Thursday, January 9, 2014

My First Linux Computer

While on the subject of my early computers, I decided to describe the first computers I used that ran Linux. I decided to also include a small bit of my history with UNIX and Xenix.

My first time actually seeing Linux was at work. I had just worked with another contractor on some SGI software and they described both BSD and how it was a great O/S.  We discussed Linux and they said it was a toy that would go nowhere. A few days later in Rockville, MD, a co-worker showed me Linux on a Dell 486/66. He couldn't get the sound to work, so I spent some time building the code and kernel.  The Kernel was 0.99-pl13 released on September 25, 1993.  At that time I said Linux a game changer as it was a free, stable UNIX-like operating system running on cheap Intel hardware.  AFIK this was in the middle of the Fall, 1993.

Soon afterward, I downloaded Linux for myself and put it on my computer at home.  This was a 16 MHz 386SX whitebox computer with 4M of RAM.  A friend gave me another 4M of RAM chips (yes chips, not a SIM) so I was able to get it up to 8M RAM!  I loaded Slackware Linux from about 20-30 floppies.   It was slow, but it booted and ran.  I don't think I ever ran X on it.

At work early in 1994 we bought several Dell XPS-P60 PCs with the 60MHz 5V Pentium CPUs (accurate division was optional).  We put Slackware and very early Red Hat Linux on these (and replaced the CPU due to FDIV).  In January, 1995, I moved my desktop to Linux where it has been ever since. We began to use Linux for some test and demonstration projects and were quite successful. I even ran the SCO UNIX version of WordPerfect on Linux using iBCS2.

After this, I began to use Linux on more modern hardware with a preference for multiple CPUs, like my dual PIII/300 desktop.  At that point, I was using mostly modern hardware....

Prior to using Linux, I had used both Xenix and UNIX.  I began using Xenix from SCO in Spring of 1985. Xenix is a simplified version of UNIX sold by SCO, which was partly owned by Microsoft.  We ran these on Tandy 6000 computers which had a 8 MHz 68000 and 1M of RAM.  Storage was to very compact 8" floppy disks!  The software was very stable and ran for months without rebooting -- in 1986!  Our main problem was the floppy disk drives.

In the late 1980's, we began using SCO Xenix on Intel hardware. I migrated the entire application from the 68000 to i386 in about a week.  The Intel boxes we had to use were clunker computers that included a 16 MHz CPU and about 1M RAM. We even used 3.5" floppy disks on these computers (media at the time was about $1/disk). Because of the Toshiba Propeller scandal we had to obtain Special Permission to purchase and deliver these state-of-the-art Toshiba 3.5" floppy disk drives ($125 or so each).

In the Summer of 1990, I changed companies and began working for a startup doing vehicle tracking and stolen vehicle recovery software.  While at the startup, I wrote software on our Sun 690, a quad-50 MHz SPARC computer (I managed the software group for a while as well).  During this timeframe, I tried writing some Windows software, but it was harder to make Windows do more than one thing in 1992 than it was making the Tandy 6000 do a dozen things over 7 years earlier (is that Progress?).

An interesting fact is that SCO Xenix included a 32-bit Microsoft compiler and SCO was partially owned by Microsoft. I was using stable, 32-bit Microsoft technology in 1985, about 15 years before Microsoft introduced a stable Windows environment, Windows 2000 (another example of Progress).

No comments:

Post a Comment