstation 14 Pro for Windows. After going through most of the installation process I couldn’t get OpenStep in to a color screen mode no matter how much I tried. I eventually found out that VMware Workstation doesn’t support the proper VESA display modes, and try as you might you’ll get an error on boot that says “VESA Mode Not Supported.” Fortunately, Virtual Box – which is cross-platform between Windows, macOS, and Linux and completely free – does support the proper VESA mode and works great for the installation of OpenStep. Still, there are some quirks when setting up your VirtualBox VM initially. The VM must have 1 processor with 1 core, 64MB of RAM, and a 2.0GB hard disk on an IDE controller. You will need to configure one IDE CD-ROM drive and one floppy drive. The hard drive must be at IDE 0:0 (Primary Master), and the CD-ROM drive must be at IDE 0:1 (Primary Slave). You will have to edit the properties of the VM upon creation to ensure you adhere to these standards. All other default options of the VM during the creation wizard can be left alone. NextStep is a lot of fun to explore and play around with, since you can clearly see the early days of Mac OS X in there, for obvious reasons. It’s definitely worth it to set an evening apart and follow this tutorial.

The AlphaSmart dana in 2019

The AlphaSmart dana is technically a Palm OS PDA, in the same way that Hannibal Lecter is technically a famous chef. The dana does run Palm OS 4.0, but it has almost reversed priorities from a normal PDA. For example, I drafted college essays on a dana, but never used the calendar or address book until I began writing this article. In contrast, Palm OS founder Jeff Hawkins distilled the average PDA user’s needs down to, “All I really care about is calendars and address book and trying to coordinate with my secretary.” Palm designed their operating system to organize a social schedule, but AlphaSmart Inc. used that codebase to create a device that focused on expression rather than organization. AlphaSmart was founded by ex-Apple employees who designed simplified computers for classrooms that couldn’t afford high end computers. AlphaSmart achieved these lower costs by hyperfocusing on composition. Those lower costs became irrelevant as laptop prices dropped, but the hyperfocus on composition itself has become more relevant in an era of distraction. If we consider the dana as a device for producing drafts, even its flaws are transformed into strengths.

The Multicians web site

The Multicians web site presents the story of the Multics operating system for people interested in the system’s history, especially Multicians. The site’s goals are to: • preserve the technical ideas and advances of Multics so others don’t need to reinvent them. • record the history of Multics, its builders, and its users before we all forget. • give credit where it’s due for important innovations. • remember some good times and good people. A great initiative, and a treasure trove of information about MULTICS, the mainfraime timesharing operating system that arguably influenced every single operating system we use today.

Wireless networking in DOS

My need was seemingly simple: I set up an old ThinkPad 760XL (166 MHz Pentium MMX) running DOS for my son to play 1990s games on, especially but not exclusively Sierra and LucasArts adventures; for that purpose, the laptop is quite suitable, it has a decent ESS sound chip and a CD-ROM. Moving data to the laptop on a CF card with a PCMCIA adapter is not difficult, but it gets old; it would be really handy to have the laptop on the network, accessing the home NAS via either SMB or NFS. The laptop is of course old enough that it has no built-in Ethernet or WiFi, although it has two PCMCIA/CardBus (at least I believe they’re also functional as CardBus) slots. But the laptop is portable, and it’s in a corner of the house where there’s no Ethernet socket nearby. So WiFi would be really great. But is it even possible to get a DOS laptop on a WiFi network in 2019? The short answer is “yes, but”. The long answer follows. That link points to part 1 – part 2 has also been published. Setting up modern wireless networking on older devices or operating systems can be a major stumbling block – there’s not only hardware and its support to consider, but also things like encryption and support for modern wireless security standards. Many of the devices in my Palm OS and PocketPC collection, for instance, have wireless support, but will often lack support for WPA2. Often, the only viable solution is to create a pretty much open guest network, which is not something I’m a big fan of. I’m glad I’m not into MS-DOS like the author is, because I certainly wouldn’t want to tussle with this problem.

The ZedRipper

Meet the ZedRipper – a 16-core, 83 MHz Z80 powerhouse as portable as it is impractical. If this introductory sentence doesn’t grab your attention because you’re dead inside, maybe this will: In the course of my historical computing hobbies, I stumbled upon something that I thought was very fascinating – relatively early in its history, CP/M supported a ‘networked’ version called CP/NET. The idea behind it was was one that will still feel pretty familiar to most people – that an office might have one or two ‘real’ machines with large disk drives and printers that it shared with ‘thin-client’ style machines that we’re basically just terminals with CPUs and RAM attached. Each user could basically act as if they had their own private CP/M machine with access to large disks and printers. This should give you enough hints as to where the creator and developer took this project. Amazing work.

General Magic’s Magic Cap mobile platform

Next in our series of “people who left Apple and founded a revolutionary company that was ahead of its time and created amazing products but ultimately failed,” let’s check out General Magic and their operating system called Magic Cap. The article contains a guide on how to set up a Magic Cap emulator inside a Mac OS 7.5.3 emulator. Some assembly definitely required.

FreeDOS’s Linux roots

Jim Hall, creator and developer of FreeDOS, on the eve of the project’s 25th birthday In 1994, I read articles in technology magazines saying that Microsoft planned to do away with MS-DOS soon. The next version of Windows would not use DOS. MS-DOS was on the way out. I’d already tried Windows 3, and I wasn’t impressed. Windows was not great. And, running Windows would mean replacing the DOS applications that I used every day. I wanted to keep using DOS. I decided that the only way to keep DOS was to write my own. On June 29, 1994, I announced my plans on the Usenet discussion group comp.os.msdos.apps, and things took off from there. FreeDOS – alongside DOSBox – are staples of the DOS community, and it’s great to have them available as free software.

R.T. Russell’s Z80 BBC Basic is now open source

More news from the CP/Mish front: As part of the work I’ve been doing with cpmish I’ve been trying to track down the copyright holders of some of the more classic pieces of CP/M software and asking them to license it in a way that allows redistribution. One of the people I contacted was R.T. Russell, the author of the classic Z80 BBC BASIC, and he very kindly sent me the source and agreed to allow it to be distributed under the terms of the zlib license. So it’s now open source! I’ve made the 37-year-old source build and added it to the cpmish respository; it works fine and is shipping with the cpmish disk images.

CP/Mish: an open source CP/M reimplementation

CP/Mish is an open source sort-of-CP/M distribution for the 8080 and Z80 architectures (although for technical reasons currently it only works on the Z80). It contains no actual Digital Research code. Instead, it’s a collection of third party modules which replicate it, all with proper open source licenses, integrated with a build system that should make it easy to work with. CP/Mish is not CP/M, but it’s enough like CP/M to run CP/M programs and do CP/M things. And, if you want the real CP/M, CP/Mish uses the standard interaces so you can just drop in a Digital Research BDOS and CCP and it’ll work. Some companies bet on CP/M, some bet on DOS. We know who won, and who lost. Still, CP/M inspired a lot of DOS, so anybody with experience with DOS should feel right at home on CP/M.

Hatari 2.2.0 released

Hatari 2.2.0 has been released. Hatari is an Atari ST/STE/TT/Falcon emulator for GNU/Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, Windows and other systems which are supported by the SDL library. The Atari ST was a 16/32 bit computer system which was first released by Atari in 1985. Using the Motorola 68000 CPU, it was a very popular computer having quite a lot of CPU power at that time. Unlike many other Atari ST emulators which try to give you a good environment for running GEM applications, Hatari tries to emulate the hardware of a ST as close as possible so that it is able to run most of the old ST games and demos. Hatari is open source software and is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). This new release – a year in the making – has a sizeable changelog, but I’m not exactly an Atari expert, so I’m not entirely sure which of the changes are the most exciting.

Introducing Darkstar: a Xerox Star emulator

Given its history and relationship to the Alto, the Star seemed appropriate for my next emulation project. (You can find the Alto emulator, ContrAlto, here). As with the Alto a substantial amount of detailed hardware documentation had been preserved and archived, making it possible to learn about the machine’s inner workings… Except in a few rather important places. Fortunately, Al Kossow at Bitsavers was able to provide extra documentation that filled in most of the holes. Cross-referencing all of this with the available schematics, it looked like there was enough information to make the project possible. This is an amazing project, and the article provides a lot of details about the process of writing the emulator. I’m definitely going to try this out this week to see if I can get it running. I’ve never used the Star, and that’s likely never going to change – they’re rare, expensive, and in museums – so this is the next best thing. I think most of us owe it to ourselves to try this out.

EmuTOS: a Free operating system for Atari computers

EmuTOS is designed to run on traditional Atari hardware (ST, TT, Falcon, based on Motorola 68000  or ColdFire microprocessors) and their emulators. It features functionality similar to TOS, which powered the Atari ST and its successors between 1985 and 1994. EmuTOS can run on real hardware, either as ROM replacement or from floppy, or on any Atari emulator such as ARAnyM, Hatari, or Steem SSE. EmuTOS is Free Software, and can run legacy third-party software on emulators without requiring copyrighted Atari ROMs, thereby avoiding legal issues.