Obscure PC operating systems and apps [was Re: got this old peecee...]

Liam Proven lproven at gmail.com
Sun Dec 9 12:15:40 CST 2007

On 09/12/2007, Roy J. Tellason <rtellason at verizon.net> wrote:
> On Saturday 08 December 2007 14:13, Liam Proven wrote:
> > On 06/12/2007, Roy J. Tellason <rtellason at verizon.net> wrote:
> > > On Thursday 06 December 2007 12:53, Chuck Guzis wrote:
> > > > On 6 Dec 2007 at 1:52, Roy J. Tellason wrote:
> > > > > I'd originally planned to put OS/2 in this box.  Now I'm lots less
> > > > > enthused about that OS than I was at one time,  so I dunno what I'm
> > > > > gonna do with it. Thoughts on this?
> >
> > Depends what you want to do, or be able to do, with it, obviously!
> >
> > Do you want a GUI OS?
> Not too likely on that box...

I see no reason. A fast 486 with a decent graphics accelerator would
be all right, if you confined yourself to DOS-era GUIs, things that
run in SVGA or VESA modes and the like.

> > Do you want productivity apps?
> I'm not sure what you mean there.  Office-type stuff?  Nah.

OK. What /do/ you want to be able to do with it, then?

> I may use it for playing with smaller distros,  though mostly they seem to
> want to boot into some sort of a graphics mode and impress you with their
> eye-candy.

The baseline for that these days seems to be roughly a fast Pentium-1
or slow Pentium-II with ~128MB of RAM and 6-8GB of disk.

> > One that might suit it quite well would be Minix 3. Never played with
> > that yet myself.
> Never played with any of them,  and didn't know there was a v3 out there.

Minix 3 is a total rewrite, very modular, microkernel, designed to be
usable as a low-end Unix system on a 386-class machine. Big change
from v1/2, which was a demo/teaching system for XTs. Much lower-end
than Linux, though, smaller and simpler. Free with a capital F.


> > It might run BeOS, especially with a 5x86 chip in there. BeOS Max is a
> > good, freely-available BeOS distro. Mainly intended for Pentium-class
> > systems, though.
> Well,  I have a bunch of those around too and assorted cases I could stuff 'em
> into if I ever got the desire...

BeOS is stunning. A glimpse of what the future might have been. Shows
where we went wrong with Windows and Unix. It's a must-see OS, IMHO.

> > FreeDOS or DR-DOS plus OpenGEM would run very well; indeed, it's quite
> > high-spec for that.
> I think I looked at DR-DOS once,  don't they run some oddball sort of
> networking in there?

[Furrowed brow] What /do/ you do with your time? 8¬)

DR-DOS is a clone of MS-DOS, based on the core of Concurrent-CP/M. It
has no native networking, any more than MS-DOS does. Some versions
were bundled with Personal Netware or Netware Lite, Novell's 2 doomed
peer-to-peer products. Both are best avoided.

But DR-DOS itself is a great DOS. There's a version out there that's
open source, with current updates - Google the "dr-dos enhancement

> > For a more modern, but commercial, DOS GUI, there's Geos, AKA
> > GeoWorks, now known as Breadbox Ensemble. Again, it costs, but you can
> > assemble a fairly complete little system from various free demos and
> > things that have been put out there.
> >
> > http://www.breadbox.com/
> Hm,  I didn't know that was still around.

Just barely.

> > (I think others have suggested something akin to Concurrent DOS. IMS'
> > Real32 was the last supported descendant of that, I think, but it's
> > primarily a multiuser thing so not of great interest on a standalone
> > box - it just looks like MS-DOS.)
> >
> > Or just plain old DOS, together with DesqView, or, if you want
> > something cool and exotic, DesqView/X.
> I ran dos/dv on a different box,  also with a 5x86/133 chip,  for a really
> long time, and that was in fact the last box that ran my BBS,  which shut
> down for the last time in October of 2005 or thereabouts.  Never played with
> dv/x,  though.  If I could access the BBS stuff I think I remember seeing
> something in there about where one could snag a copy of that.

I have a boxed copy but I'm on the wrong side of the Atlantic and
anyway I don't really want to part with it. :¬)

It's a very interesting system, though. I wish DV/X had taken off
instead of Windows. Rather than the current battle between Windows
versus Unix, via DV/X, the world of DOS would have been led into
multitasking, GUIs and networking via the Unix standards. The two
would have merged rather than diverged. It would be a very different
IT world today. I'm not saying better, but interesting.

> > That might be both fun and quite productive couple with some of the
> > last-generation, high-end DOS apps, like MS Word 5.5 (available free
> > from MS and so downloadable, as they gave it away rather than issue
> > Y2K patches for Word for DOS.)
> Got a whole package here someplace that's WP6 for dos,  which I think I'd
> prefer,  maybe.  Though I do recall some of those real early versions of Word
> (whatever one it was that ran on XT-class hardware) that would actually show
> things like bold and italics on screen.  But a machine for WP?  I don't do
> that much of it.

Ah. It's my living, or a large part of it.

> > I'd like to try WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS, which had a full GUI, but
> > I've been looking for a copy for years with no joy.
> Hmm.  :-)
> For dos?  I don't think so,  or at least don't remember that being in there,
> though it was menu-driven by comparison with the funky key stuff that you had
> to deal with in 5.1.  OTOH,  my brother at one point had at least 3 copies of
> WP6 for windoze (presumably 3.1 at the time?) and it may have been that one
> you were thinking of?  I'm sure I have that whole package someplace,  anyhow,
> if I run across it I could look.

Please do.

Yes, AFAICR, WP6 *DOS* had a full-on graphics-mode GUI. WP 5.1 had
CUA-compliant drop-down menus /as well as/ WP's own weird F-key driven
interface. I think WP5 did, too, but less CUA-like. The last version
which was F-key only was WP 4.2, I think.

> > It was unusably slow at the time, but on a more recent PC like a fast 486,
> > it should fly along. There was also a full-GUI graphical spreadsheet version
> > of one of the major spreadsheets, but I don't remember details now. I
> > think it might have been Borland Quattro or QuattroPro 5 or so for DOS.
> I actually used multiplan under dos,  until that machine died.  Not all that
> much was in there,  and at this point if I really need to do spreadsheet-type
> stuff I'll use open office.  Not that I see a need for GUI in that type of
> app,  either.

There's no /need/ but the last generation of DOS apps was trying very
hard to look and work like Windows apps, but without the need for the
overhead and licence of Windows. At the time, they were too big and
slow. 15y later, they would be tiny and sleek by modern standards.

> > If you can get a supported TCP/IP stack running on DOS, there *are* some DOS
> > web browsers, such as Arachne and Lineo's WebSpyder.  I'm not sure about
> > email programs, though.
> I've heard of the first one,  not the second.  And I had a fair collection of
> stuff for all sorts of functions.  Crynwr (sp?) drivers for one thing,
> though that stuff didn't get along well with dv.  And a couple of different
> ftp clients.  I had one heck of a collection of assorted utilities I picked
> up over time,  probably still do someplace,  in some backup copy.  I also ran
> a UUCP gateway that would call out from time to time to a local system I had
> a login on,  and exchange email traffic,  and then gate things to
> fidonet-type messages.

Fair enough. TBH, I confined my online comms activity to JANET,
Compuserve and (mainly) CIX until the Web happened. I never got into
the bulletin board scene. In Europe, we pay for local calls too. There
are no free calls except 0800 numbers, where the company on the other
end pays. This means BBSs were very expensive to use, so they were not
that big here. Some people did it; I couldn't afford the phone bills.

The selling point of CIX was offline readers: you dialled in, grabbed
your messages with a script, sent your outgoing ones, and hung up, as
fast as possible to keep the bills down. This meant that services like
Compuserve, with no official offline reader and only some horrendously
clunky and primitive 3rd party ones, were prohibitively expensive, so
I never used them unless my employers were paying.

Before broadband, the comms world in Europe was very very different to
North America, with its (to us) weird system of lots of rival phone
companies, free local calls and vastly expensive long distance ones.

> > Bung in a SCSI card and a couple of old SCSI disks, make it into a
> > NetWare server? There was a freely-available 2-user version of Netware
> > 4.1, and that can be patched up to date with free service packs,
> > making it fully W2K compliant and so on.
> Ok,  do-able but why would I want to run Netware?

It's something genuinely /different/. I used to rather like Netware; I
wish server-side Linux had evolved into something as simple and

> > If you want to try a modern, networking-enabled OS/2, there's
> > Serenity's eComStation. Expensive, though. There's a free demo live
> > CD, but it's not installable.
> Hm.

If you're a former OS2er, you should at least look at it! (A former
OS2er speaks.)

> > If you fancy something unusual, which IME doesn't work well in VMs on
> > modern PCs, you could try the DEC-like TSX-32, which is sort of
> > aesthetically appropriate - it's a sort of PDP-like OS for the PC.
> >
> > http://www.sandh.com/tsx32.htm
> A bit on the spendy side,  certainly more than I can afford to spend on an old
> machine to fool around with.

There's a freebie shareware version. I've got it to install and run in the past.

> > Also on a DEC theme, there's FreeVMS, but I don't think they have any
> > downloads yet.
> >
> > http://www.freevms.org/
> Some,  but also some very interesting links from there too.  Bookmarked!  :-)
> > Somewhere lost in a cupboard I have an ancient 386 notebook PC, whose
> > 80MB hard disk has DOS (DR-DOS 7 with QEMM) coupled to a choice of
> > about 4 GUIs, a range of productivity apps, and also dual-boots with
> > Pygmy Linux giving me TCP/IP through a parallel port Ethernet adaptor
> > and thus very basic Web access with Links. All this in 80MB and it's
> > about one-third full. I think it has WordPerfect 5.1, Word 5.5, a
> > spreadsheet of some kind, plus a selection of DesqView, OpenGEM,
> > ViewMAX and GeoWorks Ensemble. It was a real nostalgia-fest putting it
> > together. It has the Microsoft free DOS network stack, too, with
> > TCP/IP, but it can't actually talk to any modern Windows machine. Just
> > don't ask me to get it to print...
> Hehe.  Sounds like a fun box to play with,  all right.  That reminds me of
> a "lunchbox" style machine I almost snagged a while back,  probably pretty
> similar in terms of what the hardware is capable of.

It's amazing how much you can do with DOS these days on by modern
standards tiny resources.

> The first incarnation of my firewall/router used an 80M drive as well,  and I
> had plenty of room left over on that,  too.  And that wasn't using anything
> special,  just plain old Slackware,  I was just real choosy about what
> packages I let it install.

Too much work for me. I used to use Smoothwall.

However, now, it's cheaper to run a hardware NAT firewall.

> Probably I'll be working up another "workstation" here next,  so I can stop
> using this laptop.  The keyboard quit some time back anyhow,  and the
> pointing device always was flaky,  I'm just not sure how I'm going to feel
> staring at a monitor screen instead of this display.  And then get that
> second file server going here.  That box has two CPUs in it,  enough room for
> plenty of drives so I can play a bit with this RAID card I have here,  and
> get to know some more aspects of the software.  I can see how easy it would
> be to set up other,  more specialized boxes for various purposes like fax
> server,  print server,  and so forth but I really don't see a need for any of
> that here on this small home LAN just yet...

With cheap unreliable EIDE drives and relatively cheap CPU and RAM,
software RAID works very well these days. You can build a RAID5 or
RAID6 on an old PC for next to no money and have loads of *reliable*
storage. My home fileserver is an old dual PII-400 board in a big
tower case with 6 old 40GB drives, in a RAID5 using Ubuntu Server.

Liam Proven • Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/liamproven
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